Hayley's blog: A different type of work life balance

Most of us walk the delicate tightrope that is known as work-life balance and it is a regular topic of conversation on these blogs and CityParents events.  We all want to achieve the perfect balance but it is all too often subject to events outside of our control and, for a large number of us that usually means our clients.  I had to work over Christmas (despite booking off 2 weeks holiday) including on Christmas Eve which, as it fell on a Monday, would usually be my non-working day.  I completely understand that these things sometimes arise and, on any other Monday, I would either recruit the assistance of someone in the office or work my day around the urgent matter (non-urgent matters will always sit in my inbox until Tuesday morning), but due to the timing and the urgency of the matter, it was my responsibility to deal with it.   

As I didn’t expect to work on Christmas Eve, I had plans to finish my last few things for Christmas, pack up the car and travel to my parents.  I don’t know about anyone else but, since being a parent, I feel like I now continuously operate two “to do” lists (three, if you include the one I keep for my husband) and when I leave the office, I often use my commute home to close off my work list and pick up on my “home” to do list.  So, in addition to my list of things for Christmas Eve, my husband also had to buy Christmas presents for some of his family (this happens every single year, so I was not surprised to learn it had to be done this year!!)  With all of that in mind, I hadn’t really planned to fit into my day dealing with client emails and trying to complete a particularly tough client matter.  My Christmas Eve morning therefore included shutting myself in my living room whilst my toddler kept opening the door to show me various food items from his play kitchen and ask what plastic toppings I wanted on my plastic pizza and my husband kept asking what things he needed to pack in the car.  It resulted in my husband offering to take our toddler shopping with him (which would have left me with at least an hour of peace and quiet) whilst said toddler screamed and refused to leave as he wanted to stay and “do his working” with his mummy.  The result was me working whilst Paw Patrol ran on repeat in the background.   It wasn’t my favourite Christmas Eve and (frustratingly for all involved) the client matter was not resolved.  However, the morning was made considerably easier by my husband acting in the way I aspire to - no eye-rolling at me sitting in front of my laptop for hours and no awkward comments as I took another phone call, just simply “do what you need to do and let us know when you are done.”

And here is the flip side. The first few days of January (when we were away on a family holiday with our son and nephew) then required my husband to take a couple of work calls.  I genuinely try my hardest not to do any of these things but as soon as his work phone is out, I usually catch myself rolling my eyes.  If he catches me, it will start a pretty well-rehearsed “discussion” around the fact that he never says anything when I check my work phone (except of course, in a situation like this, where he can fall back on the fact he never commented at the time) but I am the first to complain when he checks his.  This then leads to the accusation that I think my job is more important than his and I don’t understand the pressures of his job.  I should say, I absolutely do not think my job is more important than his but, as I expect that I can pick up emails as and when I choose and I hate it when he does it, I can see where he is coming from.  I do think my husband is terrible at delegating and hates handing work over.  By his own admission, he would much rather be on call than handover when he has more than a few days out of the office.  This then leads to a “boy who cried wolf” scenario, where I am never sure whether he is responding to stuff that is critical, or stuff that someone else in his team would be perfectly capable of taking over (if only he gave them the chance). 

This isn’t meant to be a forum for me to vent my frustrations with out of work emails but more an opportunity to see if anyone else suffers with this frustrating comparison with their partners, particularly when young children observe our every move?  I was told the other day to put down my phone by my son and it broke my heart.  I easily forget that, whilst I see my phones as a way to work, communicate with friends, check-in with family, shop, organise, set reminders, respond to the constant stream of party invites, he doesn’t understand this and instead just sees mummy on her phone again..  I recognise I am being unfair by having different expectations for my husband and I and it always leads to the same debate around the importance of each of our jobs and how we can be better at delegating when we are not in the office.  I feel it is magnified now we have our son as it is so much more obvious when we are on our phones around him.  It is so easy to be sucked into my own email chains and not notice I have had my head buried in my phone for 30 minutes but it only takes a couple of minutes of my husband’s time before I am the first to complain about him having his phone out.  The ideal situation is that we both leave our phones alone as much as possible, on the (mutual) understanding that when we do have to pick work up, it’s because we absolutely have to.  In the meantime, I will continue to walk the (my) work – (husband’s) work – life balance where, not only do I have to manage my own job, but my attitude towards my husbands, his to mine and the impact all of that has on our family commitments and, most importantly, our toddler and the time we spend with him.  

P.S. if you want to really scare yourself, the latest update on the iPhone allows you to see how much screen time you have per day, something I discovered a couple of weeks ago and has made for fairly depressing viewing!

Hayley is a Senior Associate at an international law firm based in London.  She works 4 days a work and spends Mondays with her gorgeous, crazy 2 year old.

Category: A Citymother's Diary

Debbie Knowles Debbie Knowles - 29/01/2019 - 18:32
I love the blogs, but I found this really resonated with me. My husband has been a stay at home dad for the last 15 years while I have, until last year, worked full-time. I have always been amazed and appreciative of his acceptance that when I'm working 'out of hours' it's OK. I definitely would struggle to be so accepting if our roles were reversed, but over the years I've decided that it's less about the choices I make (for example, about whether something is more or less important than family time) and it's more about his ability to not judge those choices. I try to be more like him on the occasions when the boot is on the other foot and there's something he wants to prioritise - it doesn't matter if I think it's important, it's enough that he thinks it is. It sounds easy and right to me, but in practice I find it's harder than it looks - but I do try!

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