Dossier: Stress and relaxation

“I just didn’t have enough time”

Today, women have options so they can combine work and family life, and everything can run like clockwork. That was the plan for Sibylle Stillhart, too. But it didn’t turn out like that.

Text: Helwi Braunmiller, Julie Freudiger / Photos: Kostas Maros

The days trying to juggle work and my children were hectic and stressful. My husband and I were woken up by our young sons up to four times a night. In the morning, I made breakfast, got the kids dressed, and then rushed to nursery, where I often left the boys in tears because they didn’t want to go. Arriving sweaty and stressed at the office, I was usually the last one there. To compensate, I worked through my lunch break until I had to hotfoot it back to nursery to pick up the boys. Then I had to find time to do a quick shop, cook the evening meal, put the kids to bed, clear up, do the washing, etc. And this was repeated day after day, night after night.

“"My needs seemed to count for nothing any more.”
Sibylle Stillhart

I didn’t have a minute to myself and was far too exhausted to do anything that might have done me good. Of course, my husband helped where he could and even reduced his workload to 85%. However, as he lost a lot of time commuting to another city for work, most of the housework was still left to me. In my life plan, I’d forgotten to account for the fact that no matter how much you love your children, they still create an awful lot of work and there’s far more to do at home than before. Added to this, I was torn between the expectations of my employer and the needs of my sons – my needs seemed to count for nothing any more.

When I told my gynaecologist that I was exhausted, she nodded knowingly and recommended that I quit my job. I was a bit taken aback. I couldn’t imagine myself as a housewife. I’m a perfectly capable human being! But why else am I so tired? Until then I simply hadn’t dared question the compatibility of work and family life. What’s more, people believe that the longer you sit at your desk, the better you work. And mums just don’t have this luxury.

“Today I can take time to recharge my batteries."”
Sibylle Stillhart

I couldn’t stop thinking about my doctor’s advice. As I became even unhappier at work under my new boss, I decided to quit. It helped enormously. Today I work as a freelance journalist and have just published my second book. Working at home is sometimes lonely and we’ve had to tighten our belts, but I no longer have to deal with the energy-sapping competition that prevails at many workplaces. And now I work with people who appreciate what I do.

I still often feel exhausted these days, but I have much greater flexibility. I can take time to recharge my batteries. Two to three hours a week is usually enough. I have time to go swimming again, do yoga or meet a friend for lunch. And we’ve had an addition to our family! I’d always dreamt of having a third child, but it would have been unimaginable before – I simply couldn’t have managed it.”

Sibylle Stillhart, 45, is a freelance journalist, author and mother to three boys. She lives in Bern, and tries to take time out now and again.