Balance Is a Big, Fat, Lying Liar Lie for (Especially) Working Parents
As we grow closer to the end of 2008 and the all important Season of Resolutions, let's talk about balance, baby. Or perhaps what a big, fat lie it is for the ambitious working parent.
I'm not saying that's entirely a bad thing. Let's just not delude ourselves. You can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan and never, never, never let him forget he's a man, but your kids will go to school in their underwear, your relatives will get their Christmas gifts in June and your best friend will replace you with a cat. Yeah, you, who hasn't called her in six months. You know I'm talking to you.
Why is this balance bag so hard? When we think balance, we tend to think of an equally weighted scale, and that, my friends, is not how life works. Take for instance, the executive moms. We're still questioning if they can even have families.
Journalist and blogger Eve Tahmincioglu writes:
When I did a profile of a major health insurance company in Philadelphia a while back I was given access to all the top woman at the firm. The reason I decided to write about this particular company for a magazine was because so many women were in the corner offices. One question I asked, and I ask this of men and women in top positions all the time, was if they had children. To my chagrin, the majority of the top level females told me they did not. Some said they had cats but no kids. That experience left me with this gnawing feeling inside. Was this how it really was. Family and high-level success just don’t mix?
Maybe it can. But not the way you think. Executive blogger Penny Herscher writes:
Women often have an over developed sense of responsibility -- the belief that they have to care for it all: work, children, husband, aging parents -- caring for everyone else. Recognize that's what's going on in your head, give it up and prioritize what you have to get done.
Kids and high-level success? Maybe, for the right personality (ahem, Lisa Stone). Kids, big jobs and "balance"? Um, no. Not for a minute. But balance can mean more than one thing, right?
Risa Green of Mommy Track'd writes about getting lectured on balance by her Wii Fit personal trainer:
I don’t spend all day sitting around inside of a virtual gym, working on my virtual six-pack and flirting with virtual hotties. I spend all day running around like a freaking maniac. I schlep kids to dentist appointments and to after school activities, and I help them with homework and I make dinner every night, and I fill out camp forms and in case you haven’t noticed, I just spent three days cooking for twenty-seven people, and all of last weekend hand-sewing a Native American baby carrier for my first grader’s Thanksgiving costume at school. And oh, yeah, I also, allegedly, work. So of course I’m a freaking novice at balance, Gengis! I’M A GOD DAMN WORKING MOTHER.
I understand her pain. My biggest motherhood challenge is attempting to appear normal and professional in the office at the same time. Trying to meet deadlines when I've had no sleep. Trying to sell ideas when I'm worried about my daughter's dentist appointment. Trying to hold up my end of a conference call from the road because I'm late for daycare pick-up. I've often envied stay-at-home moms because at least they could focus on parenting.
However, it's lately occurred to me they might wish they had the balance of a job to offset so much energy in one area of their lives. Eh?
To me, balance means not falling off the bar. As long as I'm not falling off, I'm okay, even if I'm waving my hands frantically and screaming at the same time. (And those who know me know that waving my hands and screaming is my normal state of affairs, although I won't show you mine unless you show me yours.)
Balance also means realizing that if one part of my life temporarily takes on greater importance (a work trip, a book tour, a sick child), then I have to throw everything I have in its direction before I take a tumble. That means the other areas suffer.
If you are balancing yourself, you're tightening the right muscle in the right place at the right time. You're not doing it all at once.
Life coach Stephanie Vora challenges us to think about the following list:
1. Do you go to sleep at night feeling rewarded by what you did that day?
2. Do you look forward to getting up in the morning?
3. Are you in control of your stress and anxiety at work? At home?
4. Are you proud of what you do for a living?
5. Are you happy with the amount of time you set aside to do the things you love?
6. Are you spending enough quality time with loved ones?
7. Are you proud of how you take care of yourself both physically and mentally?
The list reads a little like an intake sheet at the psychologist's office (not that I would know about that), but it is a good measure of balance. Notice there are no questions regarding whether your house is fancy or swept up; there are no questions about serving on the holiday committee at work or making it to book club. There will be times in your life, especially if you're on the fast track at work, when there's nothing left for the house or the low-level social obligations. Later in life, there may be time for that. Or not. Maybe it doesn't matter. Stop telling yourself you can do it all. You can't. No one can. No one does.
We can have everything we want, but we have to want less when we combine career and family. We have to be more willing to delegate, outsource or ignore anything we don't love to do. We have to wring memories from smaller amounts of time at home, which means really focusing on the kids when we're not at the office, even if we're tired. I do like this idea Stephanie brings up of pride, though, in life. Staying on that bar is hard. Be proud that you haven't fallen off.