An African family goes beyond the nuclear family members as there is an emphasis placed on the union of families through structures such as marriage. Most relatives live in close proximities with each other as one large family. With this kind of set up, women tend to have a lot on their plates – more than they can chew. They may have to juggle between their relatives, their daily chores and sometimes a career or a business. This is a lot to handle without including their issues.
Take an example of the Luo community in Kenya, the woman is expected to not only look after her husband and children but also the mother-in-law. More often than not, husbands marry and leave their wives in the village to take care of their mothers and the homestead in general. Surely it takes the patience of a saint to handle relatives that may not like you and your daily chores or a job.
As wives and mothers, you may feel ashamed to admit that you also need a break from your family. You do not want other people to call you a bad mother or an irresponsible wife for enjoying some alone time or admitting you love your job and that you are great at it.
When it comes to your job, you are villainized for leaving your toddler to attend to a work trip. You are judged for missing your son’s football game or your husband’s job promotion party. However, have you stopped to ask yourself, how much is too much? How much can you handle in a day without keeling over and dying? How can you achieve a healthy work-life balance? Is there a fulcrum? Does it cut across all women despite their race, culture and demographics?
Women in formal employment might get a chance to enjoy a bit of a balance. This is because more countries are embracing new employment acts and labour laws. These laws tend to protect the sanity of women in some cases but we are still far from gender equality. However, this doesn’t quite solve the problem because you can hardly get a break from the hustle and bustle of activities at home. With your children demanding attention, the house needs some deep cleaning, the relatives wanting to visit and even the pets want to be tended to.
On the other hand, if you are in informal employment, you might not get the same privileges. First of all, your work hours may not be the regular eight hours shifts. You may have three jobs at a go each bringing in very little income but somehow you are expected to cope. You may not enjoy privileges such as medical insurance and nobody bothers to ask how the working conditions are. Since you also have a family to take care of, you hardly have the time to be home. However, you still want to be the best mother and partner you can be. How can you possibly strike a balance between your four demanding jobs and a busy household? Food for thought.
Work-life balance is a struggle for women from all over the world. However, you have to remind yourself as a woman that you are only human. You can only do so much in twenty-four hours. No matter how little it appears to other people, clap for yourself and remember you did your best.
Below are a few things to remind yourself as you try to juggle between your work-life and your personal life.
Being kind to yourself is essential
You can only compete against yourself. Success differs from one person to another. What you term as success may not be the success of another person. If your friend Susan has a PhD, a six-figure paying job and ten children and she seems to be able to handle it all, do not compare yourself to her. You don’t know what she goes through daily.
Remember, you are not a failure because you do not have these things. You are not a failure if your child did not start speaking until he or she was three. Be patient with yourself, your family and your progress. We are on different journeys. Most importantly be kind to yourself.
You can be kind to yourself by carving out some alone time and think about yourself for a change. Recognise your efforts and dwell on your wins. Share your achievements with those around you no matter how minuscule they seem. Learn to respect yourself and do not give people the space to lower your value. One other way to show kindness to yourself is by taking good care of yourself. Eat a balanced diet, exercise frequently, dress well and get the recommended amount of sleep. With time, you will start to feel happy and fulfilled.
Learn to ask for help
Whether you are a stay at home mum, a formally employed woman or you work five odd jobs, it’s ok to ask for help. Someone might be tempted to say, “ but you are a stay at home mum! Why do you need help?” Let them try it to see if they can handle everything on their own.
Ask for help. It doesn’t make you a bad mum. This applies at work too. You do not have to drown in a pile of work files. Delegate some of that work and ask for help sometimes. Asking for help should not make you feel bad about yourself. On the contrary, it should make you feel powerful. It’s a clear indication that you recognise when you are weary and in need of a break.
Build a community with other women in similar situations
You will be surprised at how many other women have the same struggles. Do not be afraid to venture out and seek a community of women going through the same issues. If you are religious, join the choir or another department where you can interact with other people and learn from them.
If you are in the village, find out where people hang out and talk. You might get a few tricks to handle your work and life balance better. If you are a career woman, find other working mums and share life hacks that worked for you. Don’t suffer alone as a one-man army. The goal is to strike a balance and not drown in stress or depression.
The way forward…
It does not matter what stage of life you are at. As an African woman in a patriarchal society, you are expected to balance your personal life and your work life without complaining. The man will come home and expect the house to be clean, the children clean, fed and happy and a feast laid out for him.
However, you have to remember to take care of your mental health and live to fight another day. You may not have access to a therapist but find access to a community of friends you can trust and share your struggles with them. The bottom line is, there is no pre-designed fulcrum to help balance work and life. You must create your balance.
Let us know in the comment section what you do when you need to escape whenever you get the chance.