The Dance of Balance

Welcome to the October Carnival of Natural Parenting: Staying Centered, Finding Balance

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they stay centered and find balance. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

***

Balance (I)

“Balance,” you say.

I will brashly claim that it is the Holy Grail of the over-worked, over-tasked, over-everything-ed mother these days. In the pursuit of this elusive treasure, I have read almost every book on organization in the library. I have followed the guidelines for up to 20 minutes at a time. I have meditated, gone to yoga classes, gone back to school, quit school, quit my job, stayed home with the kids, gone back to work, and (most recently) quit my job again to write and teach full-time.

Before I go any further, I have two confessions/clarifications. First, I taught a week-long workshop on balance this summer that I am hoping to reprise.(1) Second, in case this leads you at any point to think that I’ve got it together, I completely forgot that I was supposed to be writing this and had to be reminded.

So, if I haven’t got it together, and I still forget, drop and neglect things, what is it that I claim to be teaching at this workshop on Balance?

Well, after pursuing the balance-as-time-management approach for nearly a decade, I have decided that it doesn’t work. Yes, you can get better at time management, you can be on time for things, you can have a tidier house, a more successful career, and (in principle), more quality time with your kids and spouse. You can Get More Done. However, that is not balance; it is looking balanced… which is not the same thing.

Let me rewind five years to the height of my time-management solution. At that point, I had two children and a full time job with a 3-hour round trip commute, I was renovating a house, I was taking graduate courses, I was volunteering at the church, and I was juggling a somewhat complicated romantic and social life.(2) Boy, was I managing. Every moment of every day was scheduled. I was listening to language tapes in the car so that I could reclaim some of that 15 hours of the week. One day, one of my colleagues told me that her therapist had told her that she needed to take 15 minutes for herself, and I looked at her, incredulous. “15 minutes?” I asked. She nodded. “He means in a week, right?” Here’s the thing: She didn’t laugh at me, because she considered it every bit as unfathomable as I did.

I vividly remember arriving home one evening after supper and lying on my back on the kitchen floor for 15 minutes before I could even consider moving, and thinking, “Something has to change.”

First, I needed to Do Less Stuff, not just keep doing the same stuff more efficiently. I needed to figure out what the most important stuff was, and to stop doing the rest of it. And I needed to start asking for help – and rather a lot, it turned out. I withdrew from the graduate program, and asked my partner to start looking for work in a smaller centre where my financial contribution would be less urgent/compulsory. I asked my parents to rescue me from my incomplete house.(3) I even entertained the possibility that a mother who couldn’t function when she got home from work might not be the most useful or emotionally supportive family member to have around and started taking 15 minutes every now and then to do fluffy-girly things like yoga, breathing, and meditation.(4)

And those fluffy-girly things that I started doing grudgingly because somebody else’s therapist recommended it turned out to change my conception of the very idea of Balance.

Balance (II)

Balance is an internal state of your body. I wouldn’t be the first to claim it as a sixth sense. Strictly, it is the ability of your body to keep itself in equilibrium, but it is not just a matter of being able to stay upright (or upside down). Your body lets you know when you are “out of balance”. You may have a recurring eye-twitch that alerts you when things are out of control. The pains in our shoulders, backs, necks, and knees are warnings and calls for attention. So are conversations about how little sleep you are getting. Not a good sign.

For one moment, sit upright and as still as you can. Now, as you are sitting there, pay attention to the subtle shifts in your muscles that are keeping you upright. If try to sit too long in that position, they get tired. That’s because you are constantly adjusting and the muscles are working. If something happens to startle you or push you off balance, it takes more work to get back to equilibrium. You might even fall down.

The key in this approach is to recognize that it isn’t static; there is no Holy Grail that you can get to. Perfect schedule, finances in order, house tidy, sex the right number of times per week, enough sleep and exercise, proper nutrition, perfectly supported children, flossed teeth, and whatever the most favoured issue of the week is… Even if you get it right for a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days, or (if you are very lucky) a few months, something will throw a wrench in the works. It is a dynamic process. Balance is about dancing. It is about finding the right solution this minute, and the next minute, and the next. It is about keeping in touch with your internal monitor so that you don’t find yourself on the floor in crisis before you notice that something is out of kilter. And, on those moments that you do find yourself on the floor, (because they will come) balance is about having the resources to pick yourself up, or ask for help.

Flash forward to this week. I went to a dinner with my husband. I finished a pair of socks. I went canoeing. I took my youngest child to the playground. I wrote some of my long-abandoned thesis, and I wrote some blog posts. I spent some time in the back yard playing pirates and looking at bugs. I hosted a potluck for friends. I hung out laundry. When it was obvious that we were going to be caught in traffic, I parked the car and played tag with the kids while we waited. I attended a meeting at the library and delivered a passionate speech about the environmental importance of finding a more meaningful way of living. And this time, when I found myself lying on the kitchen floor, it was because of a tickle fight, not a traffic jam.


  1. I promise not to spam you; it’s in Nova Scotia. Unless you want to be spammed, and can get to NS, in which case, leave a comment.
  2. Which I might explain some other time. But it’s not really the main point right now.
  3. Which they did, in spades, and with great kindness and generosity. They’ll get a posting of gratitude some other time.
  4. Because despite 4000 years of tradition, everybody knows that yoga, meditation and breathing practices are only for girls. And all this silly self-care talk is really about self-indulgence. Or, you know… Something like that.

 

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated October 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • The World from Within My Arms — Rachael at The Variegated Life finds balance despite her work and her husband’s commitment to art through attachment parenting. (@RachaelNevins)
  • Balancing the Teeter-Totter — Rebecca is rediscovering balance by exploring her interests and passions in several different categories. She shares in this guest post at The Connected Mom. (@theconnectedmom)
  • Balancing this Life — Danielle at born.in.japan is slowly learning the little tricks that make her family life more balanced. (@borninjp)
  • Uninterrupted Parenting — Amy at Innate Wholeness has learned that she does not need to interrupt parenting in order to find balance.
  • Knitting for My Family — Knitting is more than just a hobby for Kellie at Our Mindful Life, it is her creative and mental outlet, it has blessed her with friendships she might not otherwise have had, and it provides her with much-needed balance.
  • Taking the Time — Sybil at Musings of a Milk Maker has all the time she needs, now her girls are just a bit older.
  • Please, Teach Me How — Amy at Anktangle needs your help: please share how you find time for yourself, because she is struggling. (@anktangle)
  • A Pendulum Swings Both Ways — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment found herself snapping with too little time for herself, and then veered toward too much.
  • Finding Balance Amidst Change — It took a season of big changes and added responsibility, but Melodie of Breastfeeding Moms Unite! now feels more balanced and organized as a mama than ever before. (@bfmom)
  • At Home with Three Young Children: The Search for Balance, Staying Sane — With three young kids, Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings knows parents sometimes have to adjust their expectations of how much downtime they can reasonably have. (@sunfrog)
  • Attachment Parenting? And finding some “Me Time” — As a mother who works full time, Momma Jorje wants “me” time that includes her daughter.
  • A Balancing Act — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes has concrete ways to help keep centered with a little one and a new baby on the way, from exercise to early bedtimes to asking for help. (@sheryljesin)
  • Aspiring Towards Libra — Are your soul-filling activities the first to be pushed aside when life gets hectic? Kelly of KellyNaturally.com aspires to make time for those “non-necessities” this year. (@kellynaturally)
  • SARKisms for Sanity — Erica at ChildOrganics has found renewed inspiration to take baths and laugh often from a book she had on the shelf. (@childorganics)

24 Responses

  1. I love this post – I love it because I feel like I might have *had* balance at various points in my life (or some semblance of it), and then I come to those times where balance is missing and I think – what the heck happened? Well, life happened! I changed. Things changed. I lost track. Thank you for the reminder that balance is not an endpoint – it’s a journey.

    • Thanks for the compliment. I was just looking at your post as well, and I was trying to think what might help… because you might be able to guess that I relate. So, I’m trying to come up with something that doesn’t leave you looking at me with astonishment due to sheer inconceivability…

      I liked Martha Beck’s Joy Diet because the first thing in it is learning to do nothing. I had a boss (at the time I was writing about in the first half of this post) who told me that you can’t really be happy until you learn to do nothing. I said, “Oh, well, I read a lot.” And she said, “No, nothing. Not reading, not knitting, not washing the dishes. Nothing.”

      It was the hardest lesson. It took most of the last 4 years to learn. But it was worth it.

  2. I think you’ve hit on something with the balance doesn’t equal time management. Even when I’m on schedule and productive, I feel frazzled lately. I’m not investing enough in me.

  3. [...] The Dance of Balance — Balance isn’t static. It is dynamic, it is a dance, it is about keeping in touch with you. Read this wonderful bit of wisdom from Seonaid at the Practical Dilettante. (@seonaid_lee) [...]

  4. [...] The Dance of Balance — Balance isn’t static. It is dynamic, it is a dance, it is about keeping in touch with you. Read this wonderful bit of wisdom from Seonaid at the Practical Dilettante. (@seonaid_lee) [...]

  5. Love, love, love this! You are so right, that doing it all and having the time to do it all does not mean you are balanced. If you feel like a stretchy toy all out of sorts, that is not balance. I just love your last paragraph, some things are just too precious to ignore…like looking for pirates!

    By the way, I couldn’t help but notice in your footnote that you are in NS? I am too! How small is this world!?

    • Hi Fellow Bluenose! (Or whatever it is that they call us. I’m not really from here.)

      You never know when pirates may come ashore. Especially in a backyard as messy as ours!

  6. [...] The Dance of Balance — Balance isn’t static. It is dynamic, it is a dance, it is about keeping in touch with you. Read this wonderful bit of wisdom from Seonaid at the Practical Dilettante. (@seonaid_lee) [...]

  7. Oh what a wonderful reminder that time management is NOT balance. Usually, the days that have been the most ‘perfectly’ managed and I have accomplished so much are exactly the days I collapse in total exhaustion and tears… and on the days when not so much gets ‘done’ and I take time and create space everything flows so peacefully. Thank you for wording it so well.

    Blessings!

  8. [...] The Dance of Balance — Balance isn’t static. It is dynamic, it is a dance, it is about keeping in touch with you. Read this wonderful bit of wisdom from Seonaid at the Practical Dilettante. (@seonaid_lee) [...]

  9. What a great post! I thoroughly enjoyed it. I haven’t savoured a long-ish post for quite some time, but somehow I am feeling balanced enough at this very minute to do so. Cheers!

  10. [...] The Dance of Balance — Balance isn't static. It is dynamic, it is a dance, it is about keeping in touch with you. Read this wonderful bit of wisdom from Seonaid at the Practical Dilettante. (@seonaid_lee) [...]

  11. Seon, sweetheart, I agree with so much of what’s here up until I want to thump you for something.

    “Because despite 4000 years of tradition, everybody knows that yoga, meditation and breathing practices are only for girls. And all this silly self-care talk is really about self-indulgence. Or, you know… Something like that.”

    Ummm….right.

    I’m going to tell myself that you’re being deliberately provocative, sarcastic and that I should just let it go.

    The post isn’t helping the “letting it go” part.

    Love you anyway.

    • REEEEEEALLY sarcastic. Completely sarcastic. Did you see the part how it saved my life? And the 4000 years of tradition piece?

      • Speaking on behalf of that side of my family, I grok the millennia of tradition thing. And the sarcasm is somewhere – just confirming *where*.

      • Good! You had me worried there. Disrespect only intended to the part of the world that thinks that yoga is about getting a better butt.

  12. “I needed to figure out what the most important stuff was, and to stop doing the rest of it.” I love this line. (And this whole post.) Like Dionna said, I, too, tend to forget that life happens and I have to adapt my balancing strategies to match.

    Thanks for the suggestion on my blog that I start with a cup of tea. I will definitely make that a part of my days. (Though, it would have to be what I do for the entire nap time, since my son only naps for about twenty minutes at a time these days.) Thanks again!

  13. Beautiful, beautiful post. I so agree — it’s not about time management, because that’s surface level and doesn’t attune who you are and what you desire and can truly handle. Thanks for such an important reminder. I know I always get those signals you mention when something is out of balance, and it’s just a matter of paying attention to them! For me, it’s an almost physical sickness, a strong sense that something is not right. I know then it’s (past) time to shift another direction.

    P.S. I visited Nova Scotia and loved it. Wish I could go back for your workshop!

    • Thanks Lauren! I also should tell you, I thanked you in another post about starting to write about my kids. These carnivals are great.

      I taught the workshop in Vermont this summer; maybe I’ll get out west someday with it. :)

  14. I entirely agree.

    And I enjoyed this post in entirety.

    I like the clever format of two balanced sections of prose. It would be beautiful on two printed pages.

    There’s nothing like a good crises to wake us up and rattle us into the serious pursuit of wellness, huh?

    I’m all about it these days. Something odd seems to be happening to me — I’m growing wiser as I age!

  15. [...] The Dance of Balance — Balance isn’t static. It is dynamic, it is a dance, it is about keeping in touch with you. Read this wonderful bit of wisdom from Seonaid at the Practical Dilettante. (@seonaid_lee) [...]

  16. YES! Balance is a dance! I find that I’m doing a lot more to add space in my life where I can breathe and actually notice the people around me, instead of scurrying to do the next thing.

    Since watching this lecture on chaos and order, I’ve understood myself a little more. Too much or too litte of either one throws us off. To balance is to find the right recipe of chaos and order.


    “In his lecture entitled Reality and the Sacred, psychology professor, Jordan Peterson, explores the human search for meaning in a chaotic world and how our perceptions and beliefs shape our sense of reality.”

  17. [...] The Dance of Balance — Balance isn’t static. It is dynamic, it is a dance, it is about keeping in touch with you. Read this wonderful bit of wisdom from Seonaid at the Practical Dilettante. (@seonaid_lee) [...]

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