Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Work life balance II - the Thinkening!

I've noticed recently that I've kind of fallen into a hole of non-critical thinking. I'm not sure if it's because I've been super tired by the time I get home, or whether it's because I use it all up at work (honest, I do things properly at work). Or maybe it's because I've been such an enthusiast recently that I've lost the ability to evaluate because I keep thinking things are just so Fab In Every Way. But today I kind of started thinking about what I wrote yesterday, and all the work life balance stuff that I've been discovering, including Rachel Funari's comment on modern feminism in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which she writes:
the type of girl-child inclined to be feminist finds it difficult to get excited about work/life balance, or equitable housekeeping
Not that I've ever called anyone a girl-child.

But I was thinking, there's this assumption that work-life balance = taking time off work to look after your children. Which I've pretty much swallowed, if you read my post from yesterday. But then I thought of a whole bunch of things that annoyed me about this assumption (but which does not make me less uncomfortable about the rest of Funari's article, since I am a hairy-legged and hairy-armpitted feminist, although also married, a mother, a full-time worker and consumer of Jane Austen novels. I do pluck my moustache, though. A girl must have standards, harrumph. I thought avoiding stereotyping was a thing feminists (of all kinds) kind of thought might be a nice idea. Like having a clean hanky.

So here's my list of things that work-life balance might be for me.

  1. Time off to care for the Noodle. Yes, this matters, but the unspoken assumptions about it irk me. Accepting the assumption means that the only decent aspiration other than working is child care. This is clearly rubbish of the non-recyclable kind. And frankly, probably is vaguely irritating for those without kiddies, although taking time to care for elderly and beloved relatives seems OK too.
  2. Work is, actually, part of my life. I don't know about you, but I spend an astonishing chunk of my day at work or travelling to and fro (Canberra buses being what they are). So having work that captures my imagination, satisfies my need to feel useful, uses my creativity and so on is very important to me. The decisions that the husband and I have made were at least partly in pursuit of rewarding work as time to look after the Noodle. Or having less time devoted to unrewarding work, so that there was time for other rewarding things outside of paid work that resemble 'work' in the senses of time commitment, effort and so on. Oh, that'll be balance then.
  3. Stuff that has nothing to do with family is important. Well, obviously, you say. And I say, do you know how long it's been since I went to the movies? But quite a lot of my internal dialogue has nothing to do with family or work, which tells me that quite a lot of other things are actually important to me, even if it's only theoretically right now. I think Best Department recognises this, but I think the functioning of the department may also depend on most of its employees not recognising it for themselves. The department has approved leave for all kinds of personal passions, and the humans that make up the department really seem to care about each other's achievements. So I'm not complaining, but I think it goes back to the unspoken assumption that work-life balance = child care obligations.
  4. And I reckon that work-life balance is about recognising that it's not all about where you are right now, or about planning out a future career, but seeing a person as moving through their lives with all kinds of valuable things learned, and all kinds of things to offer that might not seem immediately obvious. And now I sound like some kind of floaty, dreamy, let's-all-hold-hands kind of person, which is so far from the truth that it might be one of the other micro-planets hanging around near Pluto.
So, that's what I was thinking. And I have to say, that point three often includes such items as apartments in Paris, wishing I'd been better at physics so I could've been an astronaut, going to see Ross Noble, buying new shoes for no other reason than I want to and dancing. Not in that order.


kazari said...

Work-life balance is really important to me, and I have no kids. Well, I have a husband.
But my point is that work-life balance can include all the other stuff like
-being able to go to the doctors without taking leave (yay for flex!)
- Being able to buy more leave if it's important to you.
- going down to 4 days a week, not to look after your kids, but to pursue other interests (I have a couple friends who've done this).

Penni said...

You know, another angle to this is having child care that doesn't charge you for holidays or sick days or days that you just decide you'd rather hang out with your kid. There's a centre near us that does this and I think it's just a decent thing to do. My huzzband's ex-work also had unlimited sick leave on an honour system, which is nice - grown ups treating their employees like grown ups.

I work from home (which is the nature of my work) and I get a lot of people assuming that I've achieved some ultimate state of work/life perfection - home based work so my kids don't have to be in childcare. But I actually think for me personally work/life balance would be easier to achieve with clearer boundaries and I deeply envy people with offices and water coolers and lunch breaks in the park. Occasionally i travel a bit and do some public speaking and though it's frustrating because it takes me away from my true work it's good because it pays well and I get to be out in the world, having incidental conversations and meeting people I wouldn't normally meet.

I so want to know what happened in Spain.

Penthe said...

Yes, working from home can utterly destroy work/life balance. Suddenly everything is both and no one respects either. Including oneself.

I will probably write more detail about Spain one day. I have written about it (of course) but only for close friends who watched it all happening from a distance.