Is Balance Possible?

Carla: It seems like every article I read about motherhood focuses on this elusive idea of “balance.” I’m all for it, if only someone could step into my life and show me what exactly it might look like.

I don’t think my life is any more complicated than anyone else’s. In some ways, it’s less complicated than the lives of many women I know. I work from home, so that eliminates a whole batch of stressors like daily childcare and commuting and what to do when someone gets sick and having to look presentable by 8 in the morning. I have a husband, so that obviously helps A LOT. I have all kinds of good and wonderful things in my life that make my days far easier than those of 98% of the world’s population. 

And yet.

I feel so out of whack. I feel like I spend most of my time doing the things I like the least–housework, actual work, running errands–and end up so wiped out I have very little energy for the things I like best–my hubs and kids and friends and TV. The balance is clearly off here, but I truly have no idea how to get things flipped around. I don’t know how to spend less time working without adding tremendous financial stress to our family. I don’t know how to spend more time nurturing my marriage without sacrificing time with our kids. I don’t know how to invest in my friends without taking away from my family. And I certainly don’t know how to put any kind of effort into caring for myself without cutting into the time I need and want to spend on everyone and everything else.

I’m starting to wonder if the whole idea of “balance” is a big myth. I can’t think of anyone–married, single, childless, parenting, working, not working–who would say she lives a balanced life. So let’s talk about this. Is there such a thing as balance or is life simply meant to be lived as it comes, always a little out of whack and crazy?

Caryn: Or even totally dull and boring… I mean, is that a balanced life either? I actually think “balance” is one of those concepts that have done moms (and everyone) a huge disservice and left many of us banging our heads against pretend fort walls or crib railings or whatever hard-ish surface is around. It is definitely a huge MYTH–nay, I would even say LIE.

I mean, where does this idea even come from? We hear—as you say—all the time that this is the desired effect and get bombarded with ways to make it happen. And yet, like you, I really don’t know what it looks like? And frankly, I don’t even know if I want it.

When I think of how I want my life to be, the word “balance” never comes into my head. I won’t be on the old death bed smiling at my grandkids, stroking my little lap dog, thinking, Wow, so glad my life was so balanced!

What I do want is a life that was lived well, even well executed. Certainly one that honors God–and my family. And I think that times of pure chaos, total boredom, and a lot in the middle are just part of it.

Back to “balance”: Since I do a lot of writing for women and moms (as do you, Carla!), I’ve been trying to avoid using the word “balance” all together. I’m liking “integrated” lately–the idea of going for the integrated life, not one that’s so segmented and partitioned off. Within that certainly there are priorities, certainly moments or parts that are more interesting or chaotic or fulfilling or pathetic than others, but it’s all one big life. And we need to try to live it well.

 

Carla: It’s frightening how our brains synch up sometimes. I was talking about living integrated lives just a few days ago. That’s totally what I’m trying to do, too. I’m especially good at integrating TV into my kids’ lives so I can work.

Seriously, integration is a far better goal–lives in which all we do and all we are flow together. Balance implies compartments and categories. And maybe that’s why it’s so hard to achieve; it forces life to be something it isn’t. It forces us to think of ourselves as people who live out a bunch of roles, rather than people who are just living our lives. So, to quote Tracy Turnblad and use the term completely out of context, “I’m all for integration. It’s the new frontier!”

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steve B. on November 18, 2008 at 11:10 am

    I’m a dad, but I’ll throw in my 2 cents worth anyway. I also believe that there is no such thing as “balance” or at least no way to objectively quantify it. I have worked in the social service field for the past 18 years, which means that my wife works out of necessity rather than out of a strong desire to do so. Because she is a saint and is very supportive of the work I do, she has not asked me to get a “real” job that could actually support a family of three. With both of us working outside of the home, our attempts at balance are much more about quality than quantity. We simply make every effort to treasure the time that we spend together as a family and try to “live in the moment” (I can’t believe I just used that term, but it’s accurate). Doing this really keeps life in perspective and helps us to keep our priorities straight. If we didn’t get the dishwasher unloaded because we were busy making a fort, guess what? It’s not the end of the world.

    Reply

  2. […] I’m all down and out, wondering what to do, what to do, whatever shall I do. Then I read this today and felt a little better.  Then this popped up on my feed (one of my favorite no-nonsense […]

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  3. Posted by wombcaryn on November 18, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Oh, my idea of “segretation never, integration now” for life comes from Hairspray!

    Reply

  4. Personally, I like balance. I find that I’m a happier, more emotionally healthy person if I attend to all the parts of myself and my life on a regular basis. To me, that seems to be what balance is. I don’t do it by spending lots and lots of time on any one thing. Just little bits, but it seems to work pretty well. I get up early to read my Bible and pray for 10 minutes or so in the morning. Then I work on writing poetry for a 1/2 hour. I try to exercise a 1/2 hour or so a day. I might sit down to scrapbook, but I just do a page or two instead of catching up all at once. Stuff like that. I don’t accomplish huge things all at once, but over time, things get done, and meanwhile I’m getting the things that I need, like quiet time and exercise, and outlets for creativity. You can do housework this way too. A bit at a time. And kids can help out with a lot more housework than they often do, which can decrease that burden!

    I think sometimes our rush to get things accomplished quickly interferes with living a calmer, more “balanced” life. I’m homeschooling my 8-year-old daughter and we do school this way too. 5 minutes on multiplication, 10 minutes to work on a book report, etc. Projects get finished, eventually, and she learns a lot as time goes on, but we are not stressed trying to do a lot at once.

    Along with this, we as a family have committed to living slower paced lives (which is hard to do, with the culture whizzing by around us). We stay home more, say “no” to some invitations and possibilities, and we’re trying to lessen the amount of media that comes into our home. Too much TV and internet time increases the sense of being rushed, I think, because everything happens so quickly and is available immediately. It also takes away huge chunks of time from things I’d really rather be doing. We are also always considering how much we really do need in order to live. Cutting back on unnecessary expenses and sacrificing some things is helping us live on less. Of course, not every family is able to find things to cut back, and the current economy makes that hard! I suppose none of this sounds like much fun, or very exciting. Maybe our lives our a bit too dull and boring for some tastes, but I’m actually feeling so much more relaxed and happier since we’ve been trying to live slower, and I enjoy my family so much more. We enjoy just being at home together, doing simple things like reading books, playing games, baking cookies, etc.

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  5. Posted by Heather on November 19, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Thought of balance has never bothered me, but as I think about it, my mental picture is a constant movement back and forth, side to side, like one of those old banker scales with a tray on each side. Most of the time things are loop sided, but evvverryyy once in a llloooonnnggg while, the scales pass in the middle long enough for me to catch my breath.

    So, I’m going to change my mental picture NOW to one of the teeter totter at Fuller Park with the big spring on the middle. When no one is on it, when life is not happening to it, it is sitting still…and is balanced (in relation to my scale scenario). As soon as life touches it, a child sits on it, or an adult for that matter, things begin to move, and ebb, and flow, and bounce, and giggles come from everywhere, by all who are participating. Sometimes there are sad or scared faces, sometimes tears, but I think the giggles outweigh them. Heck, sometimes someone even falls off!

    I’m taking a ride. It’s day in and day out. It doesn’t let up. I have no other way to cope with this thing called life, but to giggle as often as possible and feel the wind rushing through my hair. I encourage you to do the same.

    oh yeah…and HOLD ON!!!

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  6. Posted by Tina on November 21, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    There was an A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. discussion given by Elisa Morgan at the MOPS Convention to Field Leader’s about this very topic this past October. We were all given button’s with the letter’s “SDWSC.” It stands for “She did what she could” and it is based on the story of the alabaster box. Those 5 words have not only changed my life, but thousands as well! It TRULY IS all about doing what we can all the time! Nothing more and nothing less. There is such freedom when we truly grasp this, and start to “live loved” and just go about our day with that as our goal…

    So don’t ever forget!… She did what she could!

    Reply

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