Balance? Not in my world.

“Balance”. It’s a word I’ve seen so many times in the last four days. It seems to be at the top of many New Year resolutions lists and a topic much coveted by magazines and newspaper glossies at this time of year. Understandable really, what with January 1st being an obvious time to reflect on the year ahead and make promises to ourselves.

The thing is, I’m not going to make a promise to myself about balance. I’m not going to kid myself that 2013 is going to be the year I find that elusive work / life balance, or find a regular slot of time for myself. I know it won’t happen – and I know I’m not alone. To be frank, balance is a luxury I can’t afford.

I’ve been really interested to read the series over at Cambridge Mummy about the ways other mums find a sense of balance between their work and personal life, juggling family commitments with office deadlines. I found myself nodding my head in agreement at many of the comments, especially from the piece written by my friend Jane (who blogs at Northern Mum).

At the moment, my life looks like this:

  • Get up at 4am. Drive 50 minutes to work. Present a breakfast radio show, blog for said show, tweet and Facebook for said show, chat with listeners, prep more shows, drive 50 minutes home.
  • Collect 2 year old daughter from childcare at 1pm / 2pm. Spend the afternoon shining my “perfect mother” halo and making up for the guilt at never being there when she wakes up in the morning by baking, covering the house in finger paint and play dough.
  • Cook a family meal for 5pm, eat with the husband and daughter. Attempt to chuck some laundry in the washing machine. Possibly run a duster over encrusted surfaces.
  • Persuade toddler into the bath while husband clears up mayhem of toys downstairs. Read stories after inevitable tantrums about the wrong pyjamas. Get beautiful diva child in bed by 7pm.
  • Hit computer. Reply to all emails I haven’t been able to deal with on phone during the day (in between the radio stuff, mum stuff, housework drudgery stuff). Meet weekly copywriting deadlines. Meet weekly professional blogging deadlines. Pitch an article to an editor. Transcribe an interview for an article that’s been commissioned. Write said article (or start to anyway).
  • Say goodnight to my husband with a swift peck on the cheek.
  • Fall into bed at 11pm and hopefully crash out straight away (sometimes this doesn’t happen as my brain’s too busy coming up with witty and creative content for whatever I’m working on).

No balance see? Nada. Not a jot. I mean, there’s a clear set of time put aside for my work and my mum space. Kind of, if you don’t count the surreptitious emails. But, during the week, there is no time for myself or time with my husband (if you don’t count that family meal at 5pm).

And this list doesn’t include all the stuff I do which I don’t get paid for, but which is absolutely pivotal to my work. Being self-employed, I have to manage my accounts  (a job that as a mathsphobe takes me AGES – even though I have an accountant), I have to update my professional website, reply to emails and keep this blog going.

I can see you eyerolling already – why does she need to blog? Because this blog has netted me new clients, new speaking and workshop chatty work, new income from the odd advertorial. I love writing it, because it’s the one part of my work that I have TOTAL control over, but it’s still kind of work.

This is what it’s like being self-employed and having the need for the money my work brings in. We don’t rely on my income, but our future does. If we want to buy a house before we both turn 60, this is the only way we’ll afford to get that huge deposit together to do it. We’re the late 20s / 30s generation that missed out on 5% deposits and maintainable mortgages due to meeting just as the recession hit, putting right the dreams of nearly everyone without wealthy relatives or an inheritance to help them out. Balance is, quite simply, a luxury I can’t afford at the moment.

Oh I know there are solutions. There always are. 2012 was the year I was offered so much advice I didn’t know what to do with. Could I drop some of the work, stop hustling for new features a bit, leave some copywriting clients? Well, no. Because when you’re self-employed and need the income you take the money and the work where you can get it. You don’t have a choice, because next month there may be no work – and what then?

Could I increase my childcare and give myself afternoons to complete my evening writing work? Well, no. Not if I want to see my toddler grow up and spend time with her. Plus, childcare is expensive. Initially, one of the main motivating factors for going self-employed and leaving my full time position as a journalist was to be better able to juggle the work / mum role. I chose to do this so I could spend a bit of time with my toddler. I don’t see her in the morning, so to only see her for half an hour before she goes to bed isn’t the best solution in my eyes.

I have dreams and plans and big ideas. I read posts like the one Rosie Scribble wrote and agree. Dream big. Just because I was born five years too late, why shouldn’t we be able to one day own our own home and paint our daughter’s bedroom the colour she wants? I earn enough, so does my husband. But, the reality is, if we want the goals we’re working towards we have to work. There is no other way. And if we want to be the parents we want to be, we have to accept the extra few hours we have in the day are for our daughter.

For me, being self-employed means I have a tiny bit of control over when I work. But short term contracts with clients mean I never have the security to turn down offers of new work. It’s OK, it’s what I signed up to. And I know it won’t last forever. It can’t. I will burn out. I’m well aware of that.

But, for now, balance is a word I’m not going to utter. One day, maybe. But not now. The exercise classes and those TV series I want to watch cuddled up on the sofa with the man I rather love… they’ll have to wait.

Am I alone?

Comments

  1. says

    WOW. I am exhausted just reading about your daily routine. How do you stay awake past 8pm? I often crawl to bed at 9pm and my alarm goes off at 6.15am, not 4am. I think balance is a myth. In my Twelve Mums Of Christmas series, I asked loads of the mums about balance and not one of them said they had it sussed. We just need to suck it up. And sleep. Lots.

    • says

      I’d love to go to bed earlier, but I just wouldn’t get everything done that I need to do. Ideally, I’d be in bed by 8pm – but that’s not often possible! You’re right about the sucking it up thing. My mantra is “suck it up”!

  2. says

    I get by on approx 5 hours sleep a day – less than Margaret Thatcher and SHE ran a country! I’m constantly knackered, 3 kids, own business (booming!) husband that isn’t around Mon-Fri to help…..it is a NIGHTMARE. What I learnt this last year though is to get help when you can – I now have a cleaner for 8 hours a week – she cleans, washes clothes, irons etc etc and gives me more time to get on with stuff that I need to.

    Would that work????

    Otherwise, I can recommend some heavy duty make up products!!

    S.A.M xoxo

    • says

      A cleaner would be a huge bonus. And if we weren’t saving so hard I would definitely consider it. But as it is, the money I earn from some of my work would end up paying for the cleaner which would mean I’d have to work this hard for longer to make up the money we’d lose from putting in the savings pot. If we had a mortgage and weren’t saving for such a set goal I would (will) get one though!x

  3. says

    Hiya Molly, I think you’ve an excellent case for employing a cleaner for a start – for all the mental space it will clear and if your health permits you to maintain this lifestyle for now, you’re right – your little one will be at school before you know it and these days will be gone. I never get everything done and I’m at home, sort of working, all the time!

    • says

      It’s good to hear other people struggle with balance too. In 2011 I solely worked from home, along with the odd freelance radio shift, and found I was just as busy – although I had slightly more sleep! x

  4. says

    You aren’t remotely alone. While I don’t have your schedule, I am looking ahead at a few months of hard graft where I up the amount of freelance work I do in order to get us through a house move and out of the red. The logistics involved in sorting out the childcare, the housework and the meal preparation for this are going to be immense. So, this thing we call ‘The juggle’?. Such a lighthearted word for describing the biggest pre-occupation of pretty much every mother I know. Appreciating the honesty of your piece and respecting you for doing what you do, Leoarna x

    • says

      I agree that the word “juggle” almost makes it sound fun – like a circus activity or something! When I’m in the midst of dealing with a toddler tantrum and trying to get tea on the table and answer an important email on 5 hours sleep… it doesn’t feel like fun!

  5. says

    1. No. You are not alone.
    2. If I had 50p for every bit of “advice”, “input” or “helpful suggestion” I’ve had in the last 5 years, I’d have enough money for both of us.

    So why don’t we work on charging people to give us their input? That’s got to be the solution!!! Surely????

    • says

      YES! Let’s set up a new business doing just that. The service would be to give people a place to air their advice and we could even write a book with the answers. Winner.

  6. says

    Not at all!!!’ I am with you! For 3 days though. I get up at 6am, out the house at 7am, drive 40 mins to my mums and drop z off then drive another half hour to work. Then pick him up at 6pm and get home at 7, whole mental bed routine, clean, be on call every so often for work, eat something, then pretty much collapse into
    Bed and do it all again the next day. I’m so glad I do have those two days where I actually play with z and I’m lucky to work from home (or rather, my mums) some days so I try to
    Play with him at lunch. Life is a bit mental at the moment and I’m not sure it’ll change anytime soon!

  7. says

    I’m reading all these posts which much interest as I am starting to kick things up a gear with my freelancing now Squish is in nursery 2 days a week. My reality was that I literally could not merge working with minding Squish simultaneously. He is a very demanding 3 year old and while I would be typing away he would be canceling out my time working with demolishing the house. So I accepted this and waited it out. Waited for the free 15 hours per week childcare.

    At the moment I still cling onto my 2 days a week perm receptionist job… it’s my lifeline, my holidays, my maternity, my sick pay, my healthcare. But it is also holding me back… I’m getting paid a lot less than I could be getting payed if I used that time to do the work I am capable of doing freelance. So, I’m in a huge transitional period… from next week I have more time to concentrate on getting more work and edging out of my perm job. (the grandparents also have him 2 days per week).

    I am slightly terrified though… although it would be nice not to live hand to mouth for a change, I also don’t want it to spiral out of control to the point where I am working every hour god sends.

    Anyway…somewhere in the middle of typing this I have lost the point I was making and I think I need to go and lie down with a cold compress to ponder my future…

    I think you are amazing by the way… I couldn’t live on that schedule (weak). x

    • says

      I wouldn’t say amazing – it’s just that when I’m offered an opportunity to do something I love and earn money from it I find it hard to turn down. I may be slightly unhinged actually! I agree that those 15 hours childcare when they’re three will make a big difference. It sounds to me like you have it all planned out and you’ve no need for a cold compress!

  8. says

    I think you speak for most mums here. And it’s an issue few dads seem to have to deal with on the same scale. You weren’t born too late, having been born a few years before you *cough* I can hand on heart say the same issues are there. I put down the fact I fell critically ill to trying to do too much. So now I have sacrificed some of my working life (and blogging!) to look after the children and all the time seeing missed opportunities I could do something with if someone gave me 30 hours in a day. The alternative is to grab those opportunities and put my children in more child care. It feels like one or the other – no balance! From where I am I see you doing an amazing job both professionally and as a mum to lovely F, it must be tough work x

    • says

      Thanks Emily, it is tough but I also feel lucky in a way. I’m lucky in that I get to earn my cash doing things I love and (even though it may not feel like it) I have a choice whether to take work on or not. I think you probably have the balance about right. It’s important to make the most of all the time you can get with the kids I reckon – which is why I refuse to up Frog’s childcare and will battle on through the tiredness for now!

  9. says

    I was only today thinking about my work/blog balance. I am self employed and constantly think I can catch up in the evenings but then I get distracted by an impromptu disco in the playroom or the mountain of washing that literally is covering the bathroom floor (my husband’s ingenious way of sorting it) and end up fiddling away on the laptop til 1am putting photos through lovely filters or dreaming up a hair brain scheme with fabric paint.
    I think life has become about burning the candle at both ends because you get to suck everything out of it!
    I am going to stuff our lives with as much as I can even if that leaves you feeling exhausted sometimes! Take 5 minute breaks to draw breath. i lay on the sofa earlier for literally 4 minutes before I had a bundle of boys climbing over me. But that 4 minutes was just enough to recharge!
    You are doing a fab job xxxx

    • says

      If I lie down I often don’t get up again! My husband was off work on Friday and I sat down on the sofa for 2 minutes thinking “I’ll just take a moment”. He woke me an hour later – I had no intention of falling asleep! It’s lovely to know others are exhausted too though, I often read your blog and wish I could cram in time to do all the beautiful things you do and create some imaginative bits of craft and things for our home. Maybe one day – or maybe I should just give up sleep altogether! x

  10. says

    I’m lucky with my home but I have no savings or pension plan, and 10 years before my kids want to go to uni. I never turn down work either. But I do think it is the state of the nation. Most of us will be like this at some point, whether they say it out loud or not…

    • says

      You’re right, I think it largely is the way with many families. I guess you’re either struggling or you forego certain things. I know so many other parents who work very long weeks because it’s the only way they can keep their family afloat.

  11. says

    I have silly amounts of sleep too do all the childcare and try and work full time hours but at the moment its not workign beause I feel tired and snippy think I need a day or two off to myself when kid at school. Infact I am going to diary them in! You take care !

    • says

      I absolutely don’t blame you for being snippy! When you have no childcare and you’re working too it’s SO hard. I did it in 2011 and crammed in 30 hour weeks alongside being a mum to a baby with no childcare help at all and parents who live miles away. Very tricky but I think I got more sleep than I do now! x

  12. says

    Hmm. Is it ok to say you sound as though you’re doing better than me? I so understand your position and with 3 to juggle it can feel like climbing a mountain of sludge. But you’re creating a future and you sound as though you have your eyes wide open. Hugs!

    xxx

  13. says

    If you’re happy doing what you’re doing for the time being then that’s all that matters. When you explain the reasons for working your ass off then it makes sense. And in a few years time you *may* have the opportunity to sit back and relax a bit – but things will have changed again by then so who knows. Some people thrive on being busy and I know you don’t get to see your husband as much as you want to because of the work hours but it makes you appreciate the family moments all the more when you *do* have the time to spend with them – that was abundantly clear from your Christmas break round-up post.

  14. says

    You do what you have to do and what feels right for you and your family. The only suggestions I can make are the following:

    Cleaner – I know it has been mentioned, but I bet you earn more per hour than you would be paying the cleaner!

    Lose the commute -However, this isnt always possible either

    Suck it and just keep on going. Frog will be at school before you know it and then things will get easier for you.

    You are the best you can be and do not forget it.,

  15. says

    I have a lot of admiration for what you do but wish it didn’t take so much out of you. I really hope you can find some time to be good to yourself because this looks like the path to a breakdown, to be honest. I’m not going to give any advice but I’ll just say it’s so cool that you’re prioritising spending time with F (even if it is time when you’re exhausted!) I really hope the house becomes a reality sooner rather than later. x

    • says

      I think it helps that I enjoy my work and that I still get the afternoons with my daughter. I know many parents who have no choice but to work very long hours (9-5, plus commute) and don’t actually like the job they do. In the economic times we live in though, many people don’t seem to have a choice. I’m not moaning, just being realistic about what I can and can’t expect for myself – if I started scheduling an hour a night to myself I know I wouldn’t get it and I’d feel disappointed and annoyed!

  16. says

    Hilariously, I was Googling “self employed mum, cleaner” and your post popped up. Balance is so, SO hard! Mind if I quote your blog for next week’s #dexdivafwm email?! xxx

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