There aren’t a lot of things that frustrate me more than hearing the question, “how do you balance it all?” It’s a well-meaning question. People are curious how a person fits in running, working, moming, CrossFitting, etc into one day without going insane. But the reality is that I don’t. I go insane. Fairly regularly. Sometimes spectacularly. Even thought I’m a therapist. The truth is there is no finding balance around here, and I quit looking for it a while ago.
Several years ago, I let go of the avatar person that I thought I would be before becoming a mom. When I envisioned what motherhood would look like in my early twenties, I pictured a very different woman who “had it all together.” The woman who went for a 3 mile jog before work, had an effortlessly coordinated outfit in the office, click-clacked out in heels at exactly 5pm, and came home with beautifully blown out hair to relieve the babysitter and enjoy a mellow evening with her family over the dinner table, while feeling smug about her “healthy” BMI. I am not that woman.
I don’t know who that woman is. She and I have not met in real life. So a few years ago, after I realized I was holding myself up to a standard that I had created without the knowledge of what life would actually look like, I put that avatar down. I let go of the belief that I should have fixed hair and makeup every day (or ever). The ridiculous belief that I would ever have coordinated outfits? Lol, I let it go harder than Elsa.
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But the most life changing thing I let go of? The bullshit belief that anything would ever feel like it was balanced. And honestly, life has been so much better ever since.
The BS of “Finding Balance”
Now, full disclosure, this wasn’t something that happened over night. It took a lot of mental unraveling for me to realize just how pervasive this belief that I should achieve balance ran. But once I pulled my top-knot donned head out of the sand, I could see just how many places it had invaded.
Society, social media, and marketing all subliminally told us that we should have equal and equitable focus on our careers, homes, kids, and our physical and mental health. In recent weeks, I’ve seen this message hilariously include the addition of remote work and distance learning. And I hope we all just LOL at all of that. I couldn’t keep things “balanced” while my child was being educated outside the home 7 hours a day; it’s certainly not happening now.
The other messages I hadn’t realized I had unconsciously bought in to were the fact that I should always be good at everything I did, which would inevitably make me happy all of the time. I allowed so little room for failure in my life that the moment I wasn’t good at something, I immediately thought something was wrong with me. Running was one of the first things I let myself be bad at.
I loved it so much that I was ok with the fact that it was hard. And the more that I allowed room for myself to be bad at it, the better I got. It was such a life altering realization. If I could just sit with the discomfort of being bad at something for a little while, that thing might eventually become enjoyable, and someday it might be something I’m slightly good at.
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But then came the message that making space for this thing was self-indulgent. The activity doesn’t make any money. I was by no means a professional athlete. And all of that was fine, until I became an “adult.” Because once you’re a grown up, especially with a kid, you will be told that you shouldn’t have the time for things that don’t make you money or contribute to your family.
Unless you make sure that thing you love is perfectly balanced with all the other stuff that is “more important.”
And that is the worst lie any of us can ever believe.
The Lie of Selflessness
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, usually. But in this case I do not at all mind telling you that you have been lied to. The lie is that the only way it is ok for you to take time to pursue an interest that is only for your personal enjoyment, is if you keep everything else “balanced.” It is irresponsible to leave your home for an art lesson, unless you have spent equal time with your children that morning before, and you ensure you are cooking a well balanced meal when you get home.
It is self-indulgent for you to go on that run, unless of course you rush into play date mode the second you return and create a fruit charcuterie board to appease your tiny guests. Don’t forget that you better find some way to financially contribute to your family as well, otherwise kiss that gym membership goodbye. And to all those things, I say
Bull freaking shit.
The absolute most important thing you can do for your family is to take care of yourself, in whatever way and method speaks to you. I prefer to go on long runs and lift heavy weights, but you need to do whatever lights you up. And you need to take care of your physical body in some manner that you don’t absolutely hate.
And here’s why. Because you are human being, and all human beings have needs. Would it be responsible to expect your children to sit still all day long without brain breaks or PE or soccer practice? No, they need to move. They have energy. It feels good to move your body and play. And not just for kids. We also have energy, even as adults, and we also enjoy movement and recreation. For a reason. It fills up a part of us that nothing else can.
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And we don’t stop having these needs for recreational activities just because we start working, or have children, or get married. In fact, we probably need these hobbies even more afterwards. Because we spend so much of our day doing things that probably don’t light us up. I love hanging out with my 6 year old, but I have to tell you, MineCraft just doesn’t fulfill me. I love having a career, but submitting expense reports isn’t what occupies my dreams.
We are all responsible for our happiness, and part of that responsibility means that we need to make time to chase down things that are exciting for us. It sets an example for our kids, for our partners, and for other women out in the world. And let me tell you, I am far from a perfect, or even good, mom just because I went for my run this morning.
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But I am a NIGHTMARE of a human being when I go for any extended period of time without carving out time to workout, write, and just lay in bed and watch the Netflix shows that my 6 year old isn’t allowed to watch and my husband doesn’t want to. It would be irresponsible and mean for me expose my friends and family to that person.
So here’s what we need to understand about the lie that is balance, and why it’s so important that we wrap our heads around this RIGHT NOW. There are different seasons for everything. There are seasons in my life where I am kicking big, fat, elephant-sized butt in my career. I am making things happen and using my voice and blazing a trail for the women behind me. But in those seasons, I am not the best wife. I come home tired, depleted, and with a soar throat that hurts to talk.
There are seasons of my life where I have got this household business on lock. We have meal prepped lunches and playdates with friends and date nights that involve pants and fixed hair. And those are probably the same seasons where I just finished a marathon and I’m not doing a whole lot of anything that is remotely athletic.
So my life doesn’t EVER look balanced on a day to day level. Some days and weeks I am focused on my chasing down my dream of Boston Qualifying in the marathon distance, and everything else is pushed to the side. It’s not balanced. And I can let myself feel crappy about that, if I believe the lie. Or, I can choose to zoom out.
And realize that I’m never going to be an A+ person in all the important domains of my life, all the time. I’m going to average a B. Which means sometimes I’m a C+ wife, but an A- athlete, and a B employee. And other weeks, it’s all completely different. Eventually, it all averages out to an overall 3.0 GPA. And that’s the sweet spot.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I’m not happy with what’s going on in all or some of the domains of my life. Sometimes everything feels like it’s on the tracks. But I know it’s all fleeting. I know the tornado is coming, and I know it will make me feel some sort of way. But I also know that true life ebbs and flows, and it’s much easier to float when I’m not constantly trying to swim against the current.
So if you are failing at this virtual distance learning, and the only thing your kid has learned is that you’re a thief when it comes to Easter candy, cut yourself some slack.
Because it all comes out in the wash. Maybe next Friday you’ll order pizza and eat popcorn with Reese’s in it and watch the Avengers with your kid. And you’ll be an A+ mom for two solid hours. And maybe the next morning, you’ll get up and go for your long run and you’ll be an A+ athlete for 90 minutes. Maybe you’ll forget to throw the clothes that have been sitting in the washer for 2 days into the dryer and you’ll be a C- housekeeper.
But it will never be all balanced and running well, at least not for any significant period of time. So don’t expect for it to be, and don’t fight it when it’s not. Focus on what is most important. That you make some sliver of time that is just for you. Because as long as you keep showing up for yourself, you have a shot at being able to show up for everyone else. Sometimes.
And the MOMENT you start to hear that voice in your head criticize you, because you let something go to take care of something else, you tell it the truth.
That it is nothing more than a bullshit liar.