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Why “Work-life Balance” isn’t the Holy Grail we seem to think it is…

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

What is Balance Anyway?

For as long as I can remember, we working mums have been trying to achieve the “Holy Grail” of work-life balance. Clients, friends, family… all searching for it.

According to the Deloitte Women at Work Report 2022, 47% of women rated their work/life balance as “Poor or extremely poor”, so we are not alone!

A question I often ask my clients is: “What does balance look like for you and how will you know when you achieve it?” The answer? Often a long pause…

The truth is, as mums we all seem to have the collective goal of achieving this mythical balance, but do we even know what it is?! How many times in our lives have we been told that if we want to achieve something – whether it’s a work goal, a sporting achievement, losing weight – it needs to be very specific, so we know what progress we’re making and when we get there.

I have no doubt that, like many of my clients, you know what you want to feel different… You want to feel more in control, you want to have some independence (possibly including your career) as well as be involved as a mother, you want to feel less guilty, you want to be able to MASTER THE JUGGLE!! I get it…

So What is the Solution?

Now you may be expecting me to give you an activity to help you define your ideal work-life balance and that is definitely possible, but I can offer you a different perspective. Let me explain…

One of the challenges I personally have with the concept of “balance” is that it is binary; you are either balanced or you’re not. A tight-rope walker is either perfectly balanced or has fallen from a great height. That is a lot of pressure to put on ourselves, especially when we might not even know if or when we reach the other side!

We also often judge ourselves harshly as mums, so we might look at others and say, “She’s got balance, how come I can’t find it?” Their version of “balance” might be completely different to yours; it doesn’t mean you’re wrong or failing.

For me, a much healthier way to look at it is to think of it in terms of “rhythm”.

The Gift of Rhythm

Rhythm is everywhere in life – the rhythm of night and day, the tides, the seasons, breathing, the beat of a bird’s wings. Wasn’t the rhythm of our little ones’ heartbeats while we were still carrying them and waiting to meet them just the most precious rhythm you’ve ever heard?!

Rhythm isn’t binary like balance is; rhythm can change without us feeling like we’ve fallen off. In fact, a change of rhythm in a dance or a song can be amazing and exciting; we are more likely to dance to complex rhythms, so maybe we can actually embrace complexity and change!

How refreshing!

You’re probably now thinking, “Ok, that makes sense, but how do I apply it to me and my life?” There are many ways of doing so, but let’s start with something you can use straight away.

I invite you to start by simply thinking of ways in which viewing your life as a rhythm would take pressure off you. Your family has its own unique rhythm, and it will change, e.g., you may have a different rhythm during the week and at the weekend; during the school term and the holidays – whatever works for you.

Instead of thinking (with self-judgment) “I have some balance at the weekend but not during the week” or vice versa, how different does it feel to say, “This rhythm works for us during the week and it’s different at the weekend to accommodate our activities”?

Or instead of saying “They have balance but we seem to be so much more hectic as a family”, how much less pressure is there in thinking “our rhythm is unique to us and we enjoy being busy”?

A few weeks ago, my son’s after school club was cancelled on the day. That is something that can easily throw us off balance. Last-minute changes + moving meetings = stress! Instead of viewing it that way, I saw it as a temporary change of rhythm for us that day and gave myself the permission to feel ok about moving things. With rhythm, juggling can work.

Give Yourself the Permission

Rhythm is permission:

  • Permission to know you’re not failing just because something needs to shift or change;

  • Permission to feel in control even with last-minute changes;

  • Permission to celebrate your family’s own unique rhythm.

I invite you to step off the tight rope, stop searching for balance and start celebrating your own rhythm.

You’ve got this.


About the Author:

Nicki Young is a confidence coach and champion for working mums. She loves empowering mums by helping them see things differently and to realise they have a choice about how they feel, what they do and how they do it: they have a choice to say "yes" to themselves, whether at the beginning of their motherhood journey or a few years in. Nicki is an ICF-accredited coach and Chartered member of the CIPD.


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