A desk with a mom and daughter working to show the difficulties of work and life balance for a mom.

Finding Balance in Life as a Working Mom

Paula Vexlir
November 13, 2023
October 2, 2023

Is work-life harmony even possible?

The Scene:

Thursday, 11 pm

Monica, 37, mother of two, is getting ready for bed. Even though she feels exhausted, there is also a lot of guilt. She didn’t accomplish everything she wanted today. She struggled to get out of bed and, still tired, couldn’t bring herself to work out (hard) and compromised doing some yoga instead.

She woke the kids up, made them breakfast, and prepared their lunches. She then took them to school and went to work.

After working all day at the office, she clocks out, picks the kids up from school, and drops them off at hockey because they must stay active.

She called the pediatrician from her car because Julie -her youngest- has a rash on her leg, small and not sore yet, but still needs to be checked out.

Back home, the process of getting the kids ready for the night started; she fixed dinner while her husband did the dishes. They folded the laundry and practically begged their pre-teen to shower.

After the kids went to bed, she tried to pick up a book she had started months ago but never had the time to read properly. But she put it back down almost immediately after seeing the time and realizing she was not getting her 8 hours tonight (again).

Once in bed, she finds herself mindlessly scrolling and feeling guilty hearing her spouse snoring. They don’t talk so much anymore. Then again, they don’t really have the time or energy. Hopefully, it’s just that.

Lately, she just feels like she’s falling short no matter what she does; she never quite gets to that place where she ‘should’ be. 

If you relate to her, if you don’t find time for yourself in your day-to-day, if it’s unusual for you even to be reading an article about mental health, we’re glad you’ve found us. Hopefully, you’ll get some ideas from this piece. If not, instead, if you just realize that this is NOT your fault and that you are not alone, then that’s a win for us both!

The Current State of Mothers

Today, mothers often feel like they are not doing what they’re supposed to for themselves and their children. There’s a general feeling of falling short, and to fight it, they demand more and more from themselves, ending up in exhaustion and unhappiness. This constant anxiety leads to the dreaded and scary ‘burnout.’

The mental health wave that is taking place on social media is not making things any easier, giving way too many instructions and all way too different: eating organic, meditating, gentle parenting, exercising regularly, organizing your child’s social life, having quality time with your friends, partner, kids…

Finding a work-life balance or harmony while parenting your kids is complex; we only have so many hours a day! And even if we found a way to do all these things we are being told to do, who can guarantee that it’ll make us feel happy, whole, or at peace? 

If you are in a place where you think this applies to you and you want to try to fix it, you’ll probably find a lot of advice. Maybe too much. Magazines, influencers, or your friends: everybody thinks they have THE answer. They don’t. Because it doesn’t exist, it would be fantastic if it did, but there is no magical rule that works quickly and for everyone. No, Magnesium, isn’t it. Sorry to disappoint.

We hope you’re not here to find it, because we obviously don’t have it. However, we’d like to help you craft something that works for you today (bear in mind, what you find useful today you might not tomorrow; our needs, problems, and environments you need to balance change)

We propose a Baby Steps approach: we’ll take things slow. Our lives are too hectic, we ask too much of ourselves, and we must simultaneously be in a million places. So, to change our lives for the better, manage our time, and organize everything, we can’t burden ourselves with a significant change that will throw us off (in all honestly, we’re barely managing as it is)

If at any point you feel overwhelmed, it’s essential to stop and take it slower. We’re trying to fight this narrative in which you’re supposed to achieve everything you can as quickly as possible.

So, yes, you are not alone, and even more books are being written about burnout in women. We recommend Emily and Amelia Nagosky’s “BurnOut” book if you want to read one. But here we will try to help, and PLEASE do not take all this as TO DO’s. I know it won’t be easy.

Now, to our tips:

How to Find Work-life Balance

First, you’re going to make a list of things that bring you joy. Things that relax you and make you feel at peace. You’ll use this whenever you don’t feel in control. If you come to a problem hanging over your head and start to get anxious, you will return to this list and do one or two things out of it.

Remember to keep this list simple and doable in your day-to-day life. Maybe you enjoy traveling, but let’s save that for a different list. We’re looking for things you can do every day, like going to your favorite bookstore, baking cookies, drinking a tea that’s special to you, even wearing a sweater you particularly like, the way a flower smells, etc.

It would be ideal to do at least one of these things daily, but it’s completely understandable if you don’t/can’t. You can use them to calm down on stressful days or just take a minute to celebrate yourself and everything you do. Allow yourself some quality time (it can be a few minutes) and recognize that you deserve to be appreciated. Take ordinary things and make them extra special. If you normally drink tea, but are having an especially difficult time or feeling anxious, choose the brand/flavor that makes you feel special (yes, it can be coffee or juice) and then intentionally drink it, feeling that you deserve this wonderful experience. It might sound weird, but trust us, you might even find it even more tasteful.

Now, make a list of everything you do. The obligations, maybe. Bring yourself to cross off at least one thing (even though we suggest crossing off a few things). Which ones can you release? Which can you delegate to someone else? Sure, it’s not life-changing to decide not to do one simple thing, but it’s a start.

While eliminating tasks may make you feel guilty - like you’re wasting time or not living up to a responsibility - don’t listen to it. Breathe and remember taking care of yourself is essential. Not everything has to be 10/10. And not everything has to be done by you. Sure, there is a chance that a task reassigned to someone else won’t be as good, but it's important to remember what truly matters and is worth your time.

Next, make a list of the stuff you have to do—the important things.

Now, out of that list, mark the non-negotiable things. Bottom line stuff, whatever feels like a priority for you. For example, you have to work, make sure your kids eat, etc. These are very personal and will look different for different people. That’s OK.

With the result, find the more complex items. Try to simplify what you can. Maybe you wrote down, ‘Prepare a home-cooked meal.’ It’s perfectly alright not to have the time or energy to do that; perhaps you can change it to something along the lines of ‘Get/Buy a nutritious/fun/delicious meal.’

Some of us can get by without looking at the stain on our kids’ clothes; some can’t. Some of us are okay with more takeaways/carryout meals or just easy prep meals; some won’t. There is no one-size-fits-all. This is you crafting a plan for being gentler to yourself. And, sorry to bring this up, but that means cutting your To Do list. We don’t need to read it to know it has too much. It’s happening all over the world; working moms are exhausted, which is not making the world any good.

So let’s start creating a gentler and more compassionate narrative towards women, and let’s do it by leading by example, because surely you do not want to pass this exhausting lifestyle to your kids. If it’s not good for them, it’s not good for you either. Remember, baby steps and tons of compassion towards yourself can help us create a healthier and more balanced lifestyle for all.

Paula Vexlir
Paula Vexlir
Paula Vexlir is a Registered Clinical Psychologist. With interest in innovation, she started supporting people living worldwide 20 years ago, and was one of the first to start with online therapy (yes, before the pandemic!). She specializes in helping individuals navigate their struggles with relationships, anxiety, stress management, grief, parenting, and most human challenges. Paula loves doing research and creating content that can help people lead better lives.