Work/Life Balance Is a Myth. This Is What We Should Be Talking About Instead

Photo: “You Are NOT Ruining Your Kids”

As working moms, we have all dealt with the stress of juggling a career while trying to raise a family. Entire industries are based on this eternal struggle.

It makes sense, because it is no easy feat.

Our kids deserve  our attention, but so does our job. There is a misconception in the corporate world that “balance” exists, and our lives would be better if we could just achieve it. I’m here to tell you that concept is a myth. There is no such thing as work/life balance. Rather, trying to achieve mythical “balance” results in guilt, which is counterproductive.

In my book, I implored working moms to let go of their guilt about pursuing a career. For too long, mothers have struggled to avoid  damaging their parental relationships. It requires time, which is a limited commodity.

I challenge parents—particularly moms—to stop thinking of achieving work/life balance and instead focus on work/life integration.

I recently spoke to working women in the San Francisco Bay area about this same topic. The event – Women in Silicon Valley – was meant to expose women to careers in the tech industry. Work/life balance was at the core of our talk. As women continue to take their place in the corporate world, the notion of a balance has become an unattainable achievement that can leave many of us exhausted. It’s a conundrum worthy of unpacking.

‘Work as we know it’

Over the past three decades, women have outpaced men in earning college and graduate level degrees. This has directly led to more women climbing the corporate ranks and achieving executive level positions. In 1995, there were no women in C-suite level jobs (CEO, CFO, etc.) of Fortune 500 companies. By 2019, six percent of those positions were held by women. As they rose to become industry leaders, working women have become better represented and have made demands of integration possible. Long-rooted workplace norms  have begun to change.

Integration versus balance?

There are ways in our modern, technology-based society to have a symbiotic relationship between our careers and our family that don’t involve guilt.

Understand, work is a verb, not a noun. Work is not just a place we go to. Rather it is the action of meeting our responsibilities. Employers are more sympathetic than ever to the responsibilities working parents face. Thankfully, technology has made it easier than ever to meet our duties. When I first started my career, voicemail and fax machines dominated communications. Those days are gone. Today, we are now more connected than ever to our work–sometimes to our detriment.

I can recall times answering emails and scheduling important meetings while watching my kids take part in after-school sports activities. Technology has reduced friction between work and life, but it has also blurred the concept of “office hours.” It is more important than ever to establish clear boundaries between our work and our personal lives.

In my personal life, I have always strived for quality time over quantity of time. When I’m with my kids, they have my full attention. Vacations and family celebrations are sacrosanct. When my kids were younger, one of my favorite moments in the day was when I had alone time with them when driving to or from school. This was our time. The time spent in the car doesn’t seem like that much, but it gave us the chance to connect. It was my chance to talk to them about school and their personal lives without interruption. Those days weren’t exactly balanced, but they were examples of integrating rote, work-adjacent tasks with family life.

For part of my career I dealt with intense feelings of guilt over how I was “hurting my kids”. But as my kids got older and I got wiser, I realized this was a ridiculous notion. I was not hurting my kids by working. In fact, I was helping them.

I’ve always been a big believer in “show” versus “tell:, so. at the end of my talk, I asked my daughter Jacqueline to join me on stage, a living example of this philosophy come to fruition. Being up there with her is a memory I will cherish forever. It was a powerful moment.

In my current position, nothing was handed to me. It took a great deal of work and sacrifice to achieve everything that I have in my career.

And, I am happy to report that in the process of sacrifice, I did not ruin my kids.

Sheila B. Jordan is the author of the empowering read, You Are Not Ruining Your Kids: A Positive Perspective on the Working Mother, which encourages readers to focus on the rewards of parenting as a working mother rather than dwell on the challenges and feelings of guilt parents often face.


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