I’m a working mom. I’m out of the home, and away from my children 10 hours a day, five days a week. If you are a regular visitor you know this. I write a lot about the challenges of being away from my children and my quest to manage it all and manage it well. It’s who I am, what I do. The expectations I have of myself can be overwhelming. Yet, this is the life I choose, the life I know I am meant to be living.
For all of that, I know there is a better way. I know I’m only doing an average job of carrying it all off. And I also know that the pressure I put on myself is self-inflicted and largely unnecessary. That’s why I’m working on changing, on adapting and becoming someone who is more comfortable in her own skin. Someone who has better balance.
So you can understand why my interest was piqued by an article in The Globe and Mail by Judith Timson last week: Work-life balance? Can that cliché. I’m always searching for answers, so of course I read it immediately. You see, while I have a strong desire to find better balance, I’m not opposed to being convinced that the search is impossible. There are days when that would be much easier to accept.
I’ll admit I was a bit put-off when I read Timson’s description that balance is a bore. My initial thought was that if so, then this lady just doesn’t get it. Or maybe she has too much balance. But as I read on, and discovered that what she meant was that the time crunch we all experience is actually a life stage and not a way of life, I became more interested. I’d never thought of it like that before.
There are simply periods of our lives when the burdens will be intense and, especially for parents of young children, we’re going to have to demonstrate by doing it that we can be both excellent workers and excellent parents.
Burdens intense. Yes, I get that. I’m living it now. Everyday.
She goes on to argue:
But work-life balance itself has become a cliché, an all-purpose catchphrase, and a way of avoiding personal responsibility for making healthy choices.
And this is where I beg to differ.
By definition, a cliché is a saying, expression, or in this case idea that has been overused to the point that it loses its original meaning or effect. Balance has been a buzz word for many years. It is so because, arguably it is elusive. We are living busier, more programmed lives. In some cases by choice, but in some cases by necessity. Arguing that it’s simply a case of “avoiding personal responsibility for making healthy choices” simplifies the issue to the point of absurd. From my perspective, the need to find balance has become more important and harder than ever, not less so, cliché or not.
I say this even though I’m currently steeped in my own journey to find perfection and simplicity in all that is ordinary. But my quest is to change the way I look at my life, not necessarily how I live it. Sometimes how we have to life our life is beyond simply being able to make “healthy choices” to change it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not negating that there is some importance in what she says. I only find fault with the logic of the presumed simplicity. Our lives are busy. We have full-time jobs. If we are parents, we have two full-time jobs (perhaps even more). The day starts at the crack of dawn, and it’s a race to the finish. We work endlessly to meet our responsibilities. We have to. There are bills to pay, we are trying to raise happy, well-adjusted children. We have to be available to support and help friends and family. Our responsibilities go on and on. Are these choices? At their root I suppose they are, but once chosen, the choices become infinitely less. We simply have to measure up.
So here is where I offer my own interpretation of balance. In reality, I don’t think it’s an all or nothing, a choice of one thing over another. I think it’s all about moderation. Focusing on what needs to be done, doing it when it needs to, but allowing responsibility to slip when you need to so that you can regain your equilibrium. That means lots of things, and the counter-balance is different for everyone. For me it’s about a few hours to read or write, or coffee with a friend. It’s getting up from my desk at work and having a leisurely chat with a co-worker. It’s about a few moments sitting on the front deck chatting with my husband. Yes I’m making choices. Some of the healthy. All of them important. But all in moderation, because sometimes I simply don’t get to do these things. Sometimes duty calls and calls and calls.
It’s about not losing yourself completely in all the have to do’s, and not giving in entirely to what you want to do’s.
So is balance elusive? I don’t think so. Is it a cliché? Perhaps. Is it worth pursuing, absolutely!
Have you found any secrets along the way that help you find balance? Do you ever let go of the guilt and just focus on yourself? How do you prioritize the competing priorities? Do you agree that it’s about moderation, or do you think it’s impossible to achieve?
Image: bringing balance to a photo shoot via a Creative Commons license.