Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Balance, balance, wherefore art thou balance?

Balance. It’s a topic I read about quite a bit on your blogs and one I think about a lot too. Why? Because it’s so elusive for us parents. It’s something I’ve been struggling with lately, so I went back to this piece I wrote over a year ago, a guest post for the lovely Sharon at Hear Mum Roar.

When I wrote it I was still married, though negotiating my divorce. I was planning on getting my own place, living with the kids, but having every other weekend to myself while they stayed with their dad. Private time, just for me. As it turns out, that’s not what happened. Now, I’m a 24/7 parent. What was a challenge before is even more of a challenge now.

Private time, if it exists, is a stolen moment on the commute home, playing my favorite song over and over. Staying up too late at night jacking around with a new header in Picasa. Lying in bed on a Sunday morning, covers over my head, pretending the house is not getting trashed downstairs.

I thought perhaps it was time to post this on Wanderlust, so when I’m feeling strung-out I can read it again. And again and again…

* * * * *

I’ve always been good a good multi-tasker, a high energy person able to keep lots of balls in the air at once. Before I married I worked full-time, studied evenings and weekends for my graduate degree, stopped at the gym on my way to work in the mornings and managed to squeeze a satisfying social life in between all of this. So I imagined fitting kids into this equation wouldn’t be too hard, right?

Right??

Oh settle down you in the back! If we all knew what parenthood was going to be like going into it our species would come to an abrupt halt.

Yeah, so, those images of me rocking a cradle with my foot as I put the finishing touches on my dissertation, or edited the final version of my novel? Dust. Go ahead and insert laugh track here.

The first few years of parenting are like being caught up in a cyclone. You have no idea what has hit you. You are powerless. You simply surrender because honestly, what else is there to do? You diaper, feed, soothe, bathe, dress, undress, sleep (well, not really sleep) in an endless loop. At some point, however, you wake up and realize your children have gained a modicum of independence and you can do things on your own for brief periods of time (go up and down the stairs, read a book, pee alone!) and it is deliciously liberating. It is about this time that fate whispers in your ear that perhaps, perhaps your life can be blessed with balance.

After all, there are scores of books and articles in women’s magazines dedicated to the topic. Articles with pictures of slender women with nice complexions sitting comfortably in lotus pose. It must actually exist, this balance. I’m sure I could achieve it if I just managed my time better, said “no” to the things that drained me, spent less time online, took more bubble baths, dressed in earth tones and lit candles and baked organic cupcakes with my daughter, right?

Right??

When I first came out of my mommy coma and started to do things for myself again, it was exquisitely gratifying, like a long rain after drought. I renewed old friendships. I read books. Lots and lots of books. I traveled to Australia with a girlfriend. I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. All of this fed a deep need in me that I had abandoned during the selfless, faceless first years of childrearing. And yet it just touched the tip of the iceberg. Because there was still work and kids and all the day-to-day responsibilities of a life. But there was also something else. There was a noticeable backlash from my children. When I would sit down and open up my laptop (which was often) they would respond. First with sighs, later more strongly.

My daughter told me, “I think you love your computer most of all.”

My 5-year-old son: “I hate your computer.”

And two nights ago my daughter had a dream that I was leaving to go to Australia but could only take one child with me.

Wow.

Okay.

Here’s the thing. Balance is a fine concept. But it is just that. A concept. There are times in our lives when it is more achievable than others (retirement comes to mind, our twenties perhaps). I don’t think raising small children is meant to be an easy, relaxing time in our lives. Throw full-time work into the mix and it’s even less tenable. (Though, honestly, I don’t know that it’s any easier for those parents who stay at home – just a different set of challenges.) I’ve come to accept that I will probably not feel well-rested and sated in all the myriad ways I would like to be for quite some time, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean I will stop seeking balance. It’s a necessary goal. But I think of it less as a final destination and more as a mark by which I navigate, something that keeps me from going too far off course in any one direction.

Lately, this has meant closing up my computer and getting down on the floor to build a train station out of Lincoln logs. Or sewing the arm back on Bear. Again. Or baking cupcakes with the kids (not organic, sorry) and letting them lick the bowl.

My kids will probably never have as much of me as they would like. I will never have as much of me as I would like. We’ll each have to live with that and do the best we can. I’m willing to give up more of myself to them now because I know that one day, I won’t have the honor of them wanting to spend all their time with me. I want to enjoy being at the center of their universe while it lasts. Soon enough, life will call to them and I’ll be left with time on my hands. At that point, I suppose I can unearth the tub from beneath the plastic boats and Crayola bath crayons and cherry bomb no-tears shampoo that currently reside there, and take that coveted bubble bath.



22 comments:

  1. yes! I know, one has flown, three left, and I wonder at the moment if it is worth it all, and then there is a "Hey Dadda! Can I.."
    A well done piece, thanks! Tone-in-oz, a daggy dad

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  2. Now Glen, I think history has borne out that I took them both. A good mamma loves both her children equally. :)

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  3. I gave up trying to achieve balance years ago. Now I just steal time for myself whenever I can. I'm just like constipation in that old joke - "the thief of time."

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  4. Balance . . . is that even remotely possible with two kids, full time job, a house and a husband?! I have been wondering that a lot lately, particularly after I get a guilt trip from my daughter about going to kickboxing.

    Right now I guess the scale is tipped more towards the kids needs because at their ages they are needy in their desire to be with me. I am holding on to the hope that in a few years the scales will even out a bit as they grow and become more indpendent.

    That happens . . . right?
    Jenn

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  5. Ummm... yeah Jenn. Sure. Absolutely.

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  6. Oh balance! I love that word, I strive for it, for sure. I find it even harder during school holidays (which we are on now) as there is no routine. What works for me is creating routines and turning them into habits. You definitely have to stay motivated to get anywhere close, don't you?
    I can't imagine how much harder it would be working full time and still managing to do the floor time, great job K!

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  7. Balance is the most elusive of all wishes in a parent's world. Because something always has to give in order to make room for something else. Sure, we get elements of it back as our children grow, but unless you choose to live a life where you please no one but yourself, a perfect balance just seems so unattainable... Guess we just have to grab hold of the glistening moments as and when they present themselves :)

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  8. Balance is having an equally sized slice of chocolate cake in each hand. Just don't eat one, because then you'll be unbalanced....

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  9. I took the liberty (and I tweeted you!!) of using the fact that you wrote of the so-called elusive balance thang being more do-able in our 20s and retirement....
    Speaking of "retirement" my notion has had to change, so I got a post out of your post...if you know what I mean...
    http://caringbydenyse.com/?p=87

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  10. Am I terrible if I like to imagine that the composed woman in the lotus position has, slightly out of the camera shot, two kids pulling each others hair out and covered in texta?
    ;-)

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  11. @ Skyelee - don't forget the bottle of Xanax. ;)

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  12. Love your 'mark to navigate by' metaphor!

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  13. Great post! You made me laugh... Sitting with exactly the same feelings about balance and motherhood! I got my life back only a little bit when my teen got older (12-ish?), and then I did it again... Life is sweet, hey! ;-)

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  14. To me, sitting on the floor and playing with trains is the balance, for as you say, all too soon the kids grow up and no longer need or want you so much in their lives. I know this by experience having fully grown children. So while being a working mum with 4 children was hard, it was the time immersed in their world, just being with them that are the memories that I still smile at. I suppose I was lucky that blogging wasn't around then, but I would sit up at night and read once they were all tucked in bed and enjoy that hour of my time.

    And while I miss you when you are not here, it is even more lovely when you appear in my feed. xxx

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  15. Great post.

    Balance. I like to think I have that some days. The ohter day I stopped working on the computer to play monopoly.

    Tonight I have put makeup on Girl child so she can have a fashion show. I'm just sneakign this comment in while she is practicising her walk for the parade. That's balance, right?

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  16. wonderful post. I still search for that elusive balance. Thankfully blogging gives me some of that, more that a different hobby would. Easy to read and write blogs while bouncing xanthe in her bouncer while Millar is watching toy story than it would be if my hobby of choice was salsa dancing.

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  17. @ Toushka - I don't know, I'm thinking your kids might enjoy the salsa dancing. ;)

    @ E - master multi-tasking!

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  18. Hi. First time reader from FYBF. You've touched on a topic that's been in my mind. There are many aspects we can control but our kids are just not one of those areas! A friend told me long ago that balance is just one point on a scale. I picture a see-saw when I think about it and try not to beat myself up if I teeter either side of centre, because being perfectly centre is too hard. I too will look forward to that bubble bath one day soon.

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  19. Balance is such a tricky one. I've had so many things change in my life recently that it has meant I am now able to spend more time really being with my kids. Really appreciating them and hearing them. And it's lovely.
    But I agree with E. Balance can just be grabbing a bit of computer time in between the fashion parades :-)
    xxxCate

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  20. This is the first time I've had time to sit and read your blog. I've followed you over from blog catalog. Anyway--I have 5 children...and I totally understand the struggle (as I call it) to give my kids enough time...each of them equal time *cringe* and at the same time finding enough ME time or even couple time with the hubster. I think that last one gets the least attention at times--and I feel it is the most important one--as it will be he and I one day when they are all off making us proud...

    I really enjoyed reading your post--I find I can relate.

    Cheers, Jenn
    http://www.wine-n-chat.com

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  21. Hang in there! As soon as they become teenagers, they pointedly do not want to hang out with you beyond what is absolutely required! It's great! Actually it's sad ... unless you love your alone time, and need it, in which case you'll sigh and carry on quite happily.

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