How to Invest in Yourself to Improve Work-Life Balance

  ​Every Friday, I work from home and make a point of doing something for myself. Without my morning commute, I have extra time in the day to take a morning yoga class, go for a run, or grab lunch with a friend. These activities may seem small, but they’re important investments in my well-being and performance as a professional, wife, and mother. If I get some me-time on Friday, I go into the weekend feeling relaxed and refreshed. And that matters, because when you have children, the weekends can be more stressful than the workdays.

Don’t Let Mom Guilt Take Over

Like many moms, I used to feel guilty taking time for myself. When my first two kids were born, I felt they needed me constantly. Even after my husband and I hired a nanny, I felt a strange sense of guilt letting someone else prepare my kids’ lunches or play with them while I was in the other room. So every Friday, we’d all be together — the nanny, the kids, and me — and I wouldn’t get a single moment to myself in the day. I knew I needed a break. You can be the most devoted mom and still need time away from your partner and children from time to time. This is especially true if you’re also working. When people are demanding your time every second of the day, you need to prioritize yourself. Otherwise, you become rundown, feel frustrated, and start making mistakes at home and at the office. Giving myself time off seemed like a non-starter until I noticed that my husband didn’t feel the same type of guilt for wanting to go play golf for six hours on a Saturday. He didn’t lie awake at night wondering whether he was a good father because he got out of the house to play a game he loves. So why did I struggle with this? Moms are often beset by guilt and anxieties over whether we’re doing right by our kids. But I realized that I needed to take care of myself if I want to set a good example for my children.

“You can be the most devoted mom and still need time away from your partner and children from time to time.”

The simple ritual of a Friday transitionary activity — getting my nails done or going for a walk between signing off from work and starting the weekend with the kids — helped me reclaim a healthy, energized mentality. It also prevented me from feeling resentful toward my husband. Now that we both get time to ourselves, it feels like we share the responsibility of raising the kids more evenly. Working from home once a week isn’t an option for everyone. But I encourage all mothers to carve out time for themselves, especially if you’re struggling with work-life balance. For most of us, work doesn’t necessarily end when we leave the office. I often come home to have dinner with the kids, spend hours with the bedtime song and dance, and then log back on to finish some work after putting them to bed. But this type of work-life integration makes it all the more important that you invest in yourself. If every moment of the day is consumed by work or your family, burnout is all but inevitable.

Making the Time

With so much on our plates, moms often feel we don’t have time for ourselves. We’re right. We don’t have time. We’ve got meals to prepare, activities to schedule, clothes to wash, stories to read, reports to write, and presentations to give. Who has time to get it all done, let alone hit the gym or sneak out for a manicure? The fact is, there will always be more to do. So we have to make time for ourselves. In my case, Friday me-time is sacred. For you, it might be something else. Do you miss taking a weekly Pilates class? Are you craving Saturday mornings spent reading a novel over a cup of coffee? Is a weekly bath with scented candles and no interruptions necessary for your sanity? Maybe you’d just like to run a few errands on your own, without your spouse or kids in tow. Whatever it is, make time for it. Ask your partner or a friend or family member to support you by watching the kids or taking over scheduling duties so you can get time to yourself. When the guilty feelings arise — and they will — remember that what’s good for the mom is good for everyone. You cannot be a great parent or succeed at your job unless you’re rejuvenated physically, mentally, and emotionally.

3 Ways to Invest in a Better Work-Life Balance

However, I know that for many women, the concept of investing in yourself becomes alien as time goes on. We take on bigger roles at work, so ever-larger teams depend on us. We get married, and we put our spouse’s happiness above our own. We have children, and their needs subsume our lives. While all of these roles and relationships can bring us a deep sense of fulfillment, we don’t enjoy them when we’ve lost touch with ourselves. If you find yourself struggling in these areas, it’s time to invest in a better work-life balance. Here’s how you can do it:

1. Find Your Joy

When you’re young and single or partnered without kids, you have lots of interests. But as life becomes more complex and you grow into the roles mentioned above, it’s easy to forget about your passions and hobbies. If this has happened to you, it’s time to bring those back. Before I had kids, I went to my favorite gym class twice a week. I felt no guilt about scheduling meetings and social events around the class. It was a priority, a non-negotiable. But after becoming a mother, going to the gym seemed more selfish. Could I really afford to hit the gym while my kids were at home? I was already in the office less because I needed to be home at night, was it really fair to go to the gym while my colleagues were still at work?

“This is about you making time for the things you enjoy as an individual, independent from your identity as a wife and mother.”

The answer to both questions is yes. Whether you are aching to get back to the gym, have a list of crafting project ideas a mile long, or are eager to start marathon training, you need to prioritize it. Anything that brings you joy should be a consistent part of your life. Is that more challenging to do when you’re a working parent? Absolutely. But, there is always time for that which matters to us. If it’s been a long while since you’ve done something for yourself, you may need to do some soul-searching. Perhaps there’s a long-forgotten hobby you’d like to resurrect or a secret interest you’ve always wanted to pursue. Just remember that you’re trying to identify what brings you joy. Not the activity your partner likes to do together or the hobby your kids are obsessed with. This is about you making time for the things you enjoy as an individual, independent from your identity as a wife and mother.

2. Schedule “Me-Time”

Let’s talk about time and how there’s never enough of it — or so it seems. I am sympathetic to the demands on any working mom’s time. Some days it feels like a wonder we get anything done at all, and there’s always something else to add to our to-do lists. That’s the reality of adulting. Even before you had kids, I’m willing to bet there were people asking for meetings, inviting you to networking events, insisting you come along on a weekend trip, and pleading with you to do tasks you didn’t really want to do. How did you cope with it back then? My guess is that you felt less guilty about saying no and prioritizing your needs. But mom guilt is a funny thing. It pervades all areas of our lives so that we take on more and more, even when we have less and less time to get it all done. Unless you take a stand, it will always be this way. No one else will insist that you leave work a little early to make that spin class or suggest that you spend Saturday afternoon alone so you can recharge. It’s up to you to make time for yourself, so pull out your calendar and look for spots of free time. Could you get up a little earlier to make it to a 6 a.m. workout class? Is a family member willing to pick up the kids on Friday afternoon so you can spend some time working on the writing project you’ve been putting off? Once you’ve identified a few free spaces in your schedule, block them out on your calendar – and treat them with the same seriousness you would any other appointment. You wouldn’t bail on a client meeting, so afford yourself the same respect. If I am going to a 9 a.m. yoga class on Friday morning and someone asks to do a conference call at the same time, I’ll tell them I have another appointment at 9 but can talk later in the morning. They don’t need to know that appointment is a yoga class, and they’re perfectly happy to choose another time. People understand that you’ve got other priorities, so don’t be afraid to build time for yourself into your schedule. Often, people will say, “Oh, it’s just my yoga class. I can skip it, work is more important.” But is it? Unless you’re a surgeon or emergency worker, chances are the world won’t end if you schedule a meeting for the early afternoon instead of first thing in the morning. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take your work seriously. Of course you should. But it’s important to keep a healthy perspective because your well-being impacts both your quality of life and the quality of your work.

3. Prioritize Your Partner and Your Friends

Adults need adult time. Many parents are reluctant to hire babysitters because they feel bad leaving their kids for a few hours. But it’s important to stay connected to your partner, so be willing to ask for help and get out of the house once in a while. Going out to dinner or a movie or checking out a new cultural event helps you stay close to your spouse by sharing experiences that don’t center around the kids. The threat of becoming distant from your friends is also real when you’re a mother. Sure, you might both have children and be able to bond over that experience. But you and your friends are likely caught in the same cycle of doing things for everyone else before prioritizing yourselves. However, no one forces us to stay in this cycle except ourselves. My husband and his friends go on a golf trip together every year without fail. He doesn’t feel guilty about it and he has a great time making new memories with them. On the other hand, my girlfriends and I talk about going on a yoga or meditation retreat every year, but we’ve never done it. Why? Because we find it so much harder to leave our families even for a few days. But friendships matter, and getting away for a weekend does wonders for your relationships and your psyche, even more so than family vacations.

“A lot of people depend on you as a working mother, so it makes sense that you feel the weight of that responsibility. But that’s all the more reason to invest in a proper work-life balance and take care of your own well-being.”

Don’t get me wrong, family trips can make for great memories. But I think we all know that when you have young children, vacations aren’t really vacations. They’re just a change of scenery. You can’t expect to be refreshed if you’ve spent another week in the same routine, even if you are on a tropical beach.

Getting Rid of the Guilt

Guilt can be a useful emotion when we’ve actually done something hurtful. Blowing off your child’s recital so you can attend happy hour with your coworkers might inspire a legitimate feeling of guilt. But spending an hour at a workout class or hiring a babysitter for the evening do not make the cut. A lot of people depend on you as a working mother, so it makes sense that you feel the weight of that responsibility. But that’s all the more reason to invest in a proper work-life balance and take care of your own well-being.

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