How being a libran has helped me...
My astrological sign is Libra. As a libran, I seek balance and harmony and having two girls 14 months apart has compelled me into connecting with my inner Libra.
Work-life balance means different things to each of us. As a society, we are addicted to being busy and along with this there are pros and cons. Many of my older patients describe working three or four jobs when they were younger to bring in enough money to feed their families. All they knew was hard work…it didn’t matter what they did.
If they had any spare time, they would spend it with their loved ones. It was simple and raw. Then, they worked to live. Some may say our society live to work. Not only do we work a full day, possibly long hours, shift work, antisocial hours, we also pride ourselves in mastering a hobby or activity on a competitive level. Well why not? It makes a good talking point and sets you apart from the rest. I have a colleague who not only wrote medical satirical books when he was training, but has now been approached by the BBC to write a show. When we see each other at conferences, he is always the center of attention. Colleagues admire his ability to balance both commitments. He has just had a little boy and often talks to me about not having enough time to spend with him. One may argue that he may have taken on too much and as a consequence, is unable to spend more time with his son. At the end of the day, something has to give.
Another colleague plays for the London orchestra. She has played at several venues all over the country and if she is not working, she is busy rehearsing or performing. She is also planning her wedding and has been doing so for five years. She has been unable to set a date due to her work and music commitments.
Returning to work in April 2018 has really made me reflect on my work-life balance. I am doing my dream job that is not only rewarding but also very challenging. I am grateful to be in this position. I work a 60% rota. This means I work Wednesday to Friday every week plus 60% of the ‘on call’ rota. Most weeks I have Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to spend with my girls and ‘job number 2’ is also very rewarding and challenging but in a very different way.
Although I am not claiming in any way that I have mastered juggling my job and spending time with my children. I do feel from speaking to others around me (colleagues, stay at home mums) that I am very much present in my children’s day-to-day lives along with being a prominent figure in my patient’s lives.
Let me share with you my tips on how I was able to create that balance with work and family life.
1. Don’t Put Pressure on Yourself
It is easy to get carried away at work and take on several projects to match how much colleagues are taking on. It is also easy to compare yourself to your colleagues in higher positions and feel inadequate when you try to compare their achievements with yours. It is human nature to only focus on the good achievements that have made them shine but you don’t know what they have had to sacrifice in order to get there. You know your skills and are equally capable of doing anything you wish to but don’t let others pressure you. You don’t have to be the ‘soccer mum’ AND the president of the book club AND the corporate lawyer. What will that honestly achieve? Squeezing things into your day in order to get more done will only result in the days going by quicker, the time you spend in the moment with your children fade away quicker and their childhood disappearing quicker. I personally hate how time is going by so quickly, I feel it is flying past me! Grinding yourself to the ground trying to keep up may eventually lead to poor physical and mental health.
2. Don’t compare yourself with others
This point goes hand in hand with my previous point. Remember, the grass is not always greener on the other side. What situation works for others may not be what works for you. Many people only show you the ‘rosier’ sides of their lives and that is absolutely fine but don’t try to compare your circumstances with theirs as you may not know or see it all.
3. Don’t make adults out of your children so soon
In today’s youth, the rates of mental health problems are rising. We must do our best as parents to ensure that we can nurture our children and provide as much love and support as possible to prevent this. Many studies have positively correlated childhood problems with an increase in mental health disorders in adulthood. If you ask these people about their childhood, it usually stems from a turbulent upbringing or difficult family circumstance. I know a nine year old girl who wakes up at 6am to go to a maths tuition class before school starts. She then finishes school and heads straight to a hockey class and then piano class before coming home and doing her homework and going to bed. She is tired, her eyes are sunken, she is hungry and has no imagination. She is under pressure to perform well for her 11+ exams. Equally with younger children it seems the trend to fill their days with structured activities after activities? Do we really think this will make our children more well-rounded individuals? Are we indirectly training them to become like ourselves with several things going on at one time and little or no time for ourselves. Children should be allowed to be children. They should be allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, fall over, use their imagination, try all sorts of foods (good or bad) and figure things out for themselves. It is sad that we have become so rigid with filling up their days with classes or playgroups that when they are on their own, they don’t know how to behave. Getting to know yourself and being in your own company is a valuable skill that we can help them learn for the future. Don’t let them see your busy lives and feel that this is what their lives have to or will be like too. After all don’t we want our children to be carefree, happy and healthy?
4. Reflect whenever you can
Within my job, reflection is a large portion of our practice. Whether we reflect on mistakes that we have made in patient care, or situations that have made us feel out of our depth or simply adjusting to an erratic working pattern. Self-reflection is a major contributor to personal growth and taking some time out of your day to reflect on the day’s activities is therapy in itself! I have recently started journalling and it encourages me to reflect on my day and write down the most memorable parts. I have been doing this for a year and it is so nostalgic to read through the entries from a few months ago and see how much I have grown as a person. I believe you can only truly enjoy a moment when you are able to reflect back on it and remember how you felt. If we don’t take time to reflect, one may argue that you don’t appreciate the things that are truly important to you. Meditation goes hand in hand with this and I feel it is an integral part of keeping peace of mind.
5. Make time for yourself
This is very important for your own mental health. Making time for yourself removes any resentment that you have after being all-consumed in work or family life. Spare a certain amount a day (even if it is only 10-15 minutes) to do what relaxes you and makes you happy. If it is knitting, or painting or reading just drop anything else that needs to be done and take a few minutes out of your day. You will feel better. No one is telling you to knit and then feel compelled to finish the entire piece of clothing (!) or finish the painting that day! It should be an activity that does not put ANY pressure on you. I personally like writing in my journal, reading a book (even if it is only a few pages) or getting a massage. Even doing nothing but being computer and phone-free is enough. Have you ever just sat still with nothing or no one around you to stimulate you? Doesn’t time go by so slowly? Our brains were not only formed for speech and motor skills but also to consolidate memory and thoughts.
6. Don't feel guilty
Mum-guilt is something we should ban! Why should you feel guilty? You are doing the best that you can for your family and whatever works for you and your family is your choice! If you stay at home or if you work full time, don’t feel guilt. As long as you are spending QUALITY time with your children (even 10 minutes) and they are receiving love and attention then why should, it doesn’t matter if it only happens once a day or all day. We should be given an award for carrying these children for nine months and then giving birth to them. This is a gift that not everyone receives so be grateful. Our children want to see and be a part of a happy family. They are more likely to take this into their adulthood and when they too start a family of their own. It is more likely they too will remember their childhood that way and cherish the moments they had with you.
I really do hope that this has encouraged many of you that work-life balance is achievable. Why not go back to the simple and raw lifestyle that our ancestors used to adopt? It doesn’t involve waking up at 5am and sleeping at 2 am in order to get as much done as possible with your day, I hope it highlights that you can do your job well without taking on more and more responsibility, that you can bring up happy, healthy children without planning their day to the second and in turn encourage good habits by reflecting on your day regularly. I am a regular doctor and a regular mum and I am ok with that.