The work-life balance secrets of a French momFeatured

How can you possibly carve out quality time with kids when you work full-time or operate a business?

There is a method to this madness and after creating multiple businesses, traveling full time a few months/year and still making sure to spend quality time with my son, I realized what I created for myself was a great work/life balance.

Heavily influenced by the strong French women I grew up with, I was inspired to live in a way that prioritizes family bonds, self-care, and self-accomplishment. Since I know the struggle we (moms) are facing daily, between mom guilt, societal expectations, and other internal dilemmas, I want to pay it forward and share what has worked for me, in the hope that others will embrace “la joie de vivre” (the joy of living).

1. Boundaries, the thing French women taught me.

I grew up with strong women all around me, some were also entrepreneurs. I know now that it was probably not easy for them but one thing they all had in common was a great balance between work, married life, and motherhood. And they somehow made it effortless to smile through it all.

My mom (one of those strong French women), once told me: “You will wear many hats in your life: the career hat, the friend hat, the spouse hat, the mother hat, and most important of all, the woman hat. When life gets into a whirl spin and you don’t know how to prioritize, always put your woman hat first! It is the one that will fix everything and allow you to wear the others…

What she meant was, when everyone is asking a piece of you, make sure to stay strong with your boundaries! Make sure to put yourself first. It is not being selfish, it is the only way you can take care of others.

Boundaries with your work environment

Moving to the United States as a French ex-pat came with many adjustments, but what shocked me the most was discovering people staying late at work or always using their laptops on weekends! It seemed that even at home, people didn’t have a private life. They never disconnected.

As I got older and always remembered the “hat story”, I decided to instill healthy boundaries with my work no matter if I worked for others, or for myself. In full disclosure, I did face repercussions and raised many eyebrows when asking people to “wait until Monday for my response”, but I stayed strong.

For me, boundaries at work meant that I need at least a couple of days a week to completely disconnect from work! No computer, no phone notifications, no Apple watch to remind me of things, that – let's face it – can probably wait until Monday.

This is the first step towards balancing your work schedule and your private life. Set your boundaries early on and stick with them, it will pay off as people have to adjust around you eventually.

Boundaries at home

Me-time is essential! We all know it in theory. But in practice your schedule may look a little like that: drop-offs, pick-ups, dinner, cleaning, homework, bedtime routine, housework/administrative, and finally… at about midnight (if you do not crash) you get about 1hr of “me time”.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. In the same way, you install boundaries at your workplace, you can install boundaries at home. Speak up about feeling burnout to your spouse, child, and family unity. Create a plan for them to leave room for you to wear your “woman hat”.

For example, it may mean encouraging children to pursue activities independently, it may mean officially announcing you are taking 30 min for yourself until dinner is ready and locking that bedroom door…

And if you feel the mom's guilt creeping up, know that self-care is recognized to help with better parenting practices, so in the end, everybody wins!

2. Time-saving tips for moms that “don’t have time”.

Delegate to your support system and to kids

Growing up, I saw my dad cooking dinner probably more than my mom did, it never occurred to me that a woman needed to “do it all”. And today, in my household, we share all chores 50/50 with my spouse and my 6-year-old son has his own list of chores as well.

I make sure to remind them that we are working as a team, to make sure that the entire household stays afloat.

You may feel like you don’t have time, because, you may actually not have time to do it all! Just as you would need to delegate tasks at work, delegating household tasks and kid-related activities is the only way to share the burden of your daily routine and not feel overwhelmed.

It can also provide valuable learning opportunities for your kids, as they learn first-hand how to take responsibility for their own needs and actions.

For example, my six-year-old son makes his own lunch most days -- it's something he enjoys and I am grateful to have him taking care of that task while freeing up some time in my morning schedule.

Check on those time-wasting things you do

Taking control of your time waste is a really powerful way to manage it all. It can be as simple as controlling your social media use by using a timer.

Or you can create blocks of tasks to get things done without distraction. For example, block out 30 minutes to reply to emails, another 30 minutes for checking Instagram, and so on.

Find “wasted times” and turn them into “productive times”

Multi-tasking is a gift that many of us, women, are born with. So let's use it!

I used to think of commuting as wasted time. Instead, I now use my travel time to invest in long-term goals and nurture myself. Audiobooks and podcasts are perfect for that! The commute feels quicker and is much more enjoyable. I can learn new things, listen to inspiring stories, or explore fresh ideas. It helps me stay creative at work and in my parenting journey.

It is also a great opportunity for a “check-in” time with your child. Instead of them being on screens during the drive, spark conversation to create an open dialogue on everything that happens during the day.

The idea of carving time to spend one-on-one time with yourself, with your spouse, or with your children, is something I grew up with. And dinner, commute, or other moments of your day you may feel are not conducive to connecting, may actually be the perfect time to do so.

3. Do what you love, so work becomes play

Work should fulfill you in some way

No job will ever truly fulfill you if you don't feel passionate about the team you work with, the mission, or even just the workload itself. Working in an environment with supportive colleagues who have a similar shared goal is also equally important. It can make all the difference in how you are going about each day. As a general rule, I think if aspects of your work start to affect your private life and well-being negatively, then it is time to change things.

Another thing that my French background taught me is to make sure that you “work to live, not live to work”. Your career doesn’t have to define who you are as a person. It is a fluid part of your life, as you grow and changes who you are. Therefore, it should be one of the tools you have to make yourself happy, but not be the only reason you are (happy). This might result in opening your own business or changing careers with a lower income but with more flexibility. And that is OK too!

It’s not a hobby, it’s sanity!

Everyone needs a way to unwind and stay sane. For me, that’s travel - although my husband loves going on trips, he is not as adventurous as I am and is definitely not into the full-time travel lifestyle. His hobby is more about crafting or building something around the house.

But we both make sure to encourage each other’s respective interests. We compromise by scheduling our different hobbies throughout the year and making sure we listen to our son’s needs too.

Whatever your passion project is, make sure you set aside some time for it every now and then - your sanity will thank you for it!

And if you managed to create your work around your passion, then you are already taking the best step you could in that direction.

4. The misconceptions of the “perfect” family time.

It has to be elaborate

Many parents think that a family day out has to be planned out and requires a lot of logistics. But the truth is, family time can be as simple as a board game night once a week or baking together.

Another great way to make precious memories is by planning small outings with your family.I found that getting out of the house helps everyone to relax and get away from responsibilities for a little while.

Instead of being something you dread, why not make it a fun experience for the whole gang? Having a "family day" once a week is an easy way to ensure that you make time for those micro-adventures. Whether it's heading out for ice cream, sunbathing in the park, or exploring a trail nearby, these times are precious and help you reconnect with people you love.

And don't forget about yourself - you deserve some fun too - when going out for the day, make sure that every family member has something to look forward to.

We typically do things like this: My husband gets a brewery, I get a museum or cultural (indoor place) and our son gets an outdoor or indoor play experience. We finish the day with a dinner out, where we talk about what we did and connect around a special meal.

It may seem like a simple day/afternoon, but because we do this weekly, it is now a complete part of our son’s childhood memories.

You need time and money to create memories

As I said, with kids, it is all about being consistent, and about the childhood standards you are setting for them.

Not that a one-off trip to Disneyland or the number of new toys you are buying can’t fulfill their short-term happiness, but 30 years from now, these will not be what defined their childhood.

So when parents come to me and say they don’t find the time or the budget to create those memories regularly, here is what I usually answer: “Do you have 2-4hrs per week to make sure your child remembers you? Because that is all you need!”

An afternoon per week, where you completely disconnect from what the world throws at you, from work, from outside noises. An afternoon without screens, where you get out of your house and discover something new and exciting together.

I even created the GoWhee App to help parents with that. You don’t even have to spend hours to find what to do near you, just hop on the app and go on an adventure.

Most importantly it doesn’t have to cost you a dime! There are tons of free things to do, and many indoor play spaces, museums, etc… have free or heavily discounted days (just select the “free” filter in GoWhee to find those gems). And for the next holiday/birthday gift, replace the latest electronic or plastic toy with memberships to the local play museums. Next weekend, replace hours in front of a solitary video game with a family hike in the park. Today replace time loss disconnecting with busy schedules with time spent re-connecting with one-on-one conversations.

Work-life balance is just one conscious decision away that you took, to re-prioritize your time and it starts today!

This is incredible!!! ✨✨ You should write a book about this. For real!
I respect this advice and believe that lessons can be gleaned from this. France is one of my favorite places to visit and I'm fondly reminded of the lessons and perspective that my sister shared with me from her time working in Paris. This also echoes the philosophy of my own relatives who remain in other European countries who don't understand the American 24/7 work culture. A few things important points to think about (and take action on!) in the trope of "French women do everything better":1) French policy (along with the policy of many other EU countries) is structured in a way that supports almost everything mentioned above: Labor laws protecting workers and their personal time, strong paid family leave policies, government-subsidized-reliable-readily-available-high-quality daycare, public investment in public spaces like parks and museums. 2) National healthcare (and other social programs) provide a strong safety net if one member of a household is laid off from a job. This lack of stress does impact the stress levels of individuals and parents allowing for less striving and driving without catastrophic consequences. 3) America's well-documented pay disparities for women that commit the same amount of hours (or more) and doing the same job as men. Further, the perceptions of women's commitments at work is also an issue that makes setting boundaries more of a professional risk for women who don't have the level of protection from the law or the social safety nets available to French and other EU citizens. While of course, we do have some control over our individual circumstances and mindset, America too often puts the responsibility on the individual of solving structural deficiencies. A strong movement to vote and support candidates with platforms of social policies that allow for further gender equality and work-life balance would likely go much further than individual changes. There was widespread bipartisan support for policies like Universal daycare in the United States as women began to join the workforce. Today's conservative movement managed to quash these. I encourage both men and women who return from a trip to Europe or just indulge in the daydream genre of "French women do everything better" to look into the policy behind the lifestyles. If anyone is interested in how U.S. policy began to diverge so far from that of Europe's, the Hulu Series "Mrs. America" about the backlash against the Equal Rights Amendment is a great place to start.
I came to say exactly some of these things. French policies regarding employment, child care and maternal care are stellar compared with those in other countries. It’s great that France offers these things, but the U.S. requires mothers to fend for themselves. As such, it’s not fair for a Frenchwoman to be giving Americans advice in areas where they do not have similar protection (I have a French ancestry so I have no hesitation saying this). Also, my brother and I loved our trips to Disneyland. We have fond memories of those, and also memories of day trips. If you can afford a big splash, give your kids that treat at least once.