Work-Life constructs in motherhood

Bane of our existence

Work-life balance has several synonyms. Work-life integration, work-life blend, work-life split, work-life juggle.

My personal preference is the work-life sway. No matter how you define it, you are usually oscillating from a blend to a distinct sanity-preserving split.

Oscillating between work-life blend with a sanity-preserving split

The case for a blend

When you look at the whole concept of work-life split, it implies that there is no enjoyment or fulfillment in work. It is as linear as thinking that work is 9-5. As argued by Jeff Sanders' Free-Time Formula, it is not helpful to think about your life as having free time. Instead thinking about time as one singular, where you decide how you spend your time throughout the day between the things you find meaningful (and things that keep the lights on so that the meaningful things can keep occurring) is an empowering choice.

The case for a split

Eradicating free time points you toward more of a work-life blend. But if you get rid of the concept of free time, it can also lead to very dark days. As argued by Jenny Odell in How to Do Nothing, leisure time in the modern West has become indistinguishable from work time - which means that every moment is potentially monetized. If you take a break, you are literally wasting time and money. Now even the moments that are supposed to be enjoyable are overshadowed by the feeling of being unproductive.

Pseudo balance in motherhood

I'm more of a fan of the sway of both work and life, but any version of saying there is no such thing as true balance is accurate. My own productivity has been dependent on oscillating between these blending and splitting, being fluid about my time, and knowing which side of the spectrum I tend to skew more towards. For example, I really enjoy work-life split. The definite boundaries allows me to be more present and mindful of what is around me. But I am usually swaying inside and outside of being present as a professional and being a parent.

Unique to motherhood is the skillset you have in this traditionally domestic, private realm  reinforcing and informing everything you do in the outside, professional world.

Louise Webster in A New Way for Mothers equates motherhood to a transition for a whole new level of skill building and questioning conventional wisdom in abilities. From your child's infancy onwards, you are finally released of the idea that anything would be 9-5. If your infant doesn't sleep, then you saw each day for a literal 24 hours as you were working, soothing, and keeping your baby alive through each night.

Motherhood is a step function in growth and skill-building

It is one of if not the most challenging and formative of experiences you have likely had. Yet this confidence does not translate into higher representation of mothers in the more visible positions of the professional world. Of the women who do show up to the workplace, we know they pay tax.

Motherhood is a playground for high organization, time management, planning, and how to support and build networks. My own conquest of motherhood began with becoming very essentialist. After the birth of my first child, every single thing that did not matter was immediately cut out of my life in order for me to focus on keeping the baby alive.

The self-limiting beliefs that we are not good at something or that we are too old or set in our ways to learn something new is a huge part of what holds women back professionally, particularly mothers looking to get back into the workforce after taking a break for caregiving. The result is that women never even end up trying anything that might expand them out of their comfort zone.

What would it look like if we were to stop our limiting beliefs? What would it look like to have a growth mindset and to leverage all of the skills in motherhood into the world outside?

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