Somebody far wiser than me, I think it was Rob Parsons, said that life is like juggling a set of balls; there’s a ball called ‘family’, one called ‘health’, one called ‘marriage’, one is ‘faith’ and, I think, one might be called ‘self-esteem’. There is definitely one called ‘work’. This wiser person says that, as we go along, we discover that most of these balls are made of glass – and only one is made of rubber. The rubber ball is work. Even if things go wrong and we drop that rubber ball, because we’re short on time or our mind was elsewhere, the chances are it will bounce, we’ll recover and no great harm done.
I’ve always found that metaphor useful, but does it mean that I apply it – and always get work in its proper relationship to my life, our children, my marriage? Do we as a couple achieve a perfect work-life balance even during a pandemic when everything happens here at home? No. Some days I get it really wrong. I end up complaining that here I am finishing early, making the tea AGAIN and it isn’t my turn and didn’t we talk about this and making it a bit fairer as we both work full time?…etc, etc. The day I chose for this outburst was a day when my husband’s IT had taken him over an hour to sort out and when his dad was in hospital. To say he felt less than supported might be the understatement of the century.
I think what it does show is that it isn’t easy. Particularly during a pandemic when we are both working full time and home schooling two children and worrying about our wider family and friends – and when all of this is happening here in these four walls. Like everyone else, we can’t go and visit family and friends (however worried we might be about them) and have to make do with the phone or FaceTime instead. Like everyone else, we long for a change of scene. Like everyone else, we are juggling.
Does it help that I can imagine which balls are glass and which are rubber? Actually, it does. When we as a couple remember that, we remember where our priorities are; what we need to hold on to. To extend the rubber analogy, it’s also true that work expands to fill any available volume of time. It’s our job to keep it in check – and to help the other person to do that, too – so that in handling work, we don’t accidentally drop something far more precious to us.