I am so tired of having to talk about balance, think about balance, read about balance, re-evaluate balance. It never settles into “Ah ha! THIS is the right balance for us!”—or if it does, it gets knocked out of there by the next change that comes along: The kids get a little older and make different kinds of demands on your time than you’re used to. The job that was so satisfying asks you to work more hours, or different hours, or it gets boring. The other adult in your household leaves, or gets a different job, or feels dissatisfied with some aspect of the household. Your parents get older and need more help from you.
You don’t have to be a “working mom” (sigh) to have trouble balancing, and you don’t have to be a mom. Did you notice I didn’t say “You don’t even have to be a woman”? I’ll bet men struggle for balance sometimes, too, but I don’t notice it as much with them. I don’t notice Paul, for example, wondering if he’s doing the right thing by going to work. I don’t notice him suffering because his in-laws think he should cook more often or keep a cleaner house and he secretly wonders if that’s true, or if his wife might agree. I don’t notice him worrying that his clothes are out of style, or that his hairstyle is looking daddish, or that the living room could really stand to be painted if we’re ever going to have anyone over.
It’s so hard to decide what is the Right Amount of time and energy to spend on things, and at what level of fulfillment the time and energy is worth it. Should we keep plugging away at a job we don’t find satisfying, or is an unfulfilling job not worth the time we lose with our family, or do we not really have that choice right now? Should we keep living in a house we don’t like, or is it important to live in the house you Really Want, or do we not really have that choice right now? How much “Me Time” is necessary, and how much “Me Time” is a marketing concept designed to separate women from their money?
We have to find balance in which of the many, many Important and Worthy Causes are going to get our time and attention. We can’t support everything, we can’t believe in everything, and we don’t have the emotional energy to work towards everything, so we have to pick. What’s it going to be? The environment? Organic foods? Politics? Cancer research? Dangerous chemicals in consumer products? Church? DARE? MADD? PTA?
We have to balance the parenting trends, figuring out which ones we agree with and which ones we don’t. Do you think it’s important to get down on the floor and play with your kids? Do you think it’s important to have dinner together at a table every night? Do you think it’s important to never lose your temper, never bicker in front of them, never say anything that could be interpreted as a suppression of their sense of self? Do you think it’s important they not be exposed to television or sugar? Or do you maybe NOT think so? All of these philosophies require an investment of time and attention.
We have to find balance in what we think women ARE and SHOULD BE, and what that means for us personally. Do we think we’re better if we keep a cleaner house? Do we think we’re better if we dress fashionably and have fashionable hair and make-up? Do we think we’re better if we eat less than our friends do? Well? Do we? It’s important to dig these things out and look at them. …Or maybe it’s NOT important to dig them out. It is so hard to figure out what’s important, what’s worth our time. Would we be happier and steadier if we thought about all this less rather than more? Let’s think about that.
Our parents and extended families. How much do they expect from us? How much do we think they should expect? How much can they in fact expect right now? How much can they expect as they get older and need more help from us? And what if that happens sooner than we expect?
Money. We’re supposed to be putting some to pay off the mortgage early, some for college for the kids, some to retire on, some to invest, some for savings, some for emergency savings, some for preventative dental care, some for home improvement, some to update our wardrobes—but we don’t have enough for all those things, and so which ones do we make priorities?
How much time for hobbies? How much time for friends? How much time messing around on the computer? How much time reading? How much time watching TV? How much time for yourself, by yourself? How much time for your marriage or relationship? How much time researching things that need to be purchased?
We have to balance so much: we have two baskets’ worth of apples and only one basket.