These past 5 1/2 years of motherhood and living work-life balance have given me some early insights:
Work-life balance is highly personal. Set your own standards.
We were on vacation over the summer at the beach for one week. During the week, I had a monthly work-related conference call for a national committee I serve on. I decided beforehand that I would see how the week was going (the call was near the end of our week away), and that I'd call in for it if I felt like it. Well, I felt like it. After spending 24/7, all-family, all-the-time, (including an 8-9 hour car ride involving listening to 2 hours+ of straight crying), I was ready for a brief break away, if only by phone. Yet, calling in and admitting that I was on family vacation at the beach and might not stay on for the whole call made me suddenly self-conscious, much like I feel self-conscious about sending colleagues manuscript drafts on Friday nights (I have). I wondered what they were thinking and whether my "balance" was questionable.
There's no ideal "mix" or balance that fits everyone. Finding your own "groove," is key.
"Work-life balance" is a less helpful concept for me than "work-life product"
When I think about balance, I think about a see-saw, with work sitting on one side of the fulcrum and life on the other. That seems to denote that to be in balance means to have similar weighting to each side, in similar quantities. Yet, in real life, I feel that these weights are always in flux and being in a state of mental/emotional harmony depends on the work*life product to be under a certain threshold (much like the calcium-phos product). For instance, it would be okay if family needs became temporarily higher when work needs were low, or if a flurry of work demands occurred during times of quiet on the home front. But, when both of those demands become high for whatever reason, that's when things get untenable. Hopefully those times are only temporary, resulting in only a minor amount of pesky metastatic calcification (e.g. my nanny nightmare + temporary work insanity = sad me), but when they are sustained, then changes have to be made.
Your workplace "terroir" can greatly affect/encourage/stifle your sense of balance
In wine-making references, the term terroir refers to the sum effects of a local environment (the specific geography, climate, soil, farming techniques, etc) that results in the final product. At work, the organizational culture surrounding work-life issues-- managers, your boss, colleagues, inherent flexiblity of your job-- all contribute to your sense of balance. When I first started working at my job, I didn't feel it was very supportive to me as a new mother. When I announced my pregnancy, the first response was "how long will you be gone? 6 weeks?" (In my ideal world. it would have been, "Congratulations! *hug* How can I help you?") I was the only mother of my group and worked with many men who gave me a hard time for missing conferences due to pumping--I felt like a criminal trying to get out at a reasonable hour to see my child before her early bedtime. Yet, now, things have changed. Those men have left (hooray!), I've negotiated for more protected time (hooray!), and now, I have a supervisory role that allows me to create a environment that emphasizes the importance of work-life. Small gains like instituting policy and precedent for my section to take "in-lieu" days off for having to work a holiday hopefully will add up to an overall supportive culture. Finding a work environment that meshes with your own ideal of work-life balance can't be underestimated, and if not, work to change it if you can, either from within or finding a new job (like dr whoo courageously did).
Re-evaluate, re-evaluate, re-evaluate
As with any process, it helps to periodically re-evaluate to make sure things are going smoothly from everyone's perspectives. I remember one time when my husband mentioned (jokingly) something about how we both just tended to get absorbed in doing work side-by side on our laptops after the kids went to bed each night. It was totally true, and a reality check. It's so easy (for me) to get sucked into (bad) habits and not stop to reflect, or step away and see the big picture. I need to be reminded to take that time to re-evaluate and to check in with everyone.
Best of luck to all MiMs out there, finding your own work-life groove and defending it. And periodically checking in with all stakeholders (yourself, your partner, your children) to make sure nothing needs tweaking. And definitely keeping that work*life product to non-toxic levels.