There’s been some talk recently about the worth of the term ‘work-life balance’. Comedian and dad Tiernan Douieb gives his views.
The argument goes that there doesn’t need to be such a thing as a work-life balance because work is part of your life, which is a terrible argument.
Eating is part of life but if you don’t have an eating-life balance you’d spend every second of your day scoffing your face and never go outside. Having tried to do this, it really doesn’t give you great results. Unless your entire life goal was to become some sort of giant half pie, half slug person. In which case, congrats on over-achieving.
Life, as it turns out, contains a lot of elements that all of us try to haphazardly smush together so that we can actually enjoy any of this ‘being’ lark, before death. There is no work-death balance unless you’ve always dreamed of being a draught excluder or organic speed bump and have desires to donate your body to the cause. In which case, congrats on over-achieving.
My work is very much part of my life and something I enjoy because it largely involves standing on stages shouting at strangers in darkened rooms and making them laugh. Or sitting writing some waffle about half pie, half slug people.
But another big part of my life, so big that it appears to have squashed the sleep part, or the ever-going-to-the-pub-again part or the ever-seeing-a-film-again part or ever-not-needing-more-than-four-coffees-to-survive-past-9am part, is my daughter.
My daughter is nearly two years old and to pretend that I don’t need some sort of work-life balance is to pretend that I can cart her around with me, all over the country to various theatres, bars and clubs and assume she’ll just totally behave, stick to the vague semblance of a sleep routine she currently has and seamlessly fit in around my work hours like a handy accessory or app that happens to need nappy changes. It’s pretending that I can just say to her that I have a writing deadline and she’ll angelically say, ‘Ok daddy I shall read to myself or solve intensely complicated equations or go help the community and leave you in peace till you’ve finished’.
The reality of course, is that, for example, this morning my daughter screamed ‘Daddy!’ at the top of her voice for five full minutes while I was trying to make myself a coffee. And when I went to see what the issue was she showed me a toy frog, said ‘it’s a frog’ and that was it.
There is no letting me have five minutes to make a coffee, let alone a day to spend two hours procrastinating on Twitter to see what everyone’s upset about today before an hour pretending to research whatever it is I’m writing about while actually checking Twitter, before spending two hours writing which includes several breaks for more coffee, tea if I need a break and some crisps, followed by an hour or so where I pretend I might write more but let’s face it, I’m back on Twitter. That’s the writing process I am proud to have honed over years of my job. And let me tell you it doesn’t fit in all that well with, ‘Oh god she’s finally having a nap, I may have up to two hours to do everything’ before you’re back to having to acknowledge a toy frog for four hours solid all over again.
This time of the year makes everything worse too. My plan that I tire her out with a trip to the park involves it taking forever to dress her in three layers and a splash suit. Putting hat and gloves on her is like trying to put a woollen swim suit on an angry spider.
Then just as you are about to leave, she needs a nappy change and you start over. And by the time you’ve finally made it outside, it starts raining or she’s ready for a nap or you’ve just given up all hope and are contemplating hiding in a corner and drinking whisky until it’s Spring again.
There are few indoor play areas near where we live. Yet there is a growing influx of adverts for things like ‘ball pit cocktail bars’, as though finding it slightly difficult to stand up in a tub of multi-colored ping pongs will somehow distract from knowing you’ll never own any assets and that your 30s will be spent wishing there was somewhere like this to take your daughter to, so you can do the work you need to do. I do hope in the grown-up ones they’ve kept in the possibility that someone has urinated at the bottom, the potential of catching hand, foot and mouth and the need to take a parent so they can shout at the bigger ones who keep charging in.
I am of course making it sound like I’m looking after the kid all by myself which would be a massive lie. My wife helps lots though she also has to work. There’s two days of childcare which is great though remarkable how much of that is spent cleaning the flat, saying ‘wow isn’t it quiet’ out loud 600 times and eating a meal without getting indigestion from trying to stop my daughter from climbing out of her high-chair throughout.
There’s also grandparents who help. But that then includes getting her to them and back, which is either ages on the bus or what feels like a lifetime in the car because we have to play the same three songs on repeat to keep the mini goblin happy.
Sometimes my travels mean I’m a night or two away from home and that’s amazing as it means I can write and work around the shows that I’m meant to do, but actually it means I’m just in bed at the hotel as soon as the shows over with delusions that one full night’s sleep might somehow replace 22 months of zombie state.
More than that though, I love work, but I want to hang out with my daughter. I also want to do the work that I enjoy doing. Is there a way to balance that? Probably not, but I will say that before I was a parent, I used to wonder why comedians and writers that are parents only ever wrote or talked about their kids, and would snarkily complain about how boring that was.
Now, I realise, as I’m being shouted at, because ‘yes, that is a frog, well done’ and it’s raining outside again, I haven’t got time to do or think about anything else.
Write about what you know they say, and maybe that there is the work-life balance after all.