Work-Life Balance as a Single Mom… seriously?

My alma mater, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, asked me to write a blog post on Work-Life Balance. I said “Yes” immediately, because I love them so much. But when it came to writing it – and delving into the introspection that my writing requires – I was like… Ahhh… Wait… What? 

Do I even have Work-Life Balance?!

This is what I came up with – DAYS later – and after many hours battling with myself and my imposter syndrome.

This is reposted with permission from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition Blog

Get Back IIN Balance with Catherine Barnhoorn, Health Coach and Working Mom

We asked Catherine for her best tips on how to get back in balance, whether you’re just starting out on your own wellness journey, you need motivation to continue on your path to better health, or you’re looking for guidance while going through a stressful time in your life. If any of this sounds like you, IIN’s got you covered! Read on to learn more from Catherine and how you can get back in balance, right now! 
Catherine Barnhoorn

What does balance mean to you, when it comes to your health and wellness routine?

This may sound odd coming from a Health Coach…I don’t have a health and wellness routine!

What I mean by that is, my health and wellness are not separate from the rest of my day. I have a daily routine, and my health and wellness play an integral part. So I balance my daily routine by taking into account everything that needs to happen in that day – work, parenting, living, and my health.

I balance my responsibilities with something I learned at IIN, which is allowing time to “be bad.” Fridays are what I call “Sweetie Fridays” – my daughter and I go to the local deli or the local ice cream shop and choose a sweet treat. We also have a weekly movie night with pizzas – gluten and dairy included!

Mila and mama making green juice

What are some tools you use to get physically back in balance?

My top four tools for maintaining physical balance are:

  • Nature

  • Movement

  • Nutrient-dense food 

  • Rest

As a single working mom and an entrepreneur, I have a really long to-do list every day that accounts for all spheres of my and my daughter’s life. So my days are busy – really busy – and usually come with quite a high stress load. My work also involves many hours of sitting in front of a computer. The stress and lack of movement can take a toll on me physically, so the effects of these are what I am mindful of balancing.

To balance the lack of movement, being indoors, and the blue-light and EMF exposure (from working on a computer), I have found joy and purpose in doing household chores! I break from the computer to hang the laundry outside in the sunshine or to walk my dog around the block, during which I am barefoot (to ground) and not wearing sunglasses, to allow my body to calibrate. I also have a rebounder (trampoline) next to my desk. Every hour, I will spend five minutes or so rebounding to some great music.

I balance the need for nutrient-dense food with the lack of appetite I have when I’m stressed and working by making a superfood smoothie every morning and sipping on it throughout my workday. I also prioritize spending time making a robust whole-food meal for dinner every night. My appetite tends to return when I’m relaxed – and spending time making food in the kitchen (my happy place) is a great way for me to unwind at the end of the day and to connect with my daughter, who’s now at the age where she loves helping prepare the food.

Lastly, one of my health and wellness non-negotiables is getting eight hours of sleep (minimum) every single night.

How do you find balance between work and life (that illusive “work-life balance”)?

This has taken me a very long time to figure out, and it was only after I was diagnosed with depression due to adrenal fatigue that I really made it a priority. I must mention that I am a workaholic! I love being productive, I’m a creative with many ideas I want to see come to fruition, and I am a perfectionist (hence why I ended up with adrenal fatigue and burnout).

My solution was to make my life (and my life purpose) my career. That way, by living my best life, I was doing my best work ‒ so it was no longer a matter of having to balance one against the other. I did this by writing a book about the food I was making for my daughter, who is intolerant of gluten, dairy, and sugar. My mom job became my job job. I also love to help people, so I became a Health Coach. Now helping others earns me an income.

As parents, we constantly need to have or find solutions to problems and challenges. But my personality is such that I first need to know and understand the “why.” This passion for finding the “why” has resulted in my accumulating tons of information and knowledge on a variety of wellness topics ‒ which I now share via articles on my (and other) websites and in publications, my workshops, and talks.

I see food as medicine; I eat only real food (whole, organic, natural), use food-based supplements and nutraceuticals, and always read ingredient labels, so now I’m a brand strategist and an affiliate marketer for conscious, clever food and supplement brands. This not only earns me an income but fulfils my love of helping others. I’m helping the small-business brand owners as well as the people who will eventually purchase their products!

Day to day, I balance my career work time and my life work time by setting clear boundaries. For example, I turn my computer off at a certain time each day, I don’t read or answer work emails and phone calls between 5pm and 9am or when I am with my daughter, and I no longer work on weekends as a given (exceptional circumstances only and only when my daughter is at her dad’s or a friend’s house).

Running on beach with dog

During the year, I take four weeks’ holiday in December, at the same time as my daughter’s school holiday. This is another of my nonnegotiables and is stated as such in my coaching and brand-strategy client contracts. I use this time to totally switch off from income-earning activities and to rest; reconnect with myself, my family and my friends; and be fully present and have fun with my daughter.

How do you support others (clients) in finding balance in their own lives?

I help them prioritize joy! I use the Circle of Life tool created by IIN, an amazing exercise that helps my clients get a bird’s-eye view of their life by demonstrating which primary foods need more attention. IIN’s core concept of primary food has made the biggest difference in my health and well-being. Primary food is food for the soul.

Oftentimes they’re focusing on and putting energy into only three or four areas of their lives – usually those that are problematic and demand attention. Once they see the other areas they could be exploring and putting energy into, it brings balance (and relief) by lifting the pressure off those three or four things.

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What guidance do you have for other working and/or single parents, to keep their families healthy?

Recognize that balance is all about dancing with the opposites rather than eliminating them or trying to control them.

Osho said in My Way: The Way of the White Clouds

“Once you know this secret alchemy of using the opposite, the contradictory, you are free. 

Once you know the knack of it, whatsoever you do, the balance follows you like a shadow.”

My guidance is a collection of opposites:

1. Schedule and go with the flow.

Schedule mindfully. By that, I mean schedule the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual have-to-dos and then add in the following:

  • Me time ‒ At least once a week, prioritize your needs as an adult.
  • You time ‒ Have real connection time with each of your children (we call these Mila-Mama dates).
  • Rest day ‒ Set a day that’s unplanned, during which you do what you want, when you want to do it. Give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing!
  • Sleep ‒ Find your optimum number of sleep hours and be strict about allocating time for them.
  • Fun ‒ This may not be an everyday or every week thing. Mila and I go on an adventure once every three months.


2. Multitask but be fully present for one of them.

Multitask mindfully. Choose things that go well together and do them at the same time. For example:

  • You need to move your body and need to connect with your child? Jump on a trampoline with your child. (This also checks the box for Fun!)
  • You want to eat nutrient-dense, homemade food all week, but you work a full day? Batch cook on the weekend with your kids! You’re spending quality time with them, teaching them a life skill and ensuring there’s real food for quick and easy meals in the busy week ahead.
  • Do you get stuck in traffic to and from work or school? Use this time to listen to podcasts that add to your learning and personal development.

Be fully present by doing one thing at a time. Yes, this seems like the total opposite of the above multitasking tip. But after multitasking, especially after working while parenting, the mind needs respite. Choose the to-do items that need single-minded focus or can offer that respite. For example, when I am doing the dishes, I am doing only that! It becomes my mindfulness practice. Mila knows not to disturb me; I can’t answer the phone or read emails. I solely wash the dishes (and quiet my mind).


3. Write a To-Do List and Write a Not-To-Do List.

Every morning, write your to-do list and then:

  • Move a third of the items onto a weekly to-do list.
  • Move the other third onto a not-to-do list.

The items on the not-to-do list are the things that don’t move you toward your goals or that you can delegate to someone else. You may think you don’t have anything to add, but you do!

If you had to pick one thing you couldn’t live without that supports your daily balance, what would it be?

Eight hours of sleep. Every. Single. Night. Being a working, single, full-time mom running my own business, my days are really go-go-go. The only way I can get so much done (with joy) is by having enough (good-quality) sleep.

Any final words?

Uncover what you love. Find what you’re passionate about and what you enjoy doing every day. Then find a way to earn an income from doing that. Make your life your work. Live your purpose. When you live your purpose, juggling all the balls becomes fun.

mom and daughter in kitchen baking

Learn more about Catherine and her work on her websites (Mila’s Meals and the newly launching Mama’s Medicine) and her Instagram pages (@milasmeals and @catherine.barnhoorn). If you’re interested in learning how you too can get back in balance with IIN’s Health Coach Training Program, check out a free sample class here.