Work-life balance versus work-life Integration
By Retuura Ballotti
Bank Windhoek HR Manager Business Partner.
Work-Life integration means intertwining what you consider “life” or “personal” areas with “work”. It is not the same as Work-Life balance, where an unrealistic expectation exists to work out an allocation balance of time which separates work from personal life demands.
Often when asked the question of “How do you balance work and life’, I do not know what the expected answer is. I am aware that many working mothers find it intrusive to voice the truth about working women. Many women have assistance at home and often must delegate some of the vast number of demands that working mothers must contend with. Working mothers can save much time, misery and feelings of failure if they are honest in admitting that it cannot be done without sacrificing some area. The fact of the matter is that when you juggle too many balls at the same time, some will fall onto the ground.
Most successful working mothers remain silent about how they take care of their homes, children or families, and others behave as if they have a clone of themselves hidden somewhere, which allows them to be in two places at once, somehow balancing everything. These women often do more considerable damage to themselves and others by not talking about their actual realities.
As a working mother, I was preceded by five strong women, who collectively made managing work and life look easy. My foundation stems from one of the first women to receive accolades as an informal farmer in Grootfontein, an executive of a leading petroleum organisation, a medical professional in the halls of our hospitals, a lead advisor in the pharmaceutical industry for SADC region based in the US; to my late grandmother who had always pursued additional streams of income to fend for her family of eight. Considering this tree of life, my situation is not unique, and their experiences have taught me that the picture-perfect image we have of motherhood, working and trying to conquer all, is an illusion.
Before I became a mother, I couldn’t fathom the commitment, dedication, blood, sweat and tears, as well as the different embodiment of roles to get through the day, week and month. Reality is that nobody is ever going to give you a certificate for participating or doing great, but satisfaction comes in different shapes and forms.
Working mothers need to learn to say, “I allow myself grace because I am unable to manage everything, but I do rely on a support system that allows me to succeed and be successful”. I
consider myself fortunate to have nanny Irene whom I can rely on, a hands-on husband, parents and in-laws who assist with school runs and extramural activities and much more.
Am I a traditional mother? No, neither do I strive to be one. I love and cherish my children, consider them blessings, and realise that they are the most significant life-altering experiences, but they are not my only purpose. I’m a firm believer that purpose is diversified by facets, all part of the same whole. This forces me to acknowledge and accept that work-life balance is a false pre-set condition setting woman everywhere up for failure and a long road of guilt. All of this allows me to be a non-traditionalist integrator.
Working women have been shamed into believing that by admitting this, you are failing. It’s not an option for me to work; I must work. Like many other working mothers, I have not figured it out yet, since there is always a nagging thought making one wonder, “Are you doing the right thing” or “Are you making the best decisions for your children and family?” Yet, the comfort I find in love for my children and my passion for my work serves as a reason not to choose either or.
We are not in a competition between working moms versus non-working moms. Mothers should be able to choose their motherhood role and use available resources to do the best they can. Working mothers must make peace with being the mother at children’s extramural activities sitting with a laptop on her lap working while stealing glances at their performance. Or buying a cake and transferring it onto a cake stand for the school cake sale. It is not about being perfect but being present. It is also totally ok to say “No” from time to time and instead consider opportunities that benefit you or your family. We should not perpetuate the outdated perception for working mothers.
True happiness does not mean that you need to manage a perfect balance. The most important job I have is to support my family, pay my dues to ensure that my children have all that they need—being mindful that I need to get it together or risk ruining someone else forever. Whether working or being a stay at home mother, still means you’re a mother. No one is better than the other; they both deserve respect. I cannot define my motherhood choices the same as the mother next to me. We are different. Neither can I tell anyone how to be a mother. My way isn’t ‘the way’, but you can choose yours and make it work.