Sunday August 6, 2017
By Yasmin Helal
The notion of achieving a work-life balance is truly flawed. It implies that work and life don’t meet. That life begins as work ends, which could never be true, regardless of what work really represents to us (a means to paying bills or a life purpose). Work is a part of life and a major one too, its impact reflects on most other aspects: on our health and wellbeing, financial security, and the time and energy we have for family and friends.
A few years ago, I became aware that a better and more realistic state to aspire to is mindfulness or meaningful engagement: meaning that whatever it is I’m doing at the time I’m doing it must be done with my entire being present and with all my energy and focus dedicated to the task at hand. This means that weekends and evenings are work-free, emails are never switched on and all notifications on my phone are disabled. This mostly worked fine until I had my first baby and everything was turned upside down.
With a baby at hand, everything is different, literally everything. Tasks as simple as getting out of the car become a chore that takes time and energy, and going back to work seemed impossible at times. I tried a hundred times to restore my “mindfulness” the way I used to until I gave up and realized my definitions are what need to fundamentally change and not just my practices. More importantly, the way I think about “time” needs to change.
I realized that going back to work is only possible if my different areas of life become further intertwined, and the way I divide my time between them is more organic and in smaller chunks, and that changed everything. The day became less of a morning and evening shifts dedicated to different areas of focus and more of a sequence of time chunks that can be prioritized in a more mindful manner and whichever way works best. I still go to work in the mornings and get as much as possible done then, but I also bring my daughter along, which means she gets to be prioritized at times.
As difficult as it is, my biggest obstacle is not the societal readiness to accommodate a working mother. My biggest obstacle is my own “inner critic”, who demands excellence of me in everything I do. My inner critic is the one who makes me overly self-conscious, who isn’t ok if I am occasionally late for appointments, who prays my daughter doesn’t make a sound in formal meetings so as not to disturb anyone.
I realized eventually that my biggest challenge as a working mother, is not the lack of an inclusive workplace, nor is it the absence of a support system. My biggest challenge is silencing my inner critic: a battle in which I’m completely on my own.
I haven’t been in the motherhood realm for long but have seen how big of a difference it makes to simply be kinder to myself. To add the word “and that’s ok” at the end of every sentence with a longing for perfection. “My house is a mess, and that’s ok”. “I haven’t eaten healthy all week, and that’s ok”. “I wasn’t productive at work today, and that’s ok”. “I’m feeling like shit, and that’s ok”.
It’s so damn hard being a mother, but the hardest part might just be practicing self-compassion. At the end of the day, the world can’t be kinder to us than we are to ourselves.
Edited by Lamia Senousi
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