Q: I’m a wife, mother and bank manager, and these days I feel like I am failing at everything. I am tired, stressed and cranky. Why am I so lousy at having it all?
A: You can have it all’providing the ‘all’ includes a nervous breakdown. Whoever came up with the ‘work-life balance’ concept needs to straddle a see-saw for a few moments and discover that a balancing act is impossible to maintain. Many of my female patients come to me for help with anxiety and exhaustion. They tell me in awed tones about how their mothers baked, sewed, and met friends for lunch. Moms today are wracked with guilt that they don’t make cupcakes for the school bake sale because they have a report to write for work.
I remind each patient that her mom did not wake up before dawn to hit the gym, or run three children to 15 different after-school activities, or have to cope with today’s career demands. And she didn’t hear the ping of her work phone at 10 p.m., either. In 2011, researchers at the University of Toronto reported in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior that work contact during family or personal time harms psychological health. And when women have to respond to business phone calls or emails outside of work hours, they feel higher levels of guilt and distress than men do.
Sound familiar? You are trying to do too much. So stop. The truth is, a working woman with a family cannot achieve balance. Yes, you’re juggling many balls: the marriage and family ball, health ball, career ball, social-life ball, financial ball and so on.
But most of those balls are rubber. If you drop them, they will bounce, and they can be retrieved and put back in play. Only two of the balls are made of glass: the family ball and the health ball. If you drop those, they can break. No amount of career success or homemade cupcakes is worth damaging your health or your family.
Instead of buying into the ludicrous idea that a woman should do it all, choose to do less. Search your soul and decide what really matters to you. Is it more important to have extra time to cuddle the kids, or gossip over email with that friend who criticizes everyone? To make love with your partner, or run an errand that could be clustered into a weekly trip to get many errands done at once? To hike with friends, or waste time on Facebook looking at photos of your friends hiking?
You must set priorities and then be ruthless with the pruning shears. A lot ‘of things you are doing are wasting your energy, and they have to go. Rather than trying to do everything well, do a few things exceptionally and most things adequately‘and let a significant portion of your to-do list become a never-mind list.
Rules for the recovering Superwoman
‘No’ is a complete sentence. Women need to learn to use it. The sentence is not, ‘No, I am so sorry, but I can’t, I feel terrible, well maybe I can try, um, okay’.’ Decide what you can’and want to’commit to, and say no to the rest.
Protect personal time. Smartphones have an ‘off’ switch. Use it. If you can’t, invest in a personal phone so that you can separate home from work.
Do one special thing. So you think you want to be the holiday-season queen, with homemade wrapping paper, dipped chocolates, cards snail-mailed to a list of hundreds? Choose only one of these (dipped chocolates, perhaps) and then get over it. Put presents in gift bags from the dollar store, which recipients can then reuse for their own gift-giving. Email a mass, but heartfelt, holiday greeting letter to friends and loved ones. Newsflash: No one worth having in your life will think less of you.
Be Selfish. Invest care and time in you. Seek solitude, get a pedicure, set a lunch date with friends. Replenish the emotional well so you can offer love and energy to others.
Don’t beat yourself up. You’re pretty great, just the way you are.