Child with a broken arm

Work-life balance is a myth

Work-life balance is a furphy.

There. I've said it. Out loud.

Sorry to burst your bubble. Or perhaps you made that discovery ages ago (and if you did, why didn't you tell me?)

I don't think that's the end of the story though. While it might not be balance, it just might be something else.

Last week I had the great fortune of spending three days in Melbourne as part of an incubator program for entrepreneurs. Fabulous. Great discussion. Great coffee. Great brain food. (Must remember to pack more black clothes for next trip).

The day before I was due to leave, the senior recipe tester had to travel to Brisbane for work.

His was a particularly early start, but no big drama. The junior recipe testers and I went about our usual Wednesday things, culminating in soccer training for two of them. Miraculously, training occurs for both juniors at the same park at a very similar time. And so, last Wednesday night, the four of us went.

About half way through training one of the juniors fell over. He did not get up. He howled. And could not readily be comforted. We sat about for a bit waiting for the comfort to kick in. It didn't much.

He was complaining bitterly of a very sore arm, and so in the end I thought perhaps I should seek some expert advice. A&E at the Children's Hospital seemed the most likely place to get the advice we needed.

With one howling junior on my hip I trudged back to the car. A good friend offered to take the other juniors home with her at the completion of training until we could work out what the position was. At the news that one junior was going to hospital another junior also began to howl. I comforted as best I could with my one free arm and my somewhat pretzeled spine, and continued on my journey.

The initiated will know that children's hospital A&E departments are not the place to go for a good time. I found myself inspecting every person to come through the door, wondering what we might catch from them. It is particularly incumbent upon any parent, I believe, to give a wide berth to anyone on "trial of fluids". For the uninitiated: you don't ever want to sit next to the poor soul holding the plastic bag.

Many hours passed. The crowds built and the caring, if frazzled, staff met need as they were able. Eventually we made it to X-ray, to the doctor's consult and ultimately into a cast to begin the process of healing a broken arm. As the hours passed I began to wonder whether I should reschedule my flight for the following morning: I wasn't sure I'd be home in time to make it.

With the senior recipe tester back on tera firma he fast tracked himself home from the airport to rescue our friend and bundle our other juniors into bed. He then arranged for someone else to mind them at our place and came to the hospital to relieve me. I had a bag to pack...

We all finally made it to bed three hours before my alarm went off to go to the airport. The junior is mending. The senior and I would like a bit more sleep...

I'm so grateful for the three days I got to spend dreaming and strategising Dinner on the Table. But there's no balance between caring for my children through crisis, and an intensive work period. I know you know this story. Because it's your story too.

Is it time to stop talking about balance, as if it's something to aspire to?

At that particular time, we had just enough resources to fit the demands, both thrust upon, and chosen by us. We were able to meet competing needs, with help from family and friends, and, while exhausting, our work during those few days was meaningful, if unpredictable.

Ultimately, we could sustain the pace for those few short days. But ask us to expend those resources for a week, or a month, or a year? We may as well plan to fly ourselves to the moon.

And so, forgetting balance: how sustainable is your daily life? How long can you manage the competing demands of your work and home life? Do you have the resources to fit the demands? How long will those resources last? How predictable is your day to day?

I know your life is not balanced.

But perhaps it doesn't have to be.