Solicited Advice

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by Katrina on October 7, 2014

You guys! I need your help.

Can you answer one question to help to me prepare for a conference I’m speaking at next week? Here’s the question:

What is the single best piece of advice you’ve received on balancing work and family?

Please leave your answer in the comments below. (Or you can tweet it to me at @kalcorn or leave your comment on my Facebook page.)

Why I’m asking you this

Months ago I was invited to speak on a panel for a series of three conferences called The Conferences for Women—together they’re the biggest women’s conference in the country, reaching more than 23,000 attendees. It was a great honor to get this invitation—keynote speakers include Hillary Clinton, Diane Keaton, and Robin Roberts. The first conference, which is sold out, will take place next week in Philadelphia.

Our session is called “Survival Strategies in a “Lean In” World: Real People, Real Stories, Real Solutions” and it’s supposed to focus on tips for managing the day-to-day chaos of life.

I was looking forward to just showing up and answering questions under the expert guidance of Lisa Belkin . . . until I found out yesterday that she had to cancel due to a work conflict. And guess who they’d like to take her place as the “thought leader” (and moderator) for our panel? No, not Hillary Clinton. Me!

Now, some of you may note (as I have) that I wrote a book about how I FAILED to balance work and family and yet, I keep getting asked to speak about . . . how to balance work and family. And if you’ve read my book or followed my blog, you already know that I had my own little library of self-help books and I even followed much of the advice, but in the end it wasn’t enough for me. What helped the most was quitting my job and going to work for myself. Which is a real story, but not a real solution.

While the other esteemed panelists are sure to have some great answers, I’d like to be extra prepared by crowd-sourcing some advice here.

What has worked for you? Any and all stories or advice are welcome. The more specific the better.

* * *

I’m not doing a lot of writing right at the moment (yes, the blog has been extra quiet), but I am doing a lot of speaking. If you can make it to one of these events, please come say “hi.”

* * *

Update 10/7: BLOG IS HAVING TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. (Argh!) We’re trying to fix it now, but in the meantime, if you aren’t able to leave a comment here, you can leave it on my FB page or try again later. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Blog comments should be working now, thanks to Kenny at fittedwebdesign.com. (That is a shameless plug for Kenny’s IT services. He’s the best.) Phew!

 

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenifer

Best thing we did was get rid of the TV. Adds hours of time to each day!

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Katrina

So smart, Jenifer. We haven’t managed to eradicate TV completely, but it’s mostly limited to weekends, which does make a difference.

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R.C.

Listen to your small inner voice – what do you feel comfortable with? Don’t let that voice get lost in the barrage of messages you hear from everyone else.

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Katrina

Yes, sometimes the best advice is . . . don’t listen to other people’s advice!

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R.C.

I don’t even mean to ignore the advice that is out there. Instead – just don’t let yourself be swayed by Sheryl Sandburg, or Hillary Clinton, or the happy stay-at-home-mom or whomever, without remembering what is important to you personally. A lot of arguments are really persuasive in a vacuum, if you don’t put them into the context of your own life and values. But you have to listen to your inner voice and only choose the path that doesn’t give you a stomach ache.

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Claire

Getting an average review grade despite going above and beyond and doing two jobs for 6 months. Made me see the light. I get the same thanks as everyone else so now I just do my hours, switch off work phone the minute I leave and give 100% to the important people in my life

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Katrina

Yes, I think that’s called “pearls before swine.” Giving your best away to the wrong people.

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Susan

Personally, I’ve leaned so far out I’m playing on a different field. The only way for me to cope with both job and family has been pulling back to part time hours. I work 20 each week – and took the 50% pay hit as well. Because of the steep reduction in income, when my 4 hours per day end, I am gone. Yes, I still cram a full time job into those 4 hours and yes people piss&moan about how limited my availability is for meetings and yes I “multi-task” throughout all those meetings but the way I see it, that’s what the work culture dictates so that’s exactly what I give. Claire nailed it — the difference in pay increase between being a shining rockstar and a slide by under the wire minimalist is about half a percent. Or, in my case, half of a half a percent. What it buys me is sanity which is immeasurably more valuable than the cash I gave up. I know I’m lucky. Plenty of women — even those in my own department — don’t have the luxury of scaling back hours. Still, I tell them not to work more than 40 because if they’re going to donate their time, it should be to a non-profit.

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Katrina

Thanks, Susan. If it’s any consolation, you’re probably more productive hour for hour than you would be if you were working 40 hours. You’re just getting paid less.

Hmm…that doesn’t sound as reassuring as I meant it to sound. I guess what I’m trying to say is working pt does not make you a slacker!

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Sandi

Lower your standards

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Katrina

Yes, I’m sensing a theme here. 🙂

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Valerie

+1 but I call it “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” The books piled on the floor by the bed, deciding not to battle over brushing teeth this morning, partner did not put away lunch bag in freezer last night (so I put in an ice pack instead). I have systems and routines and sometimes they don’t come through due to any number of reasons and, for the most part, it’s all OK. This is especially important in cutting partner a break too (not bothering to mention the lunch bag incident, not a big deal unless becomes a pattern) – which helps the marriage! 🙂

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Cassie Hewitt

I had to double check to see if I had written this 🙂 Haa! We have such similar lives and outlooks. Keep on keepin on! I think picking your battles (both in terms of issues and also with what you choose to freak out about) is SO WISE. 🙂

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Alison

Honestly, the best advice I got was to leave corprorate America and do my own thing. I am now working on growing my own health coaching practice and while that is growing, I also have a part time, work from home, flexible hour “mom job” to bring in some money while I grow my business. It doesn’t pay well but I love being able to manage my time and even though I don’t have perfect balance, I feel like my balance is much better than when I was sitting in an office from 9-5.

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Katrina

Good for you, Alison. I think we’re going to see more and more women start their own businesses for the same reason.

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Pauline

Quietly do what you have to do and don’t apologize. Ask for help, and don’t act like you need help because you can’t handle it all, act like you should be able to expect help because that’s what needs to happen to get things done. Be okay with walking away with some things incomplete if there are not enough hours in the day. Little by little this is what will change the culture. I married a man who can step up to the plate even if he doesn’t want to and I work in a company that has room for this as long as the job gets done (excellently, thank you very much). But it took 15 years of drumming up support for remote working to bring the boss along. If you are not in an environment that can stretch then you should leave, because those people won’t care even if they kill you and it’s your one life. You can make a difference in a different environment.

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Katrina

“…But it took 15 years of drumming up support for remote working to bring the boss along…”

Wow. That is stamina. But you’re right. This is how you change culture. Slooooowly.

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Julie Verner, PhD

I can truly appreciate your dilemma. Some of the “strategies” feel like dusting the coffee table when the house is on fire. You opted to call the fire department which led to major life restructuring. Having said that, I believe my most important strategy, personally, has been being willing to feel the tension. If we continue to take honest and realistic inventories of our life, recognize where we lack balance, and continue to have the hard conversations with our partners and sometimes even children, we have a better chance of getting where we need to go in life. Feeling the tension means that we may even ask the same questions over and over because our lives and families are constantly changing. Am I still in the right place? What are my options? What are the pros and cons of our current arrangements? Are we still managing them in the best way possible? I believe the old adage remains true, honesty truly is the best policy.

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Katrina

“Some of the “strategies” feel like dusting the coffee table when the house is on fire.”

Exactly.

But I love your advice. To keep taking stock, keep asking yourself “Is this working?” “What needs to change.” Now that we have a teenager in the house, I’m realizing that what our family needs is always in flux to some extent, and will continue to be.

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cathy g

I work full time in the UK. If you’re going to have work life balance, work priorities/commitments can only come first some of the time. The one thing that’s been crucial for me is a husband who’s willing to lean in and co-parent as much as I need to lean in to work. As we’re both now at work full time it’s essential that we have a fair division of home life and parenting. Keep working at it, we’ve taken 9 years to get here!

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Katrina

Good point! Sharon Meers, author of Getting to 50 50, is on the panel, so I know we’ll be talking about how to share the load with your partner.

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Jessica Dories

This is my therpay for the day – writing a short entry here. I think sharing your story with others in your shoes helps. I work full-time and have two small kids 4 and 1.5 years old and am on a tight budget. My husband recently lost his job and is looking for a job now. We are both working to try to share parenting and the remaining chores which is a project in itself. My mom and mother-in-law are always saying “I don’t know how you do it honey.” And I always respond – “I’m not doing it all”.

How I balance work and family – haha – I don’t. But what I do is: value my own sanity, ask for help, enjoy the moment and reprioritize what I thought my life should look like. Oh yeah, and eating chocolate and coffee.

My house looks like a tornado went through with toys and crackers and paper and crayons everywhere. I have a stack of dishes in the sink that I only address two or three times per week. My laundry gets done, but maybe once every week or every other week when we need clean underwear or socks. My priority is that I want time to hang out with my family and time for myself. I also want to do my work well. So – I work well, but don’t do extras at work – I don’t do lunches out with my officemates – instead I take a walk or do errands. I wash dishes less, cook less, often we take snacks to the park after work, or I cook one meal per week and we pick and eat snacks the rest. I also try to enjoy the moment – instead of focusing on the messy house and dinner that’s noe cooked -I appreciate the silly joke my daughter is telling me, or laugh at my son who just took off his diaper and is streaking through the house very happily. I want to enjoy my kids where they are at and not get irritable because I can’t buy new couch pillows now, or get upset because somone drew on the banister again. I have a set expectation that I will not have time to ‘fix my house’ or decorate until my little ones are a little older. I do go to individual counseling, that helps me get perspective. I also lots of chocolate and coffee : )

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Katrina

Chocolate and coffee are lifesavers. 😉

One thing you said:

“I don’t do lunches out with my officemates – instead I take a walk or do errands.”

Reminds me I think a good topic is how you deal with professional networking. Talk about a huge time suck. Personally I’m working on ways to say “No, I can’t/won’t want to have coffee/lunch/etc. with you.” without sounding like a total jerk.

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mom like you

having a bit of a rough night this evening and came across this article and your comment really spoke to me. thanks for helping me to confirm that it’s all gonna be ok.

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Cassie Hewitt

🙂 One small bar of dark chocolate per day saves me.
I am in the same boat–we can do this. If anyone can, it’s us–armed with coffee and chocolate–haha!

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sarah ray

try to enjoy the ride. it’s crazy, it feels unmanageable. but how lucky am i to be able to have a career and be a mother? so lucky. and my daughters will have a great role model, so i shouldn’t feel guilt.

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Tammy

Ask for help when you need it and hire a weekly/bi-weekly cleaning service. The biggest stressor in my life/work balance has been the housekeeping. When I come home each week after my house has been cleaned gives me permission to focus on other things that are more important and I know I don’t have to spend all weekend cleaning! And even though many women may think they can’t afford one, you may be surprised at your options. I hired a neice who is staying at home with her children and needed the money. She doesn’t charge me top rate, I can trust her in my home and she does a wonderful job because she understands how much it helps me. I do try to tip her occasionally! 🙂

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Tiffany

One of the best pieces of advice/comments about work-life balance for me, that I have come across, was that there never is truly balance, at all. Each day can lean more toward one than the other and then change the next day (or the next hour). With that, I have learned to trust that things can swing and never last indefinitely. So, I do the best that I can. Being a special education teacher, I feel that being a mom is so incredibly challenging during the school year, when there are hours of work to do at home. It helps to flow with the shifting work-life balance each day, but I am still learning to practice better self-care and to ask for help.

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Cassie Hewitt

Tiffany, sounds just like my post! I am also a teacher–but online college English. STILL quite a workload, though no one thinks I have a “real” job (except the 100 students chomping at the bit for feedback and grades) 🙂
I am with you on the self-care aspect. I often take off on Saturdays to get work done and then–sometimes!–a shopping trip, pedi, or massage. Best of luck to you!

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Kristy LaFollette

“Don’t take anyone’s advice.”

By far this has served me in many facets of my life. Learn what fits YOU best, use YOUR OWN life experience. We are not children, we are adults. By now, you should have a few things to refer to. Believe in yourself, have confidence. Everyone is different!

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Cassie Hewitt

In a word–shortfalls. So, really, a perfectly balanced life, as many have noted, is very, very rare. More often, it is about sacrificing home/kids to get work done, or sacrificing work to take care of home and kids. It is about constant shifts, about shortfalls that inevitably are created, and then putting in the time to remedy them.
If I have to be home to take care of a sick kid (like today), then I go onto campus on Saturday to concentrate and “get ‘er done” grading and responding to students.
Too bad I actually had a 40-min relaxation massage I had to cancel, because THAT shortfall–to yourself–is most often the worst and deepest.

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Mama

The best advice I have heard is not to be so critical of myself. My problem is taking that advice. Maybe I need CBT! Drives me crazy when people tell me, “don’t worry so much!” Like I can turn it off like a light switch. I’m only a quarter of the way through your book and it feels like you wrote a story about me (my husband’s name is also Brian!) I feel like if I could let the worry go, my life would be better. I used to be a superstar at my employer, now I feel like I get no respect whatsoever. Care less what people think and do what’s right for you. Now if I can just walk the walk… I write a blog on my lunch breaks because it feels like the only place I can connect with people like me, and that helps. We are not alone!

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Katrina

CBT does help with this, but so does surrounding yourself with people who respect you, and don’t try to micro-manage you. Sometimes you have to change the inside, and sometimes you just need a different job. 😉

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Alicia

Hope I’m not too late to be helpful! Thanks for your honesty about your own experience and this great blog!

To be frank, finally leaving my job in big law and going to a small law firm has made it even POSSIBLE for me to think about survival strategies. I didn’t see leaving as leaning out. Leaning IN at a firm that demanded far, far too much to (maybe) succeed was untenable. Some types of companies are just not geared toward a meaningful work-life balance; most big law firms fall in that category. I was so tired of the “tips” from female partners for making it work, like “go home around 5:30 and enjoy your precious new baby…. and then just open up your laptop after she goes to sleep and work several more hours to get your billables in.” Sleep? Why would you need that?!

There is a place for “tips” to help balance our gloriously full lives. But first, let’s have the uncomfortable conversations that challenge the metrics of companies that care about face time and hours spent churning out widgets rather than efficiency, creativity, and quality. Then, when we feel the freedom of being in a workplace that just wants to see us get the job done, we can consider survival tips:
– Stay healthy: Get enough sleep. Exercise. Don’t eat and drink a bunch of crap. No need to do these things perfectly, but at least try!
– Keep an electronic to do list that is really easy to access and organize. When you think ” I need to buy a fire extinguisher for the kitchen,” or “I have to order holiday cards,” just throw it on there and FORGET it until later.
– Rest your mind. Pray. Meditate. Take 10 deep breaths before running into daycare for pick up. Whatever works for you. Affirmations are helpful. I used to think this was hippie stuff for people with too much free time. Now I realize that taking time to calm the frenzy in my brain is as important as the other things I do to stay healthy.
– Let your helper, if you have one, really help you. When I ask my husband to help, I let him. When he dresses our daughter for daycare, I don’t even choose the outfit. Has she worn a few things that are out of season or ill fitting? Sure. Was she fine? Yep.

I really think it’s an individual strategy based on each person’s priorities. Maybe the partners who told me to bill hours from 10pm – 2am thought that made sense because their first priority was being a successful big law attorney. That wasn’t my path to fulfillment. I put in an honest day at work, am fully present with my child and husband outside of work (at least, I really try!), and I try to balance the rest as best I can!

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Katrina

Not too late! Thanks Alicia. I thought that affirmations were for hippies, too. I guess I’m a hippy now.

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laura

Begin helping one another. Find good mom friends and be willing to share your own vulnerability and imperfections with them. I learned to let them see the disaster of my kitchen not swept in three weeks, and when I’m visiting them, I find some towels to fold or dishes to wash. Being the driver for a carpool to swim lessons as a trade for daycare/school pickups so you can stay late in a pinch is worth the “swing schedule” conversation with your manager. Of course, this requires some shared geography–mom friends who live within 10 minutes of us and ideally have kids in the same school or daycare. Find and keep such a treasure of a friend!!!

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karolina

If you can afford it, quality flexible full time childcare is money well spent. You are investing in your family, your children, and your careers (note I am including dad here)

Make the decisions that are right for your family and don’t apologize for them to anyone.

Sometimes lunch can be for getting things done, but you should have lunch with your coworkers at least once a week.

Find some professional women and get together occasionally to actually talk about work and your careers. I work in a male dominated field and find this support crucial.

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karolina

I’m a little sad to hear the previous poster refer to her husband as a “helper”. The term sets the expectations unequally from the start and implies everything household and childcare is fully your responsibility. He is a partner. And as CS said in “Lean In”, “Make your partner a partner.”

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Alicia

That’s a point well taken. And it really is something we have to work on. In many respects, my husband does household work without prompting – laundry, dishes, even packing up everything each morning for my breast pump, God bless him. But you are right that I often find him asking me “what can I do go help?” and I wonder if I’m responsible for that. I’ve started saying “Whatever you see that needs doing, that would be great.” We both have advanced educations. He can certainly look around and see that the counter needs to be cleaned off. I’m open to suggestions on this front, and thank you!

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Jen

Alicia,
I know don’t want this to turn into a husband-bashing session but I so feel your pain about the ” what can I do to help?” question. It infuriates me. Look around and see that dinner isn’t started yet, the trash can is full, there’s dirty dishes in the sink and clean ones in the dishwasher. I know a lot women say to just ask your husband to do what you need done but am I the only one that doesn’t like that advice? Why should I have to tell you or ask for your help? I think it should be automatic but that clearly isn’t working. On the few times I have asked him to do multiple things I felt much better at the end of the night, i.e. less exhausted. It would be great to feel like that every day or to know that if I needed to stay late at work one day that he’d be knocking things out instead playing video games until I get home. Any advice ladies on how to get your husband to do the million daily things on a daily basis?

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Alicia

One of Brigid Schulte’s tips in “Overwhelmed…” was to agree on standards. Keeping up with dishes and laundry, for example, would be something that both people agree must be done. But wiping the bathroom mirrors every day might be unreasonable. Although, when there is toothpaste everywhere and the cleaner is RIGHT under the sink… Pick your battles, huh? 🙂

Sorry to take over this comment thread, Katrina! Hope the conference goes well!

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Jen

Thanks Alicia! I think that makes perfect sense and isn’t something I’ve tried discussing with him. I’ll give it a whirl. And yes good luck Katrina! I loved your book.

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Katrina

Great discussion. My advice would be that if it’s feasible for you, get out of town once in awhile, so he sees what it’s like to be fully in charge. It changes your awareness when there’s no adult to ask “How can I help?”

The conference was REALLY WELL by the way. Thanks everyone for your input. It gave me lots to think about. My only regret is that there wasn’t nearly enough time. One of the attendees told me later that we could have done a whole conference just on our panel topic.

ann

Once you reach a certain point financially, throw some money at problems. You and the spouse argue about housework? Pay someone to do it. Need to throw a party? Buy the cake and get your babysitter to take care of the details. I know not everyone is in a place to do this, but if you are, it’ll make everyone happier.

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Dee

Hi, I have been working from my home office for the past 9 years, it’s been a great write off and allows me to spend time with the kids. I am currently working with fortune 500 companies and it cost nothing to get set up. I do spend about 4 hours daily only because I choose too and you do have to have a computer. You won’t become rich but you can make $50 to $100 daily. If anyone would like info on it email me at 365dailypd@gmail.com I’d be happy to send you the link to look it over

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Carrie

Wow, am I glad I found this blog. I have some serious back-reading to do here today. Okay, this topic has been something I have been considering (and writing about!). I currently teach at the university level, but am on a teaching assignment in some urban schools that has upset the home/life balance with a long commute. I’ve also started my own business with my best friend of thirty years in an effort to use our talents to do something we love–it has been a lifesaver in the stress department. I am currently in a position where my grant-funded assignment is coming to an end and I have a decision to make: find something that fulfills my need to work with teachers and kids on a very limited basis AND spend more time on my business, but also give me more time at home. The business is out of my home. OR go back to the full-time grind. I’m currently finding a way to make the first choice work. I think my answer is to ask yourself some tough questions. What is most important to you? What can you hit the mental delete button on (assignments, long commutes, social engagements, committees)? Are you brave enough/do you have the support in place/can you get it? to make a change you need to make in your job (even if you have to rearrange your finances or your husband just doesn’t get it sometimes–ugh)? Then you have to answer them. Finally, do it. I’m walking the walk right now. We’ll see how it goes.

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Allison

My sanity savers have been having someone clean my house every couple of weeks, an after school program, a helpful husband who shares the load, work that’s fairly flexible when I need it to be. Even with all of that, which I am so very grateful for, it often still feels a bit overwhelming.

One bit of advice from a mentor at work who cherishes work-life balance is to understand that your career energy ebbs and flows. Some years (especially with younger kids) you may need to pull back and just to what needs to get done at work and focus on your family. As kids grow, things change, you may have more energy to focus on growing your career or taking on big projects, etc. Recognize where you’re at and be okay with it.

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Cassie Hewitt

In a word–shortfalls. So, really, a perfectly balanced life, as many have noted, is very, very rare. More often, it is about sacrificing home/kids to get work done, or sacrificing work to take care of home and kids. It is about constant shifts, about shortfalls that inevitably are created, and then putting in the time to remedy them.
If I have to be home to take care of a sick kid (like today), then I go onto campus on Saturday to concentrate and “get ‘er done” grading and responding to students.
Too bad I actually had a 40-min relaxation massage I had to cancel, because THAT shortfall–to yourself–is most often the worst and deepest.

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Amanda Gaal

For me, the best piece of advice I received was that spending time with your children is all about quality not quantity. Being present and in the moment is so much more beneficial than just being there all the time but not participating – and much more appreciated!

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Kris

That’s really great advice! My own upbringing supports this fully. An hour of full engagement a day means more than 5 hours of proximity. And sometimes something “small” like a meal together and then fully-engaged reading together before bed is enough. This is something I try to remember whenever that mom-guilt creeps up.

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Lindsay McKenzie

The best advice I ever received was to treat myself like I was my own daughter…I do tend to put my family first(what mom doesn’t!) but then always step back and do something good for me. It makes for a much healthier balanced family!!

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Remonia

I’m sure your event will be over by the time you read this post. I am a Life Coach as well as a mom of 6 boys, husband and everything in between. I often remind myself and those who I work with “I can only do what I can do” Often times as women we wear so many hats and in between us caring for our families our voice get lost. We lose who we are so everyone else may live, if that makes sense.
I would say to remember who you are… When we realize that everything is a process and some things may need to go on the back burner, that’s balance. It’s remembering to breath when all else fails. It’s remembering to honor the inner wife/mommy she deserves it.. It’ s remembering the long days at work coming home to nurturing your family when you’re dead beat but remembering to reward yourself…
When we stop to remember ourselves we find all the balance in the World to do what needs to be done!!

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Kris

I wanted to chime in although I’m sure that your conference is over. Some of what I’m saying has been said already, and it admittedly overlaps. But nonetheless here is what has helped me:

1. Letting go of perfectionism!
2. Learning to say “no.” I once heard someone say in a radio interview that “saying ‘no’ is really just saying ‘yes’ to yourself.” I just thought that was an interesting perspective on it.
3. And on the same vein: Trying to live by the motto, “I won’t do anything I don’t want to do.” Sounds silly, but I’ve worked on getting more in tune with my feelings. If I’m doing something and begin to feel anything negative (frustration, resentment, fatigue, anxiety, etc.) I stop. I take a deep breath and ask, “do I really need to do this right now?” 95% of the time the answer is actually, no. So I stop. If the answer is yes, that’s when I either suck it up knowing that I’ll feel better when it’s done, or recognize that it’s time to ask for help. Which leads us to…
4. Ask for or hire help.
5. Rising above judgment and remembering that what people say about you is a reflection of their values or their issues, and not typically yours.

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