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,” 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 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.
- 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.
- Which I might explain some other time. But it’s not really the main point right now.
- Which they did, in spades, and with great kindness and generosity. They’ll get a posting of gratitude some other time.
- 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.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated October 12 with all the carnival links.)