Does this sound familiar? “I only have time for work and my kids.”
I once had a colleague who was very involved in his kid’s life and very productive at work — but admits that was it. No hobbies, no TV watching, and no life outside of work or family. In most work cultures this behavior is not just preferred, it’s rewarded with accolades and career advancement. Meanwhile, employees who choose to set work boundaries quietly perform well, but choose not to progress up at the sacrifice of their non-work life. In our “work-first” culture, most working mothers must devote most of their available time to work. The last remaining morsel of energy is lovingly (but also, sometimes resentfully) spent on family. Even in some demanding work environments like law or sales, having a life outside of work is frowned upon. As women strive for work-life balance, they have started to redefine what it really means to be happy as a working mother. When work no longer satisfies or defines self-worth, a desire to have a gratifying life outside of work grows.
Reasons we don’t have a life outside work
Working hard is a virtue. But have we gone too far? There are many reasons we don’t have lives outside of work, including:
- Societal pressure: There is an undercurrent of shaming women in America. Women who take on the “martyr” archetype are judged for being “selfish,” “lazy,” or not a good mother. It’s a generational undercurrent, but it’s still alive in our culture. Women unconsciously take on too much at work because of this ingrained societal pressure.
- Personal pressure: There sure is a lot to live up to as a modern mother, and sometimes our harshest critic is right there in the mirror.
- Workplace demands: Whether it be work load, coworker repercussions, or supervisor pressure, working women have to navigate through no shortage of job pressures.
- The Facebook factor: Be real. You love posting that perfect pic of you rocking a dinner — when your kids aren’t strangling each other at the dinner table, that is. You will face social backlash if you don’t look like a good mom, and thus you hyper-selectively choose what you share. That sort of inauthenticity isn’t just stress-inducing — it can pervade other areas of your life, too.
Here’s your sign: Get a life!
The signs that you need a life outside work are not always so obvious. If you have ever felt these emotions or find yourself in these situations, then it’s time you look at how you spend your time:
- Resentful at your partner or kids or work
- Exhausted at work and at home
- Permanent work-brain — i.e., you can’t turn off “work mode” when you get home
- Kids are extra clingy
- Your partner is distant
- Feeling a lack of fulfillment
- Dissatisfaction with work
Surprisingly good things can happen
Undoing some of that habitual thinking about work (or lack thereof) and challenging some cultural norms around work is bold. But the rewards of a balanced life are vast, like:
- Stress relief and re-energizing
- Better sleep
- Feel free (and young) again
- Sense of connection to nature, people and spirituality
- Have more energy for home life
- Better sense of self
“Take back your life” action plan
If you are reading this article, congratulations! You have recognized that having a life outside work is important. And that is the first step! The journey to making different choices around how you work and how spend your time outside of work is a process, not a quick fix. Advocating for well-being is often met with resistance from management or peer pressure. Even if you feel unable to schedule some leisure time into your calendar, making time for a life outside of work should be your No. 1 priority. It varies for every woman. For some women, it’s a pedicure every two weeks, for others it’s workout class three times a week, and for some it’s a no-child weekend away. I recommend you start with one two-hour activity every two weeks. While you’re at it, check out Fairygodboss’ database of family-friendly employers who value your time and recognize the importance of a well-balanced employee. And lastly — check in with how you feel when you take time for yourself. Do feelings of guilt, resentment, or work anxiety come up? It’s normal, but remember this: You are worth having a life outside of work!
Elaine is a Working Mom Support Coach on a mission de-stress maternity leave and propel a nation of thriving working mothers. From her own emotionally traumatic return-to-work after her first daughter (HOT MESS!), ThriveMomma.com was born. She coaches new moms on return-to-work readiness, time management, and mindful living, and she consults for corporations on paternity transition planning and work-life policies to retain and nurture working parents.