I read an inspiring interview with Australian Kim Graham Nye, co- founder of GDiapers, in Conscious Company, a magazine promoting business with a mission. Kim and her husband, Jason, started the sustainable diaper company ten years ago when pregnant with their first child and looking for sustainable options to contributing to the 20 million diapers a day going into US landfills. 
When asked about work-life balance, Kim spoke of experiencing extreme burnout which required her to leave the company for six months. She regained perspective on how to work sustainably in a company whose values are environmental sustainability. She achieved this by freeing herself from the conventional way of thinking about work-life balance as measured on a scale.

She’d always pictured it as her mother-in-law’s kitchen scale, where giving to one means taking from the other. She said, when I had my second child, I didn’t take the love from my first born and give it to the second; my love expanded so that there was plenty for both, including my husband. The same, she discovered, was true about work-life, or work-family balance. She asked herself, “Wait, do I have to take from my kids to give to work, or take from work to give to my kids; where do I even fit into this? I’m not even in this equation. No wonder I’m last because I’m looking at these two pieces, neither of which include me but both of which require everything from me. No wonder I’m setting myself up for failure. . . It’s a messed up analogy, it’s not even about balance. I was thinking of it in the wrong way.” Kim got rid of the scale with its binary parts and replaced it with a concept of unity where she is in  the unit rather than taking care of it.

I resonate with this concept because I see how many of my clients who are mothers burnout when unconsciously accepting the role of mother as family caretaker. This often earns her the moniker of “nag” and she creates a rod for her back while assuming she’s ultimately responsible for the family’s success. She is not. The family is a team in which every member participates to the best of their ability.

I caution mothers of young children not to ask their children to “do mummy a favour and empty the dishwasher or pick up your towel.” The dishes and towels were used by everyone, not just mummy, so the task of cleaning them is a family task. I have a client who realised after ten years that she’d been referring to the refrigerator as “her refrigerator” and the kitchen as “her kitchen.” When I pointed It out, a look of incredulity came over her face. She had never noticed that before and saw how it indicted her to perpetual responsibility. The repercussions of thinking of motherhood as joining a family team, rather than leading it, are enormous, namely that it opens the home to being a place of shared participation where various ways of caring for it make for joyful housework rather than an arena of blame, resentment and guilt. Needless to say, my client has taken the pressure off herself by referring to household areas as “ours.”

It’s not only women who suffer under this false framework: many male clients feel disenfranchised from the home because their partners have taken over. The men hold back on participating because their contribution doesn’t appear valued or acceptable. As a consequence, they stop helping, their partner gets resentful without understanding the reason behind it, and then faces being criticised as a nag. It’s a vicious cycle whose solution is found in Kim’s framework of unity versus the binary scale. All of the men I’ve talked with about this heartily welcome taking part in household chores when mutuality reigns.

Tips for placing yourself IN the family unit, instead of responsible for it:

  • notice your language: Ask your children/partner to work with you in a team, versus “do mummy a favour and empty the dishwasher.” Don’t ever, ever, say “my kitchen” or “my garden” – share the rights and the responsibilities.
  • make time to rest, reflect and relax, even if that means baked beans for dinner. If your child is tall enough to reach the sink, then s/he is capable of washing the dishes.
  • Remember that you are a queen deserving of respect and consideration

Have a think about your conceptualisation of the work-family “balance” and see how you can become a loving part of the whole family unit.

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Marta Fisch is a family and individual therapist, supervisor, and trainer. She loves playing with her son, dancing, and riding her bike to work. She's involved in community sustainability initiatives, which brings her hope and a sense of belonging. Marta grew up in California and has lived in New Zealand / Aotearoa for 20 years. You can find out more on her website

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