Work-family balance: impossible dream?

We all struggle to balance work and family, but is it realistic? Is the model of the woman who manages to do everything for everyone? Reflections on a model to be renewed and reinvented.

The well-kept secret of work-family balance is that it does not depend on one or more magic solutions. Let it be said once and for all: it is not by making the children’s lunches the day before that we will be able to do everything, nor by keeping our slow cooker permanently on the kitchen counter, nor by downloading the trendy family organization app. And yet, we want to believe so much! By dint of convincing ourselves that it is always possible to do more, but that it is the fault of our organization, our insufficiency, and the lack of “good stuff” if we do not succeed, we immured in a decoy that locks us up like in a prison. What if it was rather the very concept of conciliation that needed to be reviewed and corrected?

I believe that, for the past fifteen years, the work-family balance has been made easier in Quebec thanks to measures such as parental leave and CPEs,” says Guylaine Deschênes, industrial psychologist and author of L’Art de concilier le work and personal life. As for companies, many have implemented reconciliation measures informally, according to Francine Descarries, sociologist and founding member of the Institute for Research and Feminist Studies at UQAM. “Was it easier before, when mothers were housebound and had no place in the workforce? Of course not! We have come a long way,” recalls the sociologist. In fact, no one can deny it: all the work that feminists have done upstream today pays off for women and for society as a whole.

“On the other hand, reconciliation has become more difficult because of the race for performance and perfection, which is even more intense than before,” says Ms. Deschênes. We want to do everything and succeed in everything, all while looking zen. Our children are bilingual, we have a half-marathon behind the tie, we sit on the parents’ committee, we know how to cook quinoa in 15 different ways, we have just accepted a promotion, and we regularly take care of our mother on the decline and, of course, we keep a little time for our couple “because it’s essential”! And all this for what? Because it makes us happy, or because everyone does it and it feels like it’s expected of us? “If we are stressed, that we are constantly running and that it is difficult to get there, it is not only because of work-family balance, notes Ms. Deschênes. The desire to perform and to be perfect can also make life very difficult for a single childless person!”

Conciliation… irreconcilable?

That said, being a parent requires a commitment that takes time. We cannot escape it. Nor do Quebec parents escape the pernicious effects that the reconciliation of the different parts of their lives seems to have on them. In a report published in 2005 on behalf of the Institut national de santé Publique du Québec, The Difficulty of Reconciling Work and Family: Its Impacts on the Physical and Mental Health of Quebec Families, the impact of problems such as parental stress, hypertension, depression, drug addiction, etc.

Nathalie St-Amour, co-author of the report and professor in the department of social work at the Université du Québec en Outaouais, does not believe, for her part, that companies have come such a long way to make life easier for parents: “Some circles are more conciliatory than others, but there are no laws to speak of that promote work-family balance, unlike other countries like Australia for example, where parents have the right to request flexible working hours, which employers can only refuse under certain conditions.” The specialist also believes that more reconciliation measures would reduce the negative impact on health often caused by the difficulty of reconciling our lives. And that the bosses take it for granted:

But our reflection must be taken further: we must also question the place that works and consumption take in our lives. If we define ourselves essentially by our work if we absolutely need the latest gadget of the hour or our children’s clothes are designers, we risk imposing additional pressure on ourselves. “In addition, we live in a capitalist system where women are encouraged to work, recalls Francine Descarries. In such a system, their autonomy inevitably passes through financial independence. In fact, the majority of women would probably not be able to conceive of not occupying a place in the labor market. If this is our case and we have the feeling of not getting there, we must ask ourselves what we really want and get rid of what is not really useful in our lives. And, of course, reviewing our ideal woman-mother-employee-lover-friend model…

A matter of choice

And those who would like to withdraw from this market for 5 years, 10 years? Those for whom reconciling work and family is an equation that they simply no longer want to do? “It is when there is an inconsistency between our values ​​and our life that it damages our health, physical and mental, supports Guylaine Deschênes. If we need to practice our favorite sport three nights a week, we should arrange to be able to do it, even if it means giving up something else. And if we feel that our place is at home, with the children, and to get involved in ways other than work, we should also organize ourselves to be able to do so. Even if it means leaving certain things aside, reviewing our way of life, and forming a common front with our spouse.

Because we have the right to choose to stay at home. You also have the right to refuse a promotion. We have the right to work 60 hours because we like it. Our spouse has the right to spend even more time than us taking care of the children. We have the right to hate cooking and buying prepared meals, sometimes. We have the right not to enroll our children in musical awakening lessons. We have the right to close our eyes to the balls of dust flying around the house and we have the right to go on a trip alone with our boyfriend or for work. We have the right to spend hours reading, to refuse overtime, to take the time to have dinner or skip a meal to dig into a file. “Ideally, any choice you make should be socially valued, supports Guylaine Deschênes. But, as it is each individual who makes up society, we must begin by valuing ourselves. Our pride and self-confidence will eventually permeate society as a whole.”