My stock answer would usually be “Crazy.” There’s always something: the Maiden, the Man, my job, my other job, my other other writing, hobbies, social life, volunteer obligations, the messy house, the grocery shopping, the laundry that’s overflowing and that I am not going to do until Friday so I hope everyone has a lot of spare underwear, and . . .
If only I could balance things better! It’s become the universal lament of moms everywhere. If we could just figure out the perfect balance, then everything would fall out of chaos and into contentment. In theory.
The problem is that we’re projecting the wrong conclusion. Work-life balance isn’t the golden key–it’s a load of crap.
And in the end, it’ll hurt us more than we know.
As if the Mommy Wars weren’t enough, we now have the work-life balance thing. It’s turned into a contest, a vicious rivalry. Work vs. family. Social vs. work. Family vs. personal time. Volunteering vs. social. Everything is pitted against everything else in a cruel game, a war that’s fought within ourselves and against ourselves. It’s a battle that can’t be won, because if we do then everyone loses.
The thing is, by following this model we’ve already lost the game. Instead of doing our best and enjoying our multi-faceted natures, we’re racing toward misery and mediocrity, certain that we can get it all balanced. Ironically we put so much effort into trying to keep one thing from seeping into another that we lose time and enjoyment of everything.
I recently read a fantastic interview with entrepreneur Amanda Steinberg. She’s the CEO of the online community DailyWorth and the mom of two. Successful woman, happy mom: what’s her secret for keeping it all in balance?
Here’s the thing–she doesn’t. And she’s proud of it: “It almost seems like a silly idea to me — that life should play out in some sort of contrived separation between ‘work’ and ‘relaxation’ or ‘family time,’” she says in the interview. “As a CEO and mom, I’m always working and always ‘mom.’ They exist in an almost blended fashion. I lean in both directions depending on which needs me more in that moment.”
I don’t have to stress about compartmentalizing my life. I don’t need to anguish over the fact that I’m not doing a great job at separating work, family, social life, and relaxation, because they don’t need to be separated.
I’m a mom. I’m a writer and editor. I’m a wife. I’m a friend. I’m a daughter, a sister, a cousin. I’m a bookworm/amateur ballerina/vegetarian/old movie buff. They’re not separate. I’m not separate. All the pieces of me kind of bunch and stick together in a big crazy heap of personhood.
And that’s okay.
Because I’m not a filing cabinet. My life, my sense of self can’t be sorted and shoved into neat little folders and stored away for use at the proper time. I’m a living, breathing, changing, organic person, each part connected and linked and meshed together–and my life should be the same way.
I can do what needs to be done. I can be present to everything and prioritize in the moment. If I need to finish work, or make dinner, or answer the Maiden’s desperately important question about whether she can extend her bike riding boundaries and/or bike without a helmet (maybe, and no), I can do that. I can stop work to watch that silly YouTube clip with the Man or eat into my reading time to work on my personal writing. I can let the Maiden stay an extra hour in extended care so I can take care of volunteer obligations.
I can shake the kaleidoscope of life and follow the pattern in front of me right now. Every hour, a different pattern. Every hour, a different pull. Every hour, a different path.
Together, a happier whole.