Let’s get it straight from the offset- for me, there is no such thing as balance. When your everyday life is chaotic and illogical, and unpredictability is the only thing you can predict, you don’t really find yourself measuring balance. Don’t worry this isn’t a sob story, a tale of woe by a long suffering full time working parent rather it’s just my honest account of day to day living.
Where did this concept of having the perfect work/life balance come from? In my opinion, it’s just another stick to bash us all with: like making time for yourself and remembering you’re not just a parent, but a person, too. Give me a break- I’m still trying to work out how to work smarter, not harder (Say what?!).
From my experience you find what works for you- on that month/ day/ hour/ minute/ second…The greatest challenge, for me, is fighting my love of routine. I have learnt to be flexible; it’s okay not to be the master of every moment. So, I forgot to photocopy that mega important worksheet and I had sticky jam hand prints on my shoulder on the day of a formal observation; the world didn’t end.
Close to a year ago now, I stood watching my youngest sleep in his cot with tears rolling down my face, feeling the anguish many parents feel at being separated from their little ones. But what I didn’t know then was that “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” (Napolen Hill).
I had vowed to go back to work with a positive, can- do attitude. The decision made in our household had been made on sound financial sense. Just because my heart felt another way didn’t mean I didn’t have any other choices.
I had the choice to face an incredibly hard decision with a brave face and an optimistic vision.
In all honesty, at the beginning, I created a persona for myself. A role I put on in the morning of a working mum that her children would be proud of and hopefully inspire to have their own career goals in the future. What did this look like? Someone who said yes to opportunities more often than not and looked at problems as challenges. It’s true to say I was feeling like a million grains of sand had slipped through my fingers during the time that I was off. A race had started in my absence. Could I ever catch up?
As the weeks went by, something strange happened. I didn’t have to remember to put on the persona: more and more, it became me. I was delighted; the old passion and love for the job was back yet was matched with maturity, stamina and endurance (only sleep- deprived parents can have).
Whilst doing some academic research I came across an educationalist who had written about the concept of “self-actualisation’ where your motivation and determination come from within and are not influenced by external forces. It was a light bulb moment: a moment of clarity. I wanted to make all that I could of every part of my life- I had felt that for a long time that my family and teaching lives were intrinsically linked. If I separated the two, giving each a definite allocated time, I feared that I would lose from both areas.
At no point this academic year did I strive for balance. Occasionally, I’d joke about wanting another three hours in the day but I lived in the moment. I didn’t count the hours I hadn’t had with the children; my diet coke addiction is a running joke at school (to combat the sleep deprivation). I did things because I wanted to do them- reading a National Literacy Trust Survey on a Saturday evening because I was too interested not to put it down.
Parenthood is another pressure but I’d have it no other way. There is no other way. As every parent knows, having children teaches you the value of time. I am not going to worry or give myself a guilt trip because I didn’t get the balance right one way or the other. Instead I keep the biggest goal, the greatest achievement I could ever reach in my mind to be the best person I can be for my children.
Jenny Martindale, July 2015