Michaela Merz

Work-Life Balance – a myth?

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I have three children, since the last millennium a full-time position and a demanding, satisfying job. You could say I have succeeded in finding and living the hotly discussed work-life balance.

Recently I discussed that for me there is no work-life balance, but only choices about work and life, all of which are more or less satisfactory. I have thought a lot about it. With the expression «work-life balance» we deceive ourselves, because there is no balance.

I think then of the situations, in which I had to arrange care for one or more of my children and I knew that will hurt. Their homesickness will lead to tears and the only way would be to give up my job. But this is not balance, it is only a choice.

Then there are the situations, when I am on the telephone late in the evening, because many of my clients are located in the USA and the 6 to 12 hours time difference makes such telephone calls unavoidable. Instead of listening to my children talking about what they have experienced during the day and what their problems are, I deal with the tax problems of my clients. That is also not a balance but an option.

Then there is the work at the weekend, flights abroad lasting several days, where for my children I’m only a picture in their hearts, instead of baking cakes with them, going swimming or telling them a story. That is also not a balance but an option.

Conversely it is just the same. The perfect solution to a problem requires time and that I would have gladly taken, but I have to leave the office and loose the thread, because my youngest has to be fetched from archery. Obviously, by now he could come home alone by bus, but that is the time, when the two of us have conversations about what is important to him, about cabbages and kings. It’s more important to me than anything else. That is not a balance but an option.

Then there are the events in the evening, at which one builds networks and makes contacts, in order to advance one’s career. Every time it has to be carefully considered how I will organise the care and down to the last minute including planning the trip at least a week beforehand. I have to decide whether I can expect it of my children – once again. I know I should go, it is really good for the career. At the same time I know I shouldn’t go, because the youngest will miss me especially in the evening. In at least half of the cases I don’t go. Finally I feel lousy in any case, whether I go or not, because something always suffers. That is also not a balance, but only an option.

Sometime it has to be said out loud that if one decides for the family and a job, something will always suffer. The compromises that one makes will not feel like balance, but like a bad decision, because one simply can’t be fair to everyone. In most cases there is no choice, because if you don’t earn your keep, it doesn’t work at all. In addition I am in the position of luxury that with my salary I can afford all the help that I need in the quality that I want. Not everyone can afford that and therefore at least in this respect I am privileged not to have to accept any bad options, while others have to make a worse chice.

The state shows little interest in my frequent predicaments. The tax deductions for care costs are still far below the effective costs, quite apart from a supportive infrastructure like widespread good full-day schools.

Finally the question arises of what is the highest priority and for me it is clearly time. If one deducts time for teeth-cleaning, my time between Monday and Friday shrinks to less than an hour a day, including jogging or swimming.

And in spite of, or because of, this, the options that I have chosen are the right way. Even if it regularly hurts and causes a bad conscience. One has to be aware that they are choices.

Just carefully weigh things up and then regret nothing, because afterwards one can’t change anything.

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