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Has anyone out there really achieved the 'work/life' balance?

(25 Posts)
tailormade Wed 24-Jun-09 18:21:30

I know this has probably been discussed before, but I would be really interested in the experiences/advice of others.
I have a son of school age and a partner. I trained for several years to do a job that I love, but it is full time and I often have to take work home. (which I quite often do when my son has gone to bed.) I guess I am quite career driven - its not a conscious choice, but I do love my job and have taken on extra responsibilites, because I love new challenges and learning new things.

My partner works shifts (which average full time hours every week) and we have an excellent child care system, so its not all bad.

Basically, I just feel that everything is a balancing act. I know there are people out there who probably have 4 kids and work 2 jobs and manage, but I feel that I'm struggling. I think the problem is that my job is very emotionally draining and I give alot to it - I'm the sort of person who thinks if a job is worth doing, its worth doing well. I obviously also give alot of time to my son, and it is my relationship with my partner that gets the 'least'. I know that its not a case of dividing life up into chunks, but thats how it feels, especially with all the housework and other stuff that needs doing.

I know that its not always possible to 'have it all'. I know the advantages of me working - personal fulfilment, no money worries, etc. I know I can't have 'everything'. I know too, that I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and, to be honest, like to have everything under control regarding the jobs I do at work and at home.

My job is not really suitable for part time work, and, if I'm honest, after the years of training, I would be gutted to give it up for something a little less 'fufilling' albeit fewer hours. However, as someone who comes from a very close family with 2 parents happily married, I know that ultimately, this is by far the most important things of all. I know there are no complete answers to this, but would be interested to hear the experiences/choices made by others who may have been in a similiar situation. Thanks!

AtheneNoctua Wed 24-Jun-09 19:54:39

Of course you can have it all. Men do it all the time. If you want a slice of that pie, then it is yours for the taking.

You mention childcare, your relationship with your partner, and housework. Are these things split down the middle so you do half and partner does half? Or are you struggleng because you have more than your share? (just asking because this is often what happens)

In my house, I take the bulk of the childcare, DH takes the bulk of the housework, and we have a live-in nanny. We both travel for work.

Do I have it all? Probably not, but I have the balance that is right for me and my family.

You should not feel that wanting to keep your fulfuilling career is in any way selfish.

stillstanding Wed 24-Jun-09 20:08:37

I disagree, AtheneNoctua - you can't have it all and men don't either. The perception that men have it all is based on the fact that (traditionally) they got to have a career and then come home to kids. But usually those kids were fast asleep and they didn't see much of them. Women on the other hand got to spend time with their children but sacrificed their careers to do so.

I'm afraid, tailormade, that it is always going to come down to a balancing act. The work/life balance thing is by definition exactly that. And no one but you can know exactly what the right balance is for you and your family.

Personally I feel that I have achieved a very good work/life balance. I work in a top city firm doing the job I love. But I do it three days a week with not as much high-profile work as I used to do. There is no question that my career path has slowed considerably because of the choices I have made but it hasn't stalled and it was a price I was happy to pay for my children. I am a much happier, balanced person as a result of it and am actually glad that having a family gave me the perspective to make some choices that I should probably have made many years ago.

In terms of getting the balance right, I do think a person needs to have a long hard look at the allocation of responsibility and ensure that their partner is pulling their weight. Far too often the woman ends up doing all the domestic chores for no good reason. Good, balanced systems are essential. This is particularly important if you find that you are a person who likes to be in control as you have suggested. I wonder if this has made you pick up too big a share at home and this is what has made you feel frazzled ...

Spoo Wed 24-Jun-09 20:14:39

I feel I have it. I have two DS - 3 and 4. I work for myself 18 hours a week on contracts. They go to nursery 3 days a week. I have a good salary - as I am on contract and I can take time off if I want to. I am finishing my current contract tomorrow and have enough money to last me the summer (I pay myself £500 per month!) so I do not have to look for another contract until September.

Whilst I might sound smug, I do think that if you are adequately qualified - which I think you say you are and you are committed you can find part time work that is fulfilling and rewrading. Before Kids I was very career orientated. I am no less committed but my career has taken a slow down. I will get back to it sooner or later but for the moment I am happy just to keep my hand in.

tailormade Wed 24-Jun-09 21:46:35

thank you for your replies,

stillstanding, I believe my partner does do an adequate share of the chores. He does a far greater part of the childcare than me, and we divide the tasks up. He also works quite long hours, but, he doesn't have to take his work home which is a big difference between us.
Also, his career has actually taken a side step because of mine. This isn't an issue between us and is something we discussed at great length when I went back to studying years ago. In fact, he is very happy that he has had such a large part in bringing up our son, even though his career may not progress alot further. To that end, I feel that if he took a majority of the chores, it would almost be like his role is purely to support me and my career (iyswim).

stillstanding Thu 25-Jun-09 11:51:02

In that case it seems that you have a very good set up at home and excellent support.

I suppose then you have to look at why you are feeling stretched and work out what needs to give. Perhaps you are simply taking on too much and that, after a bit of honest reflection, you will be able to identify things that you don't really need to do and aren't contributing to your or your family's happiness.

Easier said then done obviously but something I think everyone does - and on a continual basis too! It is indeed a balancing act.

Lissya Thu 25-Jun-09 12:08:31

I have often thought that instead of "having it all", women have backed themselves into a corner of "doing it all" instead.

If you work full time then you only have evenings and weekends to do childcare, running the home, chores and (if there's any time left) something for yourself ie a hobby.

Add on the effects of the stresses of a full time job not to mention a knackering commute in most cases. When exactly is there any (to coin a phrase) quality time for anything or anyone?

There comes a point when if you both work full time and want any quality of time do do anything at all, then you hire in help with some of the things you might do if you had more time eg childminder, ironing service, cleaner etc. Unless you are on decent money it's not really worth paying someone else as these services come at a premium.

It's the "middle job" people who I think suffer the most with this issue as they don't earn little or big enough to make decisions a no-brainer. For those in the middle,(which is most of us) it's a complete juggling act which I am sick of.

Years ago being a "housewife" (for want of a better word) was a full-time role. It still is, FGS. So where has the extra time come from to fit in a 40hr week at work? Cos last time I checked there are still 24 hours in a day, same as ever.

Yes we have more conveniences now eg ready meals, tumble dryers and cars. But there's now pressure not to use them because of additives or danger to the environment. There's still an element of competition between who's baked the school fete cakes themselves and who's bought them in etc - as seen on other threads, frequently!

It's the same old dilemma. Spread yourself thin and hope there's no bare patches showing, or spread yourself thickly but cover less ground. One thing's for sure - most men aren't yapping about this issue on a website!!

AtheneNoctua Thu 25-Jun-09 13:40:28

yapping? We are discussing. It's what we do best on MN.

I agree with your point that it is the middle earners who are hit the hardest. You still need all those perks and they can cost almost as much as we earn.

However, you seem to think women still do all the domestic chores and then take on a full time job as well. I believe full time work for both parents means the domestic chores (household and child related) get split down the middle. And, yes, some is also outsourced to nanny/aupair/cleaner/dog walker/etc.

As for cakes at the school fete, I don't bake them on account that going round expecting the mums to sit at home like good subservient women and bake cakes from scratch is not only sexist, but it conflicts with my nutritional standards. I also don't participate in the class bake sale which has nothing to do with the fete -- and I am a class rep.

When I was a reception class rep I learned that dad's weren't expected to paint faces because they were men. I tell ya, I have painting faces just as much as any man. And I am no longer prepared to do it since I learned that having a penis exempts you from that expectation.

AtheneNoctua Thu 25-Jun-09 13:42:31

I hate painting faces just as much as any man.

BonsoirAnna Thu 25-Jun-09 13:48:24

LOL Athene - I don't bake cakes for school sales ever, on nutritional grounds, on sexism grounds and on economic grounds (I think bake sales give children a really bad business example).

Am also a (now bored and disillusioned) class rep smile

BonsoirAnna Thu 25-Jun-09 13:54:54

<contemplates proposing idea to Parents' Association of bake sale of nutritionally-balanced cakes made by fathers and sold at proper market rates>

<abandons idea>

Lissya Thu 25-Jun-09 15:31:08

I said yapping but didn't mean it in a derogatory way.

What I was trying to say is that most men won't put nearly as much thought and effort into how to juggle everything, as (in general) women do.

AtheneNoctua Thu 25-Jun-09 15:36:26

But that doesn't mean they can't. wink

BonsoirAnna Thu 25-Jun-09 15:36:43

Lissya - I agree. Men tend not to take on as many responsibilities as women, so they don't have to juggle as much and don't have to worry about as many conflicts of interest.

becstarlitsea Thu 25-Jun-09 15:42:57

I still haven't found a balance and I've thrashed around wildly - like a tightrope walker frantically swinging her arms about to keep from tumbling! but it isn't there yet. At the moment I am SAHM to our DS who isn't at school yet, and take on odd bits of work-from-home stuff, and write novels (which get rejected by agents) in an attempt to stretch myself. But it isn't ideal, and I know I'm going to struggle to find the right kind of work when DS goes to school. And we are stony, stony, broke, which can at times really suck.

I was FT WOHM for one year from when DS was 6 months old to 18 months old - but I spent 3 months of that off sick with encephalitis/viral meningitis which is an indication of how overstretched I was. My job took everything out of me, stressed me out, and made it impossible to give DH or DS any of my love/time/conversation aside from ranting about how overworked I was.

Now I'm mostly SAHM after trying out various working from home PT options. I guess I'll get a 'proper' job when DS goes back to school, but I know I'll struggle to find something which is interesting, reasonably paid, uses my qualifications and allows me to be the Mum I want to be. I'm a bit freaked out every time I think about it really.

MrsMcCluskey Thu 25-Jun-09 15:50:04

I feel I have got a balance that suits me
I work part time 3 days a week doing a tough but fulfilling job, my husband is in the same career and has gained promotions - I havent.
It doesnt bother me as I have some time to myself when DS's are in school.
I do the bulk of the chores, but I dont mind too much as I love the fact that i am there to do the school run 2 days a week and can enjoy weekends with the DS's as I have done most of the chores on my 2 'days off'
I tried full time but enede off burnt out and going off with stress.

fleacircus Thu 25-Jun-09 15:53:43

I think DP and I have pretty much achieved it... for us, the things that make the biggest difference are that we share housework and childcare equally; we have a cleaner for three hours a week, and we're completely slovenly not exactly houseproud; neither of us works hideous hours; our childminder is lovely so we have complete confidence that DD is fine while we're at work; my work is a 5 minute walk from home; and I'm a teacher (and have been doing it long enough that I never have to bring work home) so I work term-time only.

I am quite committed to work and ambitious, but I progressed fast when I first started in the job so am now prepared for these few years to be a bit of a hiatus - I'm expecting DD2 in September so will have had two periods of mat leave in 3yrs and worked part time in between, which does scupper the promotional ladder somewhat. But I'm confident that I'll be able to get back to where I need to be when I make the decision to focus more fully on my career again.

UnquietDad Thu 25-Jun-09 15:55:54

I remember saying on here a while ago that there were three golden things in a job:

You enjoy it.
It's reasonable hours.
It pays well.

You're doing well if you have got one. You're doing very well if you have two. I don't know anyone IRL who has all 3, but some people on here claimed they did!

MrsMcCluskey Thu 25-Jun-09 20:18:37

UQ I got 2 out of 3!
I wish Idid enjoy my job more but for 3 days I can cope with it!!

UnquietDad Thu 25-Jun-09 22:25:39

I have 2/3 but I'm not saying which

sobloodystupid Fri 26-Jun-09 11:55:01

I have 2 outta 3 as well. I am on ML and not looking forward to returning to fulltime work. I have found through MN that I measure myself(self esteem,worth etc) by my work, and that is dangerous. If my job went tomorrow, I would be thrilled as I wouldn't have to make that choice... sad.
I suppose that is one positive with this recession, my DH is taking unpaid leave of 2 days a month and both of us are enjoying the time together and with the kids. <muses thoughtfully>

applepudding Fri 26-Jun-09 22:06:30

I think that I have a good work/life balance. I work part time over 4 days a week, and term time only in a job which I enjoy. I take DS into school (sometimes using the breakfast club at 8.00) and pick him up most days too. I have a day a week at home to myself, although I am also doing some additional freelance work and a management course.

My DH does shift work. I do the majority of chores/child care/cooking etc at home but as he works longer hours than me, and unsociable ones at that, I'm not really complaining.

Not sure if I have 2/3 or 3/3 as I don't know what others would consider good pay!

saramoon Sat 27-Jun-09 11:07:16

I thnk i have 2 out of 3 too. I change my mind every month about the balance thing. When I am feeling exhausted I often think that perhaps I should do less and that I am not getting the balance right. I usually think I have a good balance, I work 3 and a half days (and an evening) as a language lecturer and have 2 dds who are 3 and 4. Have been to the doctor a few times over the last few years though because i have been so shattered and she has always said the same thing, you have young children and you work, of course you are going to be tired.
My DH does as much as he can but he is at work before me and back after me so it is up to me to have the girls before and after work. They are in a nursery atm which is part of the college i work at but dd1 goes to school in Sept and things get complicated.

applepudding Sat 27-Jun-09 22:14:14

Can I add to yesterday's post that we do have very low outgoings so I don't have the financial urgency to work that some others may, thus making my decision to work part time a lot easier.

Karam Sun 28-Jun-09 15:56:37

I agree that the the only way to achieve it is through working part time. Like others, I work 3 days a week. For me this works, because I have three days doing work, and four days at home with my DDs. I'm a teacher, so tend to do a fair bit of work at home in the evenings (like marking) to maximise the time spent with my children. On my days off, I spend the mornings doing housework and the afternoons are spent out with my girls. However, to achieve this I gave up my management role at work, took a big pay cut and got a job at a college which gave me more flexibility. The pay cut was about 8k a year (fte). But I'm happier and it works. I still get to do the job I love (teaching), but without the management hassles that came with it before.

As my girls are getting older, I am slowly increasing my hours, so that I work more days, but as my girls go to school and pre school, they need me less. It works for me.

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