'First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage', or so went the old nursery rhyme.
In the 21st Century, what comes next is juggling careers with raising a family, meeting deadlines and getting to the kids' concerts and sports days, trying to squeeze in a social life and gym visits, and never letting any of the balls drop.
Sounds complicated? That's because it is, says Auckland work-life balance expert, Helen Harvey.
"For many of us, work is no longer confined to 40 hours a week, or even 60. With smart-phones, tablets and laptops, work bleeds into time with our families, into holidays, weekends and at night when we could be resting and rejuvenating," says Harvey.
Before technology tethered us to our work, when people left the office each evening and on Friday afternoon, they generally didn't need to keep working.
"Back then, there was a much clearer distinction between work and personal time," says Harvey. "Now the expectation is very much that you will always 'be on', meaning you have to keep communicating and working anywhere at any time."
In a recent US survey, 70% of respondents admitted that work crept into their personal lives. Others reported feeling a lack of time, energy and concentration at home, with comments such as 'I don't have enough time for my family because of my job' or 'My family says I spend more time on my phone than I do with them'.
It's a scenario familiar to Sarah Ashforth, a single mother of Josh, 6 and Erika, 7, who says she can't remember what colour her house is.
"I leave when it's dark and get home when it's dark," says the Christchurch-based software developer. "My kids go to Mum's at 6am and she gets them ready for school and then collects them after school and feeds them. I have a few hours with them before they go to bed and then I do more work."
Ashforth says even when she's on the sidelines of her son's rugby games, she'll be on her phone. "He once said to me, 'Mum, you love your work more than you love me'. Which was hard to hear but I'm trying to build my career and be both mum and dad to these kids. I often think it would be much easier to go on the dole and stop trying to be superwoman, but that wouldn't make me happy."
The aim is to one day set up her own company. "Maybe then I'll have more time for family and nights out and all those things other people enjoy. But for now, if I want to get ahead, then this is how it has to be."
Someone else who's been battered with the busy mallet is Catherine Young, the founder of canine apparel and accessories company Sparkles the Dog and mother of Laika, 4 and Lucas, 3.
Although husband Darren helps in the business, his day job as an accountant means Catherine juggles childcare with building the company, which is a favourite of Elle McPherson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cindy Crawford.
"Both kids are at pre-school part-time, so I have a small window to work uninterrupted. I'll go into my home office and get stuck in," says the Wellingtonian. "I never attempt work that requires focus when the children are around, because it just ends in frustration and me having to tell them to be quiet which is unfair on them, as they're just being kids. So I usually leave the important work until they're in bed. That's also a good time to make business calls to our stockists in Europe, Japan and the US."
Not having a nanny or grandparents on hand means Young and her husband have to be "super organised" and accept they can't do everything they want. "But we both try to be really present when we're with the kids."
They also have a rule about switching off mobiles at family mealtimes and spending as much time as possible as a family. "For us, it's all about compartmentalising work and family life - and giving our undivided attention to whatever we're focused on at any given time."
TOP TIPS - HOW TO TURN WORK-LIFE BALANCE FROM AN OXYMORON INTO THE REAL THING
1) Schedule down-time into your calendar. That could mean Sunday for an extended family dinner, Thursday for date night or Saturday morning for the kids' sport. Block it out and treat it as seriously as you would any other work appointment.
2) Eliminate things that don't add value to your life. I'm talking to you TV, Playstation and mindless internet surfing.
3) Outsource whatever you can. Get a cleaner, order your groceries online, join a carpool for the kids' after-school activities. It might cost a bit more but it'll save time and sanity.
4) Have 'me' time. Even if it's 10 minutes each day, read a book, enjoy a soak in the bath, go for a run or call a friend. It's trite but true: you're so busy taking care of everyone else, you forget about you. Start remembering.
5) Avoid negative people that suck your energy. Say no to paddling around their pool of negativity.
- © Fairfax NZ News