For those of you eager to gain some tips on work and life balance this article isn’t for you.
Knowing that family and friends will read this makes me acutely aware that I cannot be a hypocrite. I should not lecture anyone about getting various parts of their lives in balance.
As a perfectionist and workaholic who has often risen at 4 am to start my working day, I have absolutely zero credibility in terms of equally spending my time working and living.
To those who know me professionally, I am the quintessential duck that glides smoothly on the pond yet I paddle frantically beneath. My family don’t call me “the termite” for nothing. Only a few indiscretions go unnoticed whereas most are commented upon in a sharp tone that leaves no one guessing about my annoyance. The yin and yang in us all.
As a veteran CEO and a third generation career woman I have developed some sensible strategies to cope with the various roles in my life as wife, mother, employee, company director, Chairwoman and friend. My tips may be useful to help you remain sane as a professional woman who is constantly juggling the competing demands of work and family.
My number one strategy is what I call “guilt free outsourcing”. What this boils down to is a list of defined tasks that I get others to do that are of no consequence to those that matter most. I have barely picked up an iron in 20 years and a succession of house cleaners have come to wash our floors and clean our bathrooms on a regular basis. Pocket money was used an incentive to get the kids involved too when they were at school. And just sometimes you have to turn a blind eye to your house when it fails to present like a show home 24/7. Outsourcing without guilt is an enduring strategy which I have deployed to work like a demon yet at the same time have the love and respect of my family.
Over the years I have learnt that what matters most to them is my time and my cooking and not necessarily in that order. So the above strategy along with being at home to cook a meal 4 nights a week helps me to fulfil their needs and meet their expectations.
My grandmother, who worked full time post WWII, was very skilled in the area of outsourcing well before it was used in common parlance. At a time when, internationally, mothers spent about twice as much time doing housework than they do today, my grandmother’s cleaner came weekly and I recall her disappointment but pragmatism when her favourite alabaster vase was broken. I remember her tidying up like a whirling dervish on the morning the cleaner was due. She also married a man who was prepared to pull his weight.
My grandfather was a manly-man with a strong psyche, a handsome face and charm to match. Despite starting his career in the trades he always was part of the household army. It was his job to do the weekly grocery shop, along with keeping the beer in good supply, mowing the lawns and getting the first pot of tea brewing in the morning.
Twice a week my grandmother was relieved of her cooking duties. One night was a takeaway meal which back in 1960s Sydney was Chinese, fish and chips, hamburgers, chicko rolls or a BBQ chook. The other night was a meal out and we explored many cheap restaurants offering different cuisines, everything from Weiner Schnitzel to Lambs Fry an Bacon to Shashlik.
Wind forward to 2014 and the males in our lives are taking on a bigger share of household duties. Men around the world today spend about twice as much time doing housework as their counterparts in the 1960s. This uptake in household duties still doesn’t seem to be enough with Annabel Crabb in her recent book The Wife Drought decrying that professional women need a wife.
I am fortunate in that my husband has been the “man behind the woman” and I owe him much of my success. During my career he has brought the washing in, started simple dinners, taken the kids to sport and done many a trip up and down the aisles at the supermarket. He has always been burdened with walking our active working dogs.
For those of us that are time poor, we are making the most of our growing options for having our meals prepared for us you only have to look at the supermarket offerings of ready to heat food. It is estimated that the average Australian eats out about once a week and we are typical of this with a once a week “date night”. Occasionally we even stay in a hotel and make a real night of it. Twice a year we have holidays where apparently I transform from “the termite” into “Mrs Fun and Fun Loving Fulker”. How my husband loves that woman!
Each Christmas I have a sabbatical and become the domestic goddess which is when I focus entirely on being “wee wifey”. It is then that I paw over recipe books and cook elaborate meals. We spend time at leisure and are more spontaneous than our usual military precision lifestyle.
Now the kids are grown up I have no more work life balance than I had when they were small, in fact I probably have less. But I love what I do and I love my family too.
What has worked for me in this quest to work and have a life comes down to a few simple things:
- find out what matters most and outsource what doesn’t
- get the kids to pitch in and incentivise if you have to
- agree what is a fair demarcation or allocation of tasks and be flexible about who does what and when and don’t sigh when it isn’t up to your own high standard
- have a night or two each week where you don’t have to cook a meal
- turn a blind eye to mess
- go out on dates with your significant other and give them your full attention
- plan holidays that are relaxing as well as exciting
- play the domestic goddess at least a week a year
Like I say, not a recipe for striking an equal balance between work and life but key ingredients for a fulfilling and happy life.
Marion Fulker has been juggling work and family commitments since 1987 which stepped up a notch when she was first appointed as a CEO 12 years ago. She is the Chief Executive of the Committee for Perth and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia.
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