Balance is worth it

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.

She writes:

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.

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33 thoughts on “Balance is worth it

  1. Sarah says:

    I think balance is one of those words that, in this context, eludes definition. Cliché as it might sound, I think balance is what you make it. I firmly believe in the need for balance of mind, body, spirit, and emotions. Too much emphasis on one throws me off.Our society emphasizes body (physical) – possessions, physical health, food, etc, etc, etc… at the expense of the rest.I think I may be talking about what you refer to as moderation. Mental breaks, chats with coworkers, time alone, all contribute to the balance of your being. That affects your life (for better or worse depending on how you judge a situation).You raise a great point. Now that I have hijacked your comments, I am going to go ponder. Sorry (as always) for the novel. :/

  2. Holly says:

    Great post! I find that everything is how you prioritize. IF you prioritize. IF you don't, things will most assuredly be overwhelming! If you take the time to jot down what things HAVE to get done… then what things NEED to be done… and what things you WANT to get done… Then start ranking them. As you go throughout and check things off the list, you will find that you'll get much more accomplished and what doesn't, oh well… You did what was MOST important. (Sometimes you have to up the priority of some ME time… for sanity's sake…)As for me, I KNOW I do better with that list, but usually just wing it… then I spin my wheels… feel like I've been busy non-stop and look back to see I haven't ACCOMPLISHED MOST of what I NEEDED to. Someday I'll learn to just STICK TO THE LIST! (((HUGS)))

  3. Nicki says:

    I have given up on guilt when I take time for me. Reason – if I am not my best, I cannot do my best job – whether parenting, work, whatever.I use to have "to do" lists that could never possibly be achieved in one day. Now, I don't do that. I may make the list but it is not nearly as long.Balance belongs to those on bicycles, those in gymnastics on the beam. Balance in life is never what the word truly means. Balance in life is never even. We all give when we need to and take when we need to. It is not in balance. I think, if it were, life would be boring.That all said, I do agree that there are times in life when any sort of "balance" is impossible. Babies and toddlers need adults more than others do. Teens need more than we probably think. Parenting is tough and one-sided until our children are adults.

  4. Stepping On Cheerios says:

    There is no way to be balanced when you have kids. There is just so much unpredictability. I'm certainly always wondering if I'm doing anything well enough.

  5. coffee with julie says:

    This is a conversation topic that I never tire of because I always wonder: "do THEY have the elusive answer to balance?" I've been comtemplating my own life balance since 2005 when I left a fantastic well paying career with a pension to spend time at home with my daughter, while pulling in a few writing gigs to help pay the bills that simply could not be paid on one salary. But alas, like so much in life … it has not worked out to be so balanced after all (since as you know, I tend to work more than full-time hours now!).The problem with balance is that, like Timson, I do find that it can be a "bore." For instance, I am contemplating a different career path which I suspect may be more "boring" but would ultimately provide both myself and my family with more "balance" overall. And although I am a city-girl at heart, I live in a more "boring" area because it is better overall for the family in a number of different ways. During this intense period of time when we have young children, I will continue to seek balance even if it is a more "boring" choice because, ultimately, when life does become less intense, I still want to have a husband and happy children to spend my life with. Without some sense of balance, I believe you risk losing the family dynamic. As for Timson's comment about "avoiding personal responsibility," I also beg to differ. In a time where average housing prices in our area are $350k, this can take away alot of the "choice" in life.

  6. Justine says:

    Moderation is my mantra, but this is not to say I'm a pro at it. It is a goal of mine.Life teeters on a fine line of give and take and sometimes one outweighs the other – a perfect balance seems like an illusion and maybe it is. At least for now with me. I'm still trying to loosen up on the guilt to indulge on some me time to save my sanity, which will undoubtedly make me a better parent. But when it comes time to make that decision, to leave for 90 minutes of yoga on the weekend when I see so little of my baby on week days, I still choose to stay home with her. I tell myself that maybe if I see her more, I may be less inclined to feel bad for leaving her side when I get the chance to be with her. Is it balanced? Probably not. But it works for now.

  7. Elizabeth Flora Ross says:

    I have to say I also do not agree with that writer's point of view. And while I cannot relate to your particular situation (I am a SAHM), I believe we are ALL striving for balance, whatever that means in our own unique situations. I don't know any mom who truly feels she has achieved it, either. I think there are points where we manage things better, and other times not so well. It is an endless struggle. I personally work to be happy with the way things are and focus on what I CAN impact.This is a wonderful post, and so well said!

  8. Kate says:

    Lovely post. I find that balance is not something you find and keep, so have to keep finding it.You reminded me too about an exercise my uncle shared with me. The columns are have to, don't have to; the rows are want to, don't want to. Fill it out. The things we want and need to do are a simple decision, but the other three are trickier. You'd be surprised with how much time we spend doing things that we don't have to or want to do.

  9. Amber says:

    I would say that I actively seek balance. Sometimes I'm better at it, sometimes I'm worse. I realize that it might be an elusive goal, but I don't like the implication that it's impossible or unworthy.A few things have helped me, lately. Having like 3 priorities for the day and focusing on those first. Otherwise I can waste valuable time at things that don't matter (cough, Twitter, cough). And reminding myself that this is what I want to be doing right now. My kids or my work are not burdens, they are freely chosen gifts. If I believe that, it makes the craziness easier for me to take.

  10. Kristen @ Motherese says:

    Wonderful post, Christine! And one on a topic I find endlessly interesting.I have not had a chance to read the article you mention, but from what you've said here it seems to me that the author is putting a rather high premium on personal responsibility. While I agree in general that we have to take responsibility for the choices we make, things like money, health, family support, and quality childcare options are not always within our control – but having them makes choices a whole lot easier to make. I know, for instance, that my life is made much easier by the fact that we live in a relatively inexpensive area. Most things are cheaper than they are in other parts of the States and that fact gives us more choices. Couldn't everybody choose to live where I do?, the author might ask. Technically, yes, but that seems to oversimplify a lot of the realities that define our lives.Christine, have you ever read Perfect Madness by Judith Warner? She has a lot to say about the ideas of choices vs. fait accompli. I think you'd like it. (Maybe we'll have to make it a book club book.) 🙂

  11. Alex@LateEnough says:

    So what came to mind when I read this is Why not be average? Why can't I be a mom among moms, a friend among friends? Why do have these expectations to be the BEST MOM out there? I want to be the best mom that I can be, but maybe that is a messy house and a kid who won't nap? I don't know. I so think seeking balance is GREAT but more often balance is what I like to wave to as I swing to the other extreme 😀

  12. Allison @ Alli 'n Son says:

    Moderation is the key. I usually remember that when I'm drowning by my to-do list and obligations. That's the time when I step back, realize that I don't have to make it to every playgroup, that a day at home cleaning and backing is just what I need. And what my son needs. Balance is different for everyone. And it changes, sometimes on a daily basis. It's a matter recognizing in yourself when you've done too much, and backing off. Or realizing that maybe you could be doing a little more. You have to constantly learn and adjust.

  13. Allison @ Alli 'n Son says:

    Moderation is the key. I usually remember that when I'm drowning by my to-do list and obligations. That's the time when I step back, realize that I don't have to make it to every playgroup, that a day at home cleaning and backing is just what I need. And what my son needs. Balance is different for everyone. And it changes, sometimes on a daily basis. It's a matter recognizing in yourself when you've done too much, and backing off. Or realizing that maybe you could be doing a little more. You have to constantly learn and adjust.

  14. Allison @ Alli 'n Son says:

    Moderation is the key. I usually remember that when I'm drowning by my to-do list and obligations. That's the time when I step back, realize that I don't have to make it to every playgroup, that a day at home cleaning and backing is just what I need. And what my son needs. Balance is different for everyone. And it changes, sometimes on a daily basis. It's a matter recognizing in yourself when you've done too much, and backing off. Or realizing that maybe you could be doing a little more. You have to constantly learn and adjust.

  15. Allison @ Alli 'n Son says:

    Moderation is the key. I usually remember that when I'm drowning by my to-do list and obligations. That's the time when I step back, realize that I don't have to make it to every playgroup, that a day at home cleaning and backing is just what I need. And what my son needs. Balance is different for everyone. And it changes, sometimes on a daily basis. It's a matter recognizing in yourself when you've done too much, and backing off. Or realizing that maybe you could be doing a little more. You have to constantly learn and adjust.

  16. Aging Mommy says:

    I think when you have children you never really feel life is in balance. Why? Because so much of what you do forever afterwards is done for and because of them. You don't just get to choose what you do and when and also what you don't do. So it is always an imbalance, stacked firmly in favor of your children and family. What is important though, and I agree with you, is to sometimes let the "to do" list slide if it means you find some time to make a few choices for yourself and so some things that are not about your family or if you work about work and family.

  17. Rudri says:

    I think there is too much focus on achieving balance sometimes. Balance means different things to different people. For me, I don't know if I can say, Oh, I led a balanced day today. I am trying to step back and just embrace what is now and hope by concentrating on that, I will move closer to some equilibrium.

  18. Pam says:

    I have to agree with the author that trying to find balance when you have little kids is nearly impossible. But, as a mom, with two teenagers, I can say that it does get easier as the kids grow up and become more independent. I also have to agree with Kate (above) – balance is something you have to keep finding as your life changes. Balance when you have two toddlers and a full time job will look different when you have two school age children and a full time job. Or if you change to a part time job or become a SAHM. Balance goes into a state of flux as you go through the phases and stages of life. Which manages to keep you off balance – at least some of the time. LOL!

  19. Stacia says:

    I always think of "balance" as getting on the seesaw at the playground … Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down. And balancing in the middle? Is no fun. It's the going-up-and-going-down part that makes the ride worthwhile. And, also, you can't be down without knowing an "up" is moments away.

  20. TKW says:

    Moderation is a PRIVILEGE. When you are held hostage by two little buckets of never-ending need, just try to find balance.Ahem. Sorry. Did I sound bitter?It's just that moderation, at this point in my life, means sacrifice. MY sacrifice. I sacrifice other things because it's just hard right now and I'm an adult and other people are yelling a whole lot louder than I am for help. When I *do* get some moderation in my life, it's because I hire a sitter or order dinner out or pay for that exercise class. It's something I'm privileged enough to do. I can't imagine how single mothers do it, or families who live hand-to-mouth.Balance may not be a dirty word, but right now, for me, it's an unachievable one. Thought-provoking post!

  21. Amber Page Writes says:

    Sometimes I think I'm on my way to finding balance…and then life kicks me in the butt. I think juggling is a better word – we all learn to juggle better as we get to be more experienced parents.

  22. evaevolving says:

    Christine, you are quickly becoming one of my favorite writers, my must-read blogs. I want to thank you for writing about seeking this balance between being a working professional with a great career and being a caring mother with great kids. If and when I have children, I'm pretty sure I would maintain my career – and that is not always the popular or easy thing to do. Reading your words gives me great insights into this life.I like how you describe the times when you need to let go of responsibility a little. When you need to step back to find your equilibrium again. I think that is so true to life, for all of us. Sometimes I see it when I've been pushing myself too hard and then get the flu. It's like my body is telling me to back off, to take it easy or else! The laundry and dusting and ironing can wait.Keep going after that balance, and keep sharing your insights with us!

  23. Karen says:

    I recently achieved a sort of balance between home and work that I'd craved for about 3 years but didn't think was possible. After getting laid off last year, I took a lesser position that requires me to work 7.5 hours a day and not a minute more. In my previous position, I'd trudge home with laptop in tow and work at night as we sat in front of the TV. I loved my job and the work I was doing, but at times I felt like it was taking over my entire life. I've had 8 months in my new position and I feel bored. I finally have the thing I'd wanted all along – to be able to leave work at work – and I'm bored with the work and tired of the long commute, but I'm enjoying the time I spend with my family more than ever. That's something, but the work aspect is highly unsatisfying.My ideal balance clearly wasn't achieved and I'm stumped as to how to find it. Sometimes I wonder if I just want too much – maybe then it is about my personal choices and responsibility. But why should I have to re-program myself to want different things?

  24. Maureen@IslandRoar says:

    I really agree with you on this one. Balance is an issue for mothers big time. To reduce it to being about us copping out essentially is just another way to make us feel bad about how tough it really can be.

  25. Denise Nielsen says:

    I think we use the word "balance" like it's some magic word that had the power to make our lives – and our families lives – perfect, and if we only said it correctly or waved our magic wands the right way, it would all fall into place. There is balance – I believe that. But not always where we expect it. To my mind if we could balance our expectations with the realities we face in our lives, we'd be better off than chasing the elusive notion of having it all. My 10 cents.

  26. becca says:

    I agree that she oversimplified what balance is. I don't think I'll EVER feel that I've found balance. I tried to balance work and my kids working full time and failed miserably. I moved to part time work and still felt like I was teetering too much on the work side and wanted more "life" and then I left the working world to be 100% with the kids and I still feel off balance. Off kilter. Wanting something more, something ELSE. Maybe it's in our personalities whether we ever feel balanced, having enough of everything. For me, it's finding comfort in how our scale rests. My scale tilts heavier on the family side than on the "me" side and I'm working to be ok with that.Fantastic post Christine!

  27. Heather of the EO says:

    I kind of hate the word balance. True confession. I've written about accepting imbalance because I do tend to think balance is so impossible that it just makes us feel guilty and less-than when we can't achieve it. When I surrender to the imbalance while making small efforts to maintain at least a little balance, I feel better. If I try too hard for balance, I'm on a hamster wheel, you know? I'll stop rambling now 🙂

  28. fit for a kid says:

    Balance is so personal. I have a friend who works 10 hour days and then opens her computer at night after the kids go to bed to work more. But she LOVES her work and she's happy with the way her life is. It may not be "balanced" but she's pleased with the angle to which it tilts.I have a great job that I really like working 6 hours a day but that still was too much for me so tomorrow is my last day. I will be home. We are all so different and balance means different things to different people. I think it's more about finding the proper angle for our families, rather than the balance.

  29. BigLittleWolf says:

    This statement: But work-life balance itself has become a cliché, an all-purpose catchphrase, and a way of avoiding personal responsibility for making healthy choices.YES, cliché. 18+ years of parenting, and I think I can back up my position.But a way of avoiding personal responsibility and healthy choices? That's judgmental bullshit. Even married parents have extraordinary difficulty with the burdens of child-rearing. For single/solo parents it's even harder. For ALL parents it's about personal responsibility and unending compromises. I simply think it's not achievable for most of us, without considerable resources – financial and logistical – to help.I also think it depends significantly on how many kids you have, if they're healthy, if you're healthy, and what your work is. Age (of parents) is also a factor. And everything changes – constantly. Life intervenes. Job loss. Illness. Death. Divorce. The blessing of one more child.Balance? We try our hardest, and may have periods that are relatively low guilt (for mothers especially), and others, where we're so overwhelmed that something has to give. And plenty does.Can we still appreciate what we have, even if it isn't "balanced" or perfect? Through the haze of fatigue, yes. And sometimes, less fatigue. Less haze.Can you tell I loathe these proclamations of work-life balance, not to mention those who judge other parents, without ever walking in their shoes?

  30. Kate says:

    We all have to constantly find our balance. There is no perfect, no one-size-fits most solution. We just walk the tight rope of our lives daily, staying up as best we can. Sometimes that means letting go of a few things we think we should carry. Thanks for making me think.

  31. Belinda Munoz + The Halfway Point says:

    I wrote a post about balance, my inability to comprehend it and how I chased it and never knew whether or not I ever had it. I'm very cynical when I hear the word bandied about because often, it's about selling me something I don't need or it comes with a lot of presumtions I have little patience for. Balance sounds too muc hlike this external thing that's a lot like a moving target. I prefer to seek my center or my core. It's something within me (inner compass if you will) that lets me know when things are out of whack and when I need to make adjustments.

  32. Tiffany says:

    I would have to say that balance is what works for each individual. Great post!

  33. Chantal says:

    I am thinking back to work days and I keenly remember days where I felt so good about it all, and days where I felt completely overwhelmed. Funny I am at home full time now and I feel the same way! 🙂 Balance, elusive yes, worth working towards, absolutely!

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