“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?