Millions of people struggle with work and caring for their children and an elderly relative. Lancaster mum, daughter and businesswoman Jane Binnion explains how something had to change to help her with this 21st century dilemma.
There’s a lot of attention being put on the rise in the number of women taking on senior political roles and this certainly presents girls with positive role models.
However, there is a bit of the picture missing. If the camera panned left we would also get to see that we have all time record rates of burnout among women.
Some might say that proves those women are not up to the job, but most domestic responsibilities still fall to women and there are 13m Brits - mostly women - with a caring role for an elderly relative.
That is a lot of plates we are trying to keep spinning and it is not surprising it is affecting our health.
As a business trainer almost daily I meet women who went self-employed because they hit burn out as an employee. And that was exactly my story.
As a single mum in a high stress job and a member of the sandwich generation (a generation responsible both for bringing up their own children and for the care of their ageing parents) I was a car crash waiting to happen.
I had cut my hours down to the minimum that we could live on but that did not change anything really.
Like so many women my life felt like a runaway train. Luckily (I now see it that way) I ripped my shoulder and couldn’t drive.
Being at home, managing one armed, I finally slowed down and realised there should be more to life than being totally exhausted all the time.
That is when I went self employed, essentially I wanted and needed to be home more.
We have huge numbers of women just like me leaving organisations and going self employed to get a better quality of life.
But changing our circumstances is only the start.
One day I was delivering a workshop to a group of very busy business owners, all women, and I wondered why they were taking on the task of sending out their own newsletters on top of everything else.
I did not have much time to ponder that as next I ran home to walk the dog and peg the washing out before rushing off to a meeting I had organised to run a countywide event - for women in business.
And the penny dropped. I was still running around at break neck speed to make stuff happen. Good stuff and I liked that I did not have to account for my every move to an employer. But while I was so much happier I was still running myself ragged.
That is when I realised that some of it is not fitting in with the organisational culture, and some organisations are addressing that, and some of it is the pressure we put upon ourselves.
That day I wrote the draft of Spinning Plates, a workshop for women who do too much.
There is an expression if you want a job doing give it to a busy person and that’s what I saw in me and many other women.
We were so busy we just took on more and more because delegating was too time consuming. We all know the women who ask someone to load the dishwasher then re-do it themselves – properly! This is part of something we call patterns of taking responsibility.
In a survey we found that guilt is one of the biggest pressures that pushes women do everything themselves.
Despite all of the things I juggle it took me a year of agonising before I hired a cleaner. And it was the same for my mum, I had to work hard to get her to accept help while she was waiting for her hip replacement.
There seems to be some unwritten judgement that we had failed, we were not good enough women.
It appears that many of us have deeply internalised the necessity to do everything for everyone else to prove that we are competent and capable - and needed. But then we can get resentful because we don’t get the recognition we were hoping for.
And the bottom line is it is costly to the country because this behaviour is making women ill. I did not know that each year twice as many women die of a stroke than breast cancer and stroke risk is one third higher for women in stressful jobs.
Just this morning I met with two women who told me they cram so much into their working day that they do not eat unless they eat junk food while they drive. As a long term lifestyle that is just not sustainable.
A big problem is we believe that looking after ourselves first is being selfish. I have learned it has got a lot to do with establishing boundaries and was fascinated by researcher Brene Brown’s findings that the most compassionate people are the ones with clear boundaries.
In short the Spinning Plates workshop is about stepping back and reminding ourselves why the airlines say put your own oxygen mask on first.
The truth is we are no good to anyone if we are worn out and the less we take care of ourselves the lower our self esteem and so the cycle continues.
Luckily the reverse is also true, the better we take care of ourselves the more energy we have, the higher our self esteem and the kinder we are to those around us.
As for me, I still sometimes get so busy that I forget to look after myself, but I am getting much better at it and the key is that I now notice the signs much earlier and know what I need to do.
In truth we will never get to the bottom of our ‘To Do’ list, so the answer is all about the decisions we make.
And my little sandwich generation family? Well as we all figure out how to look after ourselves better we have become a pretty cool team.
Spinning Plates is a one day workshop run by Jane Binnion and Liz Neat on September 29 at the Tara Centre, Lancaster.
For full details go to http://www.janebinnion.com/product/spinning-plates/ or contact Jane via Jane@janebinnion.com or call 01524 752723