One of the reasons for our relocation to Germany was our desire for more balance in our lives. As our family grew, and two sweet kids were born, I found myself constantly reshaping my priorities and schedule. That kept getting more and more difficult as I went back to work, tried to re-establish my business after a very long time off, and with the challenges that life kept throwing at us. I have been working a lot on my own personal growth lately, digging deep and attempting to reshape whatever it is that feels slightly off. Therefore I’m very happy that Gitanjali More, Founder of The Confused Mother, is here, to share her thoughts, outlook and practical tips on finding work-life balance as a parent in general, and an international mother in Germany in particular. Take it away, Gitanjali!
This is what I think about when I look at my life as a mother.
Remember the time when you didn’t have children? You probably thought you have so much free time. And now that you have kids and think back on that time, you probably think you had soooooo much free time when you didn’t have kids!
When people talk about work-life balance, they often think about their jobs and their kids. Self-care then becomes a luxury or “nice to have” or isn’t even a consideration. While you are taking care of your job and family, no one is taking care of you.
But I propose that self-care is the key to a good work-life balance. Maybe even the most important element.
So what is work-life balance? It has been defined as “a state of equilibrium” between the demands of your career and the demands of your family life or personal life. I think this definition needs to be adjusted to “work-life balance is a state in a person’s life where they have time to prioritize themselves and at the same time have good control over their jobs and family life.” This looks different for everyone, depending on your financial situation, the help you have around, how many children you have and many other factors. It is not 50% work and 50% life and definitely doesn’t work every day. The aim is to feel balanced about our lives as a whole.
As an international parent, parenting becomes even more challenging because we don’t have family and friends close by who we can lean on for support. But we are not meant to live our lives the way we did before we had kids. And we are definitely not meant to do it alone. So it is very important to build a community of friends who we can lean on for support, especially as international families living in Germany. It can be for a couple of hours of babysitting, someone to talk to or meet spontaneously for a cup of coffee or just spend time together with the kids. We live in this world of hyper-connectivity where we can talk to our friends and families across the world but are least connected with the people who are in our immediate neighborhoods. Those are the people we need in our everyday lives.
While most parents find it difficult to balance their work and family lives, this can be particularly challenging for international mothers. We are battling decades of this image of “the perfect mother”, the all-sacrificing woman who always puts herself last, works non-stop to always be there for her children and has the perfect home. At the same time, we are expected to be successful at work. Most women who look like they “have it all” will tell you that they don’t do it alone. They have built a support system to take care of some aspects of their lives or their partners take over their fair share of work.
Germany offers a lot of support for working parents, like daycare, ample paid annual leave, financial support and part-time work. If you are a mother working in Germany, you can use these offers and free up some time in your day to take care of yourself.
The minute you start talking about work-life balance, everyone will mention a to-do list. But then we start adding things to the list and it seems never ending. It becomes a constant reminder of things we haven’t managed to do. But what is important to remember is that these planning tools, apps and calendars are here to work for us and not control our lives. They are there to make our lives easier and bring more structure to them. So don’t let them control you or make you feel guilty.
Work expands to fill the time available. So if you are always available, you will always have work. This is why boundaries are so important. It can be difficult to say no, especially to our kids or people we are very close to. It can be something as small as parting with the last bite of food on your plate because your child wants to have it. Or you look at your phone and have an email and think, “Oh, I can quickly answer this one and then I’m done”. Before you know it, you’ve gone down the rabbit hole and an hour later, you’re still not done.
We also live at work, so we cannot separate the two from one another. It is important to ensure a good quality of life at work as well if we hope to have a good family life. Not only do we have to make sure we don’t bring work into our family life, it is also important to make sure we set boundaries at work. Some people say, “when I’m at work, I’m 100% at work and when I’m at home, I’m 100% at home”. This sounds nice but practically, it is just not possible for most people. You end up thinking about chores and your children at work, and you think about that exciting project or dreading a work deadline. That’s normal. But if we organize our lives in such a way that things are taken care of, we will have fewer things to worry about or distract us.
Maintaining a good balance in your life clearly has a lot of advantages. It can reduce your stress levels, improve your sleep and mood and increase energy levels. I’m sure you’re now wondering what the solution is. Of course, like most things related to parenting, there is no one-size fits all solution. You have to find what works for you. Here are some of my suggestions:
Flexibility: While we can make some plans, it is important to remain flexible in our minds because life with kids is particularly unpredictable. While we might have a routine that works for us, there are bound to be days when things don’t work as we hope or plan. In this case, we have to quickly find alternate solutions and change our plans. Having a support system of friends and family in this case really helps.
Simplicity in the way you live your life. Try to be in the moment, enjoy your life and don’t get caught up in negativity. If you feel extremely unhappy, take some time to think about what needs to change so that you find happiness again and make a plan to get there.
Disconnect: from work and from technology. Put down your phone, stop scrolling mindlessly on social media or binge-watching TV. I am sure you already know this, but this unhealthy use of technology is ruining our sleep and increasing our dissatisfaction.
Self-care: For some self-care could mean going out with friends for drinks, for others it could be finding time for exercise. As mothers, we are often over-stimulated by our kids, our work and all our thoughts. So self-care in this case can be anything that relaxes you. It doesn’t need to be an extra, it can also be a part of your daily routine like stepping out for a walk with your baby and getting some fresh air. For me, the best self-care is organizing my life so that I always have my evenings free to do what I want.
The main message I want to leave you with is that you are important too. You are worthy of being at the top of your list of priorities.
Take care of yourself and be kind to yourself.
If you would like to work on your own daily schedule to find daily work-life balance and time for yourself, join my workshop on March 15. In this intimate workshop, you will also have the opportunity to talk to other mothers, share, inspire and be inspired.