I used to think balance meant keeping all the balls in the air at the same time. Giving everything in life equal playing time.
I remember clearly the oh-so ordinary Monday night when I recognized how out of balance my life had become. I was pulling pajamas over a chubby toddler belly’s and reminding (read: yelling at) the other kids to brush their teeth. I was in a rush to get all these little bodies in bed, fast forwarding through our routine as quickly as I could because I had a photo session to edit and an article that I was two days late submitting.
Brush, brush, brush. Hurry up, please!
Photos courtesy of Amara Lea Photography
I had helped them say prayers and had tucked them all in when on my way out the door my 3-year-old asked for a glass of water. I lost it. I had done all the things, checked every possible box on the bedtime checklist… I needed to get to work! Could they not understand??
I stomped angrily to the kitchen, retrieved a plastic cup, filled it with water and stomped back to the bedroom.
I knelt down by her bed as she sat up to take the cup from me and get a sip. She looked at me timidly, knowing I was upset. As she finished and handed the cup back to me, she looked me in the eye and whispered, “Thank you, Mama.”
I hugged her, a tear rolling down my cheek, and left the room.
Instead of heading straight to my office to conquer my never-ending to-do list, I sat on the couch, head in my hands, asking myself why. Why was I doing this?
Confessions of an Unbalanced Mom
I felt defeated by the way bedtime had played out, by my outburst over such a small thing. The truth was that I was absolutely exhausted, to the point that a request for a glass of water could send me over the edge. I felt like I was trying to be it all for everyone and in the process was only disappointing them—and myself.
Balance is NOT about how effectively you can manage your time. It’s not about giving equal air time to everything you’re juggling.
Years ago I read a visual analogy about balance that forever changed the way I approach the concept. In Confessions of an Unbalanced Woman, writer Emily Watts describes a scale filled with small weights on one side (representing laundry, work, extracurriculars, etc.) and a large weight—a brick—on the other side. In comparison to that brick, the little weights on the side seem almost inconsequential. She writes:
I don’t want balance. I want to find the brick. I want to find the one thing in my life that, if I get that right, it doesn’t matter what the world throws onto the other side of that scale.
When we find that brick and place it on the scale FIRST, before anything else, everything else falls into perspective.
I know because I’ve experienced it personally: When I’ve focused on that “brick” (or my highest priorities) in my day-to-day living and have allowed it to guide my decisions, I’ve found a comfortable balance for my family and myself. The problem, though, is twofold:
How do we determine what our top priorities are?
And how do we keep them at the center of our lives?
Believe me, friends, I don’t have it all figured out. Sometimes it feels like a daily struggle to keep the demands of life from derailing my priorities, but I keep trying. Despite my shortcomings, let me share a few lessons I’ve learned through my years of working toward balance.
Lessons in Balance (From a Mom with a Lot of Practice)
1. Listen to the season you’re in.
Balance will look different at every stage of motherhood.
A number of years ago, when I had two kids under five and a newborn, I was writing a book and feeling like I just couldn’t do it all. The guilt over being so busy was weighing me down. One day I was talking with a wise friend on the phone, telling her that I might have to give up the book in order to maintain some semblance of balance in my life. She reminded me that life (and motherhood) is a constant ebb and flow and to remember that this wouldn’t last forever. Live in this flow, and be grateful for it. Then as the busy-ness ebbs, embrace the season of slow and come back to balance.
2. Be forgiving of yourself.
Yes, balance will look different in each season, but in addition to that we all have to accept that balance isn’t possible ALL the time. A newborn baby, a huge deadline for work, a health challenge in the family—these will demand more of our attention at any given point in time. That’s okay.
3. Guilt does not serve you in any way.
Balance will come and go, striving for it is where the real importance lies.
3. Learn to differentiate between the urgent and the important.
Are family travel experiences a priority for you? Is reading a book with your kids before bedtime? What about cultivating more feelings of love and empathy in your home?
This simple differentiation changed my life when I first came across it. In the words of Elise Arndt:
The urgent matters of life are those that demand our immediate response, the things that constantly bid for our attention. While the urgent continually begs for our attention, the important keeps silent. It patiently waits for us to take notice. While the urgent seeks us, the important waits to be sought by us. The important aspects of life take discipline to perform, while the urgent are accomplished on impulse. We live in constant tension between the two.
If we aren’t careful, the urgent can so easily take over those things that we value most. Evaluating priorities as urgent vs. important makes it easier to see what should come first. Which leads me to…
4. Above all else, keep your “brick” at the center of your life.
The other things really mean so little in comparison.
What has been your experience working toward balance? Does it always feel elusive, or are you managing to find it? What’s been helpful for you?
If you enjoyed this post you might also like…
- Not a Perfect Mom, But an Enough Mom
- Dear Mom of Big Kids
- The Power of Spending Time in Nature as a Family
- 6 Tips to Simplify Children’s Lives