Balance is for Yoga and Flamingos: Rethinking Work/Life Balance For Busy Moms

By Akilah S. Richards

Far be it for me to dictate what a grown woman should believe—particularly as it relates to how she chooses to live her life.  Indeed, we able-bodied adult women share both the right and the capacity to choose what works best for us and ours, lifestyle choices withstanding.  I believe in that right wholeheartedly…that is unless you’re talking about the one “buzz term” that sets me all the way OFF …

Work-Life Balance.

Dammit, y’all—why…make that how…are we still on this?

Show of hands: who among us actually believes it is probable to divvy up a relatively equal amount of our time paying equal attention to all the major categories of our lives?

I see some hands held high, and I’m challenging you right now, on this here MBB stoop, to a good ‘ole-fashioned RETHINK.

Fine, maybe it’s not so old-fashioned at all.  Perhaps it’s more like a relatively new school of thought that openly rejects the long-standing, societally validated notion that a woman should seek to achieve a balance between her professional and personal lives, and that doing so will enhance her emotional wellness and overall quality of life.

I call Bullsh*t—a big ‘ole steaming, horsefly-attractin’ pile—and I dare you to challenge my call.

Why am I calling bullsh*t?

Because work-life balance is well steeped in a four-letter word: F-E-A-R.

The idea, as I’ve seen it over the past eight years I’ve spent interviewing women at varying levels of their life journeys, is that if we do not embrace balance among the varying aspects of our lives, we’ll pay too much attention to one thing, and not enough to another, thereby leaving us with a heavily lopsided focus—unavailable for some parts, and unhappy with our overall results. Word on the street is that an imbalanced life is the cause of physical illnesses and challenges with our emotional wellbeing.

That spells mediocrity and fear to me.  Being well-rounded sounds good in theory, but really, it just means that a woman didn’t dig deep into any one aspect of her life—that she instead stayed near the safe intersection between responsible and respectable.

Is that what you want to be known as—a responsible, respectable woman?

Or do you want to truly find out what you’re capable of accomplishing in this life?

Care to wrangle your biggest dreams around in your mind, showing them that ultimately, they’ll go where you and God decide?

If a woman spends too much time focused on herself and her own needs, then she’s bound to neglect her other responsibilities, i.e. her job, her partner, her children, her dearest friends. Right?

Instead, we women are told we should seek to stay in great physical and mental health, attract and marry a good man, raise well-behaved, academically-on-point children, find a group of great women friends with whom to swap recipes and giggle over drinks, and if she’s particularly badass, make a name for herself in a respectable career.

Basically, Mrs. Michelle Obama has effectively replaced June Cleaver as the epitome of the poster child for stage play: Woman, Thou Art Freakin’ Perfect!

I doubt that Michelle Obama herself is as Michelle Obama-esque as we think! Clearly, she’s fit…and smart…doubly so for hooking up with Mr. President Hottie-Mac-Brilliant, back in her corporate law firm days.  However, before she was our First Lady, she blazed a helluva trail in community service programming, and later as the University of Chicago Hospitals’ Vice President of Community and External Affairs—which I doubt made room for daily cookie-baking, and other mythical work-life balance tasks.

When I study Mrs. Obama’s life design, I don’t see balance.  I see a deep-end dive into whatever she prioritized at various points in her life.  Sometimes that priority was her career, and though I have no doubt Malia and Sasha were always priorities, Mrs. Obama was probably not sitting up at night trying to create balance; no, she was working toward excellence, which quite often calls for imbalance.

Balancing Career, Family, and Politics:

“Following her husband’s election to the US Senate in November 2004, Michelle was appointed vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center in May 2005. Despite Barack’s dual roles in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, Michelle did not consider resigning from her position and moving to the nation’s capitol. Only after Barack announced his presidential campaign did she adjust her work schedule; in May 2007 she cut her hours by 80% to accommodate the needs of the family during his candidacy.” — Source

  1. Executive role at the hospital
  2. A decision not to move to her husband’s new job’s state
  3. A decision not to resign from her role upon becoming the wife of a Senator
  4. A clearly illustrated commitment to her own WINN (What I Need Now moments)
  5. A severe sway to one side (let’s call that imbalance) by cutting her hours by 80% to accommodate the needs of her family
  6. The design of a harmonious state within the areas of her professional and personal endeavors

Got that?   Harmony.  Not balance. 

Nothing about the above-cited paragraph reads balance.

She stayed in deep waters, both feet in, and she decided to express herself to the world in her career, without limiting her commitment to her husband and children.

Two things:

  1. She had help (gotta love a helpful mother: kudos to you, Marian Robinson!).
  2. She ditched balance for a bona fide gangsta lean into her career as an administrator.

I’m not promoting the idea of going hard until you’re near a breakdown, but I am offering up the option of digging into your mental treasure chest to find out what drives you, and allowing that to be a significant determining factor in how you spend each of your days.

So, if Michelle Obama can risk expression and have it work out some kind of lovely—how about you?  Can you facilitate this rethink by looking at the ways you’ve failed at creating an even-keeled life, and considering that what you need is an alternative to the myth of Work-Life Balance?

WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE?

Let’s discuss that in Part Two.  The goal here is not to simply drum up conversation about what we already know ISN’T working.  Instead, it’s to look at the What/Why of our daily challenges in lifestyle management, then looking at the How for sustainable options.

My book, The Execumama’s Survival Guide, is part of a comprehensive Life Design Kit for women, mothers, and entrepreneurs looking to feel fulfilled in all facets of their life journey.  I’d love to hear about your struggles (and successes if you’ve got ‘em!) around Work-Life Balance.

Next Up… Part Two: The Sustainable Alternative to Work-Life Balance.

About Akilah Richards: Emotional Wellness + Radical Self-expression are the focal points of lifestyle coach Akilah S. Richards, as she serves women, mothers, and entrepreneurs at The Life Design Agency.  Her second book, The Execumamas Survival Kit, asserts that balance is best reserved for yoga and flamingos, and that finding harmony (not balance!) offers true access to work-life fulfillment. Learn more at AkilahSRichards.com.

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.

14 Comments

  1. I’m a huge advocate for work/life balance. Men lean too hard toward work and women in the direction of life which is why we get the short end of the stick in the career arena but thats the physiological makeup. I believe that you will have to sacrifice one for the other (work or life) at some point but to what degree is up to us..an individual choice.

    Bottom line: we can have it all just not at the same time. One day you’re home late from work and feel like the worst mom. The next day you suck at a presentation but were the best mom ever. Expecting perfection 100% in both areas 100% of the time is additional pressure and unrealistic. We can seek it but not expect it to happen. Just my .03 cents. lol

    • Your .03 cents are quite welcome, Nia! I agree with your statement wholeheartedly. We can absolutely have it all, but for most women, the term “balance” means feeling that they aren’t sacrificing one thing for the other–which leaves us with feeling overwhelmed and lacking in some areas. If were let of this need for constant balance overall lives, we accept that we will not feel all “Even Steven” between our work and our life every day, but we can absolutely serve our own needs and address our priorities as they come.

  2. Thank you for this post. I keep looking for that “balance” and wondering why it just doesn’t seem to work. I have to remember that it’s ok to not be EVERYTHING at one time.

  3. This is great Akilah! I truly believe in making it work for all including, YOURSELF! We have our babies, our partners, and our extended family & friends to uphold, but we must also uphold our purpose on this Earth. I’m gonna run out and get your book! BTW- It looks like my favorite chocolate package, YUM!

    • Thank you, Brooke! You know I’ve long-connected with many of the principles you assert on your site too! I appreciate you, and yes–our purposes on this Earth are just as deserving of our attention and time as all the other wonderful facets of our lives!

  4. “…thereby leaving us with a heavily lopsided focus.” This speaks to so many of us, including me. What a strong, powerful post this is. Yes, Mrs. O has given me a great amount of inspiration. Thank you for writing this.

  5. This was great! Sounds a little like the message my boss gave me recently. maybe she read your book? 😉
    In short the conversation centered around how she hated the word “balance” and almost always vacated workshops geared at faculty women on balance for two reasons: (1) because no such meeting was taking place for men and (2) she believes it should be called “juggling” for the reasons you laid out. There is nothing wrong with going hard in your career, personal or home life, but recognize that achieving it all everyday is just not an option and will apply unnecessary stress. That conversation (and this blog post) took off a lot of pressure as I chose my next career move and welcome a baby. I wasn’t achieving the “balance” and I was stressed and about to make a foolish life choice because of it.

    Brilliant post Akilah. Now for part 2!

    • DFig, please give your boss a strong fist bump on my behalf! I agree with her and you fully! I am SO HAPPY that women like us are finally having the discussion about what WE need and how WE want to feel. These obligations and balancing acts are based on an antiquated idea that doesn’t take our real lives into account.

      Thank you for sharing your experiences with the myth, and I wish you well as you continue to prioritize yourself and your needs in your life.

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