There’s a lot in the media these days about the importance of work life balance; how to achieve it, how to know when you’ve achieved it, how to maintain it. For those with family obligations, a healthy work life balance is especially important; both to the working parent and to the spouse and children at home. Still, there’s something just a little insidious about making the work life balance yet another “something” that we have to strive for. It feels—at least to me—like it puts another demand on us. Are we allowed to feel perfectly joyful at work, or should we feel guilty for not wanting to be home all the time? And when we’re at home, should we feel guilty for not staying late or taking work home with us?
I’m reminded of a story I heard recently of a small girl in New Hampshire named Amelia. Her grandmother was visiting and Amelia was hard at work decorating a small treasure box. The box was a simple craft store purchase with nothing particularly useful to offer but two hinges and a handle. But Amelia was determined to make it into something special. And as she drew designs on it and glued sparkly trinkets to it, there was no other place she wanted to be. She approached it with an almost Zen-like focus. Nothing was pulling her away from the task at hand. She certainly didn’t feel she had to manage her time so work and life “balanced.” It’s a project that a child wanted to complete. If it took all afternoon, then that’s how long it took. Or maybe she’d set it aside and do something else for awhile. Everything would fall into place naturally, which is how it should be for all of us; especially adults.
For me, work life balance is a challenge even though I work from home. As a writer, I have the luxury of choosing my projects and deciding when I’ll work on them. Yet, there are times when I have a deadline and it’s crunch time and my family suddenly needs me. I feel guilty for being on the computer all the time, yet as a writer I can’t produce income for my family without spending hours on the computer.
But why should anyone feel guilty doing what they have to do to support their family? Why should a father feel bad about sitting in an office at work watching a dashboard of network activity while his kids are at home with mom being adorable? Or having to work overtime because the “system is being switched over?” Why should a wife and mother be made to feel like she doesn’t have proper work life balance because she doesn’t earn money outside the home?
It’s what we all do to take care of the ones we love. Being made to feel like you should be someplace else no matter where you are just takes the joy out of doing what you’re doing in that moment. It’s not healthy or fun to feel like you have one foot in one space and one foot in another. To be pulled in opposite directions means you can never be truly present anywhere.
There is joy in accomplishing even the most mundane of tasks. There’s joy in sweeping the kitchen floor clean at night. There’s joy in seeing all green checkmarks after a new website installation. And there’s joy in sitting quietly with a granddaughter as she decorates her treasure box.
Spending time away from family or social engagements in order to earn money for food and shelter is no less noble or important than spending an afternoon with your spouse and child in the park. But being made to feel guilty over what some else defines as the optimal work life balance takes all the joy out of everything.
Being made to feel like there’s some magical “balance” you have to achieve is contrary to the outcome. I for one would like to think that my family values me just as much for the time I spend writing about best marketing practices for a media company as for the time I spend hiking with them in the woods. And I believe they do. But the trick is finding my own peace. I’m the one who has to figure out how to find as much joy in writing an article as I do in writing a hearticle like this – something I care about.
So, for anyone seeking that perfect work life balance that you’re supposed to strive for in this hectic world, think of a little girl sitting at a table decorating a simple box; not feeling like she has to be anywhere else but home. That can be you. Don’t let others tell you how much time is okay to spend at work or at home. You’re showing as much love to your family by earning money and providing food and shelter as you are when you’re bouncing your child on your knee in your living room. It all counts. And it’s all worthy of joy.