The parent trap: How to enjoy an effective, guilt-free work-life balance
February 6, 2020
 

This blog is the second edition of a two-part series that expands on how Metis team member Mel Rubbelke is now handling the work-life balance as a new, first-time mother. The first blog post shares how she prepared for parental leave. 

Scene: Yoga class.

I was standing on one-foot with the other foot peeking over my head for Dancer’s Pose (or Natarajasana, for all you yogis). As I gazed in the mirror, I became distracted by the person next to me, who then fell out of the pose. I then quickly fell out of it, too. For those unfamiliar with this pose, it requires some flexibility but the real requirements to nail it are to stay balanced and focused.

As I drove back home from my hour of being childless, as well as offline for work, I couldn’t help but think about the words the yoga teacher kept saying to us – “balanced” and “focused” – and what it meant for me. Just like the yoga pose, when I get distracted (like checking work emails during family time) or face last-minute changes (like a nanny being late or calling in sick last minute) during my dedicated work time, imbalances occur.

And while Metis is a huge advocate of healthy work-life balance for employees, and we are a fully remote team, I still questioned whether I really had a healthy balance of quality time for myself, work and toddler.

Truth is, like most working parents in the U.S., I have struggled to find balance. I’ve felt guilty about leaving my crying child with his nanny so I could work – and I’ve also felt a sense of freedom because I love my work and teammates.   

In light of the old saying, “new year, new me,” I decided to cut the guilt and begin making a larger effort to instead become more balanced.

The good thing is there are thousands of articles on work-life balance. Unfortunately, however, many of these tips are BS. So, after spending time speaking with colleagues, scouring the internet and reading books, the following are some worthy tips I’ve come across.

  1. Understand it’s about “life” balance: I recently read Fred Kofman’s book, “Conscious Business: How to Build Value Through Values,” which explores the ideas of how to find your passion and express your essential values through your work. One of the points Kofman brings up is if you believe in work versus life balance, you essentially believe that while you’re working, you aren’t living.

    I decided to re-frame my approach so I think about it as life balance, instead.

    This has taught me that “being,” rather than constantly “doing,” will help foster personal fulfillment. While my son Leonard enriches my life, work does, too. Working remotely has given me more time to focus on what matters, while being more productive. And, I’m glad to see that it’s becoming the way of the workforce.   

  2. Set limits: The practice of setting limits has been one of the best things I’ve done since I became a mom. There are times I won’t take a phone call or look at emails. If I need to work late, I’ll make sure I carve out some family time, then go back to it. Also, after speaking with team members, we decided not to text or email each other about work after 8 p.m. (unless it’s an emergency). I encourage others to have open conversations with their teammates about that.

    Further, being remote can get lonely and it can be hard to separate work and non-working periods - they were often mixed together with me. So, I decided to work out of a coworking space at least once a week (if you’re ever in the Boston area, hit me up!). On occasional Fridays, weather permitting, I’ll also work from a scenic location, like Boston Harbor. 

  3. Cut the parental guilt: The parenting/mom guilt was a huge challenge to overcome when heading back to work from parental leave. Turns out I’m not alone: A staggering 57% of working mothers feel guilty about going to work. And again, while there are a lot of articles that discuss the topic, this letter to working moms written by Margie Warrell in Forbes offered particularly sound advice. It expanded on five actionable ways to embrace perceived short-falls as a mother, and refocus preciously finite energy on what truly matters.

    It really resonated well with me and my current situation -- maybe it will for you, too? 

  4. Take vacation and actually disconnect: A recent survey by Joblist.com revealed that 28% of baby boomers, 35.3% of Gen Xers, and 38.6% of Millennials feel they haven't yet achieved the right work-life balance. An even more surprising finding was that one-third of American workers would sacrifice income for better balance, indicating that far too many employees feel overworked and overwhelmed.

    One solution I found similar across various articles? Use the vacation time you’re entitled to. While this Harvard Business Review article is from 2014, I still found the information in it provides a valuable checklist of things you should do prior to a vacation in order to successfully disconnect. Truly being able to disengage on vacation is key to avoiding burnout. 

While I’m still trying to fully get a grasp at this whole balancing life act, especially as a new parent, one thing’s for sure: I’m not in it alone. That, in itself, is good. With so many seeking the same thing, the need is clear, and by sharing insight, we’ll be able strike a pose that’s comfortable and sustainable. 

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