If January was considered a dry run for you, I’d like to welcome you to 2019. The year is officially underway, the kids are back at school, office deadlines are coming fast and you’re probably already thinking about the next holiday period.
Hang in there, we’ve got a couple of months to go until then. With everything running at full force, it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed and anxious – almost as though you’re about to drop several of the balls you’re juggling.
How can I manage all that I have to do, better than I did last year? For me, mom guilt would rear its ugly head whenever I came across another woman – usually a celebrity or public personality – who claimed they’ve figured out how to balance all they do in their oh so busy lives. And there I am, with maybe half the number of metaphoric hats to wear, completely clueless of how to manage my boring (but still busy) life.
If you’re like me and believe you could only find balance in your life if you had a clone, I’d like to share a revelation with you. I used to think balance meant giving everything in my life the same amount of time and effort in order to literally ‘balance’. Yet, how I think about it now has made me feel more empowered and much more at ease.
“Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.”
I can’t take full credit for my mindset shift, though. Actually, I can’t take any of it. It’s all thanks to Shonda Rhimes. In her book, Year of Yes, she explains that people ask her to share how she does it all – TV’s most powerful woman, mom of three, entrepreneur, media mogul, the list goes on. What she said was absolutely liberating: she doesn’t.
“Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life.
“If I am killing it on a ‘Scandal’ script for work, I’m probably missing bath and story time at home. If I am at home sewing my kids’ Halloween costumes, I am probably blowing off a script I was supposed to rewrite.”
I read this passage about four times the first time, and still refer back to it whenever I start questioning my reasons for choosing the lifestyle that I have.
Here are three things I do to ‘balance’:
1. Compartmentalise and prioritise
I tend to multi-think, which I’ve realised just stresses and overwhelms me and, most importantly, leaves me unable to be present in whatever I’m actually supposed to be doing. Writing lists is standard, and I have a list for everything! It helps to actually see what I need to do rather than letting it all rattle around in my head. Schedules also help, so putting those two together helps me to get things done. We all wear several hats and I found that I thrive when I wear them at separate times.
I can’t give the same amount of attention to everything, so I’ve identified the top three areas for me and make sure those are good before focusing on others: marriage, motherhood, career. When I’m in wife mode, I wear that hat and give my husband my undivided attention – date nights are perfect for this kind of uninterrupted quality time.
When I’ve got my mommy hat on, I put my phone on silent and I’m in the moment with my son.
When I have my work hat on, I knock out my tasks for the day, starting with the most urgent first. I catch up with my parents and siblings daily on WhatsApp and weekend video calls. I book dedicated girls’ days with my closest friends weeks in advance to get that part of my spirit fulfilled. I have allocated times to check social media and emails. This way I’m able to give attention to the most important areas of my life first.
2. Take time out
As mothers, we’re trained to think about everyone else and be on top of everything – our husband, kids, parents, in-laws, friends, colleagues. And then, finally there you are at the bottom of that list…if you’re even on it. The saying ‘fill your cup first before you fill others’ is cliché for a reason: it’s true.
If I’m run down, overwhelmed and stressed, the version of myself that I’m sharing with others is irritable and impatient. So, I’ve made it a point to have some alone time where I do something that I like and that helps me recharge. It’s different for everyone and could be as simple as a bubble bath, or going for a walk. Anything that makes you feel like you, without wearing any of the hats. I always find that after I fill my cup, I’m able to give more of my good self to others.
I’m what I call a recovering perfectionist. I used to (and sometimes still do) overthink and over-analyse anything that I do. The truth is, although your house will suffer from you not doing anything, it won’t crash if you only do some things. I can’t afford a PA, but I’m lucky to have a domestic helper who cleans our house and looks after my son if he’s off school. If you can afford it, it’s a worthy addition to your life.
If you can’t, enlist the help of a family member or trusted neighbour to help look after your children if you can’t take days off work. If your child is still a baby, they can still come in handy when you need to take a breather. I usually find that people in my life are willing to help, if I just ask. This was something I had trouble with until last year and I’ve now seen the benefits of sharing the load. The biggest trick here is to not micromanage and trust – they may not do it the way you would, but as long as it’s done.
I hope these tips help you find more balance in your life. Here’s to a productive and hopefully mom-guilt-free year ahead!
Aisha O’Reilly is a young African woman who loves natural hair, beauty and being a new mommy, among other things. Her aim is to inspire and encourage fellow women by giving them a peek into her life, with all of its ups, downs, questions and adventures in her blog, Aisha and Life.