There Is No Work-Life Balance. Yet.
My last reflection on the inflexibility of employment, as it relates to mothers, elicited the type of warm support born of shared struggle. So here’s another topic that permeates mother talk: the elusive motherhood-work-life balance, and truth is, there is no balance.
Frankly, it’s been somewhat of a liberation to surrender.
Outside of the job-for-pay my identity is also shaped by being an artist. Although unwilling to compromise too much as I attempt to carve out that “balance” on the work-art-mothering-homesteading fronts, it is art that lands last every single time… Not sure what that does for the soul, keeping an eye on it—but I’ve learned it’s easier to flow when I stop resisting!
I have a perspective that is also shaped by a robust conversation with my partner, as we both name the unbalance and try out different arrangements. The shape of this unbalance is different in all households of course—in the married-heterosexual home it depends on how emancipated your male partner is, and your own tolerance for chaos.
Does your partner truly see the depth of your home management? Does he know that when you delegate you are in essence, and always, managing, therefore not free of the burden of the task? If his blinders are mostly on, I hope you have the energy to assist in his liberation. But even if yours is an emancipated male, gleefully doing the dirty work in support of a shared journey, I’ve yet to witness a balanced home. The road is still looking long and messy, yet I’m happy we’re on it.
Let’s take a quick step back before I continue, for we can’t speak of balance without acknowledging that there’s a thrum of inequity pulsing under any arrangement. With wealth being stripped from the people, how can anyone survive with grace? The vast majority feel pinched on finances, wages are stagnant, let alone the obscenity of our minimum wage—getting more economic balance inevitably goes hand in hand with the balance I speak of.
OK. So back to mothers.
Unfortunately and overwhelmingly the job-for-pay still expects the mother to show up too soon after birth, too often, too long, and with no room for the creative latitude we need. Oh and did I mention the unequal pay?! The subtle yet persistent devaluing of women who chose to mother is expressed in the inflexibility of work, in that nagging feeling that if we try to be present & proud mothers it means we’re not as worthy of that raise, that exposure, the you-name-it thing that we do, in fact, deserve.
Mothers are overworked. Some days feel brutal right? Like it’s all lack of presence and a barely hanging in there. Our time has been an interrupted and fragmented endeavor in this recent phase of human existence. For the last few centuries we’ve been making home, kindling community and nurturing family. And in the more recent past, with so many women in the paid labor force, “women still spend at least twice as much time as men doing housework and childcare, sometimes much more.” (Bridgette Schulte, The Guardian, 2019). As the emancipation of gender roles soldiers on, it’s also a scramble to redefine family.
Once again managing a nonprofit organization I’ve had the fortunate experience of a very spacious and experimental board who accepted (and even celebrated) my boundaries. I applied with many caveats, with a desire to carve out work that is both meaningful and flexible. And I’m at it every day. Some days I feel like I pull off that balance thing, but most days I don’t. Yep, the road is still looking long and messy, yet I’m still happy were on it.
The nonprofit world is of course littered with mothers (and some others) working the fallacy of that part-time nonprofit job. It’s not part-time, and we all know it. It creeps up! Yet if you’re lucky to feel passionate about the work, the creeping is not as problematic. So I keep on trying.
Of our two person staff there is another part-time mother, and we work under the assumption that the children come first, that we pivot as needed, that children might be involved in some meetings, that we will likely be underslept for others, that we often need to hang up and call back in a bit. We make that space for other mothers who contract with us, but I’ve caught my own prejudice about another mother’s logistical difficulty—it’s scary to be confronted by such internalized self loathing. Yet these two interrupted mothers have created magic in the work place, an energized partnership to tackle the isolation and mental health crisis of our rural underserved youth with year-round outdoor adventure and experiences of connection. It’s crazy satisfying and crazy making all at once.
I’m very fortunate and privileged to create the work environment that fits this phase of my life, with my husband’s support, and to also support our community while I’m at it. The conversation about finding purpose in our jobs-for-pay will have to wait until I finally come around to writing again, until then it’ll simmer in the fragmentation that is a mother’s life. Unable to seal off my home office door as efficiently as my partner, I tend to work in slivers when the children are home. It’s become a skill to pick up a thought where I dropped it off, to catalogue ideas as I play with the children. The taking-a-step-back-to-observe that I need for my art, that's also morphed into a ruptured habit, with little notes spilling out of every bag and pocket. I’m convinced this endemic lack of time thing has made my decision making sharper, and I move through my work with more confidence.
Now if only the job market could emancipate and rid itself of the cobwebs of old. Think of it! Mothers often work harder to ensure they get home on time, they’re often willing to work from home if they can have flexible office hours, and are so good at holding all the pieces. I can argue ad nauseam about the paradigm shift working mothers need, but in the end, when it comes to what we do with the most hours of our waking days, we ALL need a transition: less work with more meaning, more connection and service, and fair livable wages!
Oh, and some of that balance please. Both kinds.
(Carolina Pfister, 2019)