Why Juggling No Longer Works (Did It Ever?). And What To Aim For Instead.

Why Juggling No Longer Works (Did It Ever?). And What To Aim For Instead.

The coronavirus pandemic could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality, new global data from UN Women suggests…

Even before the pandemic, it was estimated women were doing about three quarters of the 16 billion hours of unpaid work that are done each day around the world. In other words, before coronavirus, for every one hour of unpaid work done by men, three hours was done by women. Now that figure is higher. 

“If it was more than three times as much as men before the pandemic, I assure you that number has at least doubled,” says Ms Bhatia, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Anita Bhatia.” – Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-55016842

This is just one among numerous reports about the impact of the pandemic on women in particular.

No wonder the juggle feels even more stressful, even more imperative and even more is at stake. We are under more pressure than ever before.

We are being paid less than ever and doing even more of the work. Careers are in jeopardy. The role models we’d worked so hard to become to our daughters AND sons, gone in one fell swoop. Gender equality is just one pretty serious casualty of this pandemic.

On top of the usual juggle of work/life/kids, parents – and mothers in particular – are now juggling:

  • School disruption and chaos, with frequent bouts of learning at home or periods off school, in isolation.
  • Their own work and careers hanging in the balance, or working from home with the kids and no separation of the two.
  • The additional emotional toll of financial stress, the constant threat to ill health of family, friends and loved ones from the virus and the impact of social isolation and a world that looks very different from last year.

Reports like the one above – about the macro, bigger picture impact of the pandemic – are being felt at the micro, day to day level by families everywhere. And it is unsustainable.

Why Juggling Is Entirely The Wrong Approach…

Juggling implies keeping separate, distinct entities under control all at the same time…

  • You’ve still gotta make sure your kids are thriving at school, despite the chaos.
  • You’ve still gotta make sure you’re earning enough to pay your bills.
  • You’ve still gotta make sure your relationship is solid despite the additional stress.
  • You’ve still gotta make sure you’re keeping on top of the usual household and life admin duties.

In the pre-COVID way of doing things, we had boundaries enforced upon us to help keep these things separate, so we could move between them a little more easily…

  • The kids went to school, leaving you several hours in the day to focus on work/life/household/social stuff.
  • You went to work, to a place with space dedicated to you doing that job with no distractions or disturbances from the rest of your life (kids, partners, houses to clean).
  • You went to the shops or to the bar/pub/restaurant to get your social and fun fix.

These were clear and distinct physical boundaries to help you shift your focus from one part of your life to another, without them ever really having to mix. And now? 

Now, we don’t need to put on our work clothes, step into that work ‘persona’ and head to the office. We don’t get to book the babysitter, dress up and head out, dropping the ‘mum’ vibe and swapping it for the ‘adult gagging to have some fun’ vibe. 

These days we are working from home trying to stop the kids from bombing our zoom calls…

…The kids are either learning at home trying to get to grips with lessons online or not seeing their friends socially outside of the classroom and subjected to staggered start times, staggered lunch times, staggered play times and more…

…We are socialising at home through screens and on Zoom, we are eating at home, exercising at home, and shopping from home.

There’s no need to get dressed up or become someone else to fit in. There are fewer physical separations and boundaries. Everything is blending into one…

But what if that’s how it should have been all along?

What if the physical separation of different parts of our lives has been doing us a disservice? Encouraging us to separate parts of ourselves and not integrate? What if we’ve been living within these artificially created, imposed-from-outside boundaries without questioning whether they actually work best for us?

Let’s imagine a different way…

Imagine if you could show up to a work call knowing it’s ok if your kids wander into shot. And not just ok, but welcomed and encouraged.

Imagine if you could chill out about your kid’s education knowing that you’ve set things up in a way to trust they’re learning anywhere and everywhere not just when they’re at school/in an online classroom.

Imagine if you could feel connected to some of your closest friends who don’t even live in the same town as you but live halfway round the world, and yet it feels like you’re as close as you can be and that an in-person meeting, whenever it happens, will deepen and strengthen that bond but isn’t fundamental to the relationship thriving.

Imagine if you were surrounded by people – relatives, friends and colleagues – who celebrated downtime, relaxation and self care, NOT just achievement, full to do lists, productivity and getting all the things done. Who wanted deep connection and communication, not just the superficial, surface stuff.

Would that feel easier? Would the stress and impact of COVID feel more manageable and comfortable if that was all a reality?

(How) Is this possible?

At Beyond School, we talk about ending the juggle by making some key mindset shifts and then building your habits, actions and lives driven by, based upon, around and to support these shifts and new beliefs.

This may require you to do some of the deeper work. To change your mind, to change some deeply embedded beliefs…it doesn’t always happen overnight (though it can!).

These shifts include consciously choosing to believe and know…

  1. That you are the priority. No guilt, no shame. Put yourself first. Always. You can’t give from an empty well, you must put your own life jacket and oxygen mask on first if you’re going to support others.
  2. You can choose to be the model you want to be for your kids. Consciously. No repeating the patterns from generations past without questioning whether they still serve you and your family, or not. You can choose to model the beliefs YOU choose, not the ones handed down to you as ‘this is just the way things are’. BE the change you want to see in the world, MODEL this to your kids and those around you. They will do what you do, not what you say.
  3. Integrate, don’t separate. Consciously create a life that allows you to – or even better, encourages and empowers you to – show up WHOLE, everywhere. No more hiding one part of your life from the other. No more juggling separate areas of your life. No more trying to keep things separate.

When you act from a place of deeply believing these three things, other things begin to shift for you. You will find tools and resources to:

  • Identify and hold boundaries you never could before (and didn’t even know were needed), even with the most challenging relationships in your life.
  • Identify, acknowledge and get YOUR needs met, at no-one else’s expense.
  • Identify, acknowledge and meet other peoples’ needs, but NOT at your expense.

These three things in themselves can lead to:

  1. Better health and wellbeing; a body which serves you well rather than lets you down when you need it most.
  2. Better relationships; nurturing, nourishing and mutually respectful and beneficial connections which enhance and lift you up rather than drag you down or keep you small.
  3. Better sex; let’s delve into that one another time because it’s SO worth it!
  4. Better parenting; being the kind of parent you always thought and hoped you’d be without having to compromise elsewhere.
  5. Better finances; a healthy relationship with earning, having and spending money.
  6. Better career options; unlimited opportunities and potential that you create yourself rather than relying on others to ‘give’ these to you.

And when you begin to surround yourself with other people doing the same, you will see another way…

You’ll start to see examples of people – of other women – who have done it/are doing it differently. They are nothing special, they have no special skills that you can’t gain, they are not doing anything that you couldn’t do, except…they have the particular mindset and a different set of beliefs that perhaps you don’t yet have. And they act from these beliefs and from this mindset, ignoring the doubts and fear and guilt and shame.

They consciously craft a life – a daily routine – that works for them and their family. There is no mad rush to get to school. There’s no skipping meals because there’s just no time. There’s no rushing from home to work to the shops, to the pub then back home again, with barely a beat in between.

This consciously chosen approach to life will…

Shake up the way you think about work and your career. You won’t be satisfied with working just to make money, but sure that’s a start.

Shake up the way you think about money and finances. You won’t be satisfied with making ‘just enough’. You want more and there is NO guilt or shame in claiming that.

Shake up the way you think about your kids, about parenting them, about educating them and about the way you are shaping their lives and what life you’re setting them up for.

Shake up the way you think about yourself, your own wellbeing and your own needs and wants.

If you want more of the same, this approach IS not for you. If you have a suspicion there’s a different way, this IS for you.

If your life isn’t panning out the way you thought it would or if you’re just marking time, treading water and you’re NOT living every single day intentionally and consciously and doing the things you want, when you want, this is for you.

Watch Jenn, Lea & Lucy Talk More About How To End The Juggle…

Mindset Shift #1

Mindset Shift #2

Mindset Shift #3

Homeschooling, Working From Home & Staying Sane: 5 Techniques & Tactics To Help

Homeschooling, Working From Home & Staying Sane: 5 Techniques & Tactics To Help

I just scrolled past this in my Twitter feed today. It’s one of many, many tweets sharing the realities of working from home, with the kids at home all day, every day.

I’ve worked from home, running a variety of my own ventures 100% online, for well over a decade. I’ve been homeschooling my kids – the eldest is now 10 – for about the same amount of time too. It has NOT been a walk in the park!

For half of that decade, I had my (now ex) husband helping out with childcare, household stuff and homeschooling. Now I’m a single parent and though we co-parent and share the children for around half a week each, I still have to earn a full-time living in part-time hours. It is still NOT a walk in the park.

And now, we’ve got this. The Covid-19 virus. Forcing us ALL to stay at home, working and educating on the fly – no group activities, no play dates, no day trips. Nothing. It is definitely NOT a walk in the park for any of us.

This is CRISIS-schooling, CRISIS-working and CRISIS-living. It is not homeschooling, remote work or location independent living, as those of us who’ve CONSCIOUSLY chosen to do this have ever known it.

It’s stressful, anxiety-inducing and taps into many of our insecurities leaving us fearful, grieving and angry.

And if we’re fortunate, we still have jobs to do or businesses to run and somehow have to do this, while homeschooling the kids and staying sane during a global lockdown.

I’ve had a less steep learning curve than most so here’s what I’ve found is working for me…

Identify YOUR Needs & Natural Rhythms

Women, in particular, find this hard. We are so used to slaving to others’ needs (it’s what society has conditioned us to do) that the concept of considering our own needs first (yes, first!) is almost anathema. I would urge you to start re-thinking this!

You, right now, are likely your children’s primary and only role model. Do you want to give them the message that it isn’t ok to prioritise themselves? That they need to consider others before their own? Please understand, this does not have to mean meeting your needs at anyone else’s expense; it does however mean recognising and meeting YOUR needs too!

You can’t give what you don’t have, and right now our kids need us to have and give!

How do you do this?

1. Pay attention to & honour your own patterns – your energy, circadian (sleep/wake) and productive patterns.

One of the benefits of being at home currently is that you are less likely to be tied to a specific schedule of 7am Wake & get up > 7.30am Breakfast > 8-9am commute > 9-5pm Work/School > 5-6pm Commute > 7pm Dinner > 9pm+ bed. Your schedule is likely subject to far more flex than the rigid routines of the office and school.

It may take a few weeks to identify what your natural rhythms are; you’ve been following a prescribed rhythm for so long now…

  • It helps to practice good sleep hygiene habits and, if you can during the lockdown, get out into the fresh air and some sunshine.
  • Eat when you’re hungry, not just because it’s time for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Exercise when you feel most energised and strong, not just because it’s early in the morning/after work and you’re conditioned to squeezing in a workout then.

2. Use this knowledge to your benefit (and your children’s)

Plan intense, focused work that needs more concentration at a time when you and your children are more suited to it; and plan easier work when you’re not so on top form. So if you and your kids experience a post lunch, mid-afternoon slump, take a nap instead of scheduling in some intense work requiring good concentration.

This is such a great opportunity to begin to pay more attention to your own natural rhythms and encourage your children to pay more attention to theirs too, then work your plan and schedule around these, instead of slaving to one that doesn’t actually work for you.

Fill Up Their Wells With Focus

We are so used to multi-tasking and dividing our attention between tasks, kids, and more. Now’s a great time to practise giving your focused attention to one thing at a time, then releasing that focus for a while. It’s a bit like weight training – focus, then release, focus, then release.

So, if you’re doing an activity with the kids, instead of trying to multi-task, check your emails AND help your kids, switch off the emails and give them your FULL and SOLE attention. This could be for a 30-40-minute block, after which you can release that dedicated focus.

This fills up their wells with your undivided attention; it lets them know they’re important and that your focus is theirs and theirs alone, and will often result in you being able to find a window of time afterwards where they’re happy doing their own thing for a bit because they’ve had their well filled by you, leaving you to switch focus.

Keep Your Promises & Boundaries

“Just give me 5 more minutes, sweetheart”.

If you hear yourself repeating this over and over, stop. Otherwise, it’ll go on and on and one of you will lose your temper. Depending upon their age, children often don’t really understand the concept of time very well and a 5 minute promise that stretches into half an hour or more does nothing to help this!

Children LOVE and thrive on boundaries. Give them a firm and easy-to-understand boundary around time:

“When that big hand gets to X, I’ll come and help you”.

Again, depending upon their age, that may be a window of 5 to 30 minutes! And if they’re really young you may need to physically point it out (or set a timer on your phone that they can see and watch counting down).

This technique works really well with my own children because they know that their request and needs will be met at a specific time, instead of an unknown “in 5 minutes” which goes on and on, indefinitely.

Integration, not Balance or Separation

Jenn and I have both been banging the work-life integration drum for a while now; when you work from home with kids around, there is very little balance or separation!

Unless you have the luxury of at-home childcare and a lockable office or a separate wing of your mansion, you can’t easily secret yourself away to focus on work for hours a day. At least I can’t, in an open-plan living space in a pretty small house. So separation isn’t always physically possible. And work-life balance… what exactly is that anyway?

Let’s just admit it; currently there is no work-life separation or balance, and integration is all we have.

Over the years, I’ve had to say “Could you just hang on a minute, I just need to go and wipe my son’s bottom” on conference or coaching calls one too many times for comfort. But this is now our reality – and work and life are pretty much all rolled into one for the foreseeable future. Let’s embrace rather than resist it…

Get Them Involved

Jenn wrote a brilliant piece on how to get kids to do chores (cheerfully). I’ve tweaked my approach to emphasise this more with my own children and focus them on the aspect of learning new skills and enabling them to do stuff many adults still can’t do, and have seen just how empowering my children are finding it – learning how to cook all their meals, keep the house clean and tidy, and contribute to the running of a household. It’s brilliant!

The same approach can work for your work too… instead of keeping them away, include them. Talk to them about your work and consider setting them an age-appropriate task or challenge for them to complete; all the better if it actually helps you out! For example:

  • Show them how to use image creation tools like Canva or Picmonkey. I upload a selfie photo for my 6 year old and he can spend a good half hour, adding filters, devil horns and scary backgrounds.
  • Ask their opinion on a question or challenge you’re facing; you may be surprised by how their simplistic, uncluttered thinking can sometimes cut through your own over-thinking to the core issue and a simple solution.
  • If they’re old enough, consider a gentle introduction to social media; my daughter is on Instagram and is a genius at it. She watches, experiments, engages, connects – although I’m a business strategist, she’s needed absolutely zero input from me and it’s inspiring to watch her.

This is a great opportunity to talk to your children about what you actually do for work; most of the time our kids have NO idea what we do or how we earn a living and the world of work remains a mystery until they’re throw in at the deep end with their first job. This is a chance to show them what ‘work’ actually looks like – at least for the meantime.

And if the changes we’re currently experiencing have a lasting impact on the world of work they’ll be going into – as we suspect they might – what better way to prepare them than for them to be experiencing it now, and learning how to do it while you learn a whole new approach too?

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