Being Realistic About Balance

I recently read an article entitled “Women with Big Jobs and Big Families: Balancing Really Isn’t That Hard.”  Part of me wants to cheer that such a headline is possible.  It’s great that some women have big families after attaining a level of professional seniority and compensation (or maybe after marrying men who are highly paid) so they can afford a full-time staff to handle details and logistics.  But part of me wants to call foul.  Most of us are looking for balance without the financial wherewithal to say it “really isn’t that hard.”

I get that articles like this are about encouraging young women to lean in and work for a position that makes balance easier before having kids.  But for those of us in the trenches, balance absolutely really IS “that hard.”  For most of us–including women I know with “big jobs” and those with passions that don’t come with as large a paycheck–figuring out how to mesh our parenting priorities with our other callings takes significant time and thought.

Balance is often on my mind–I’m reading about it, evaluating it, troubleshooting it, tweaking it, or trying to maintain it.  It’s never simple, but it’s a worthy pursuit because I don’t think balance is ultimately about making more money or having a prestigious job or making your kids your idol or any of those extremes.  Whether you work full-time, are home full-time or something in between, a balanced life is one in which you are confidently living your priorities.  A reader pointed out recently that it can be helpful to see how balance works for other women, even if they don’t have it all figured out.  So in that spirit, and with the caveat that my circumstances (and priorities) fluctuate wildly in this season of life, here is the balance I’m working with now.

Work/Writing – I am self-employed as a corporate writer and marketing consultant.  Sometimes I have a lot of projects at once, sometimes not.  I do this work between 10-30 hours a week, but I think my sweet spot is 20–more than that and I get frazzled, less and I get nervous about bills.  

We have an excellent babysitter for 10 hours a week–one afternoon and one morning.  She handles the kids amazingly and gamely supervises their independent schoolwork.  I try to schedule client meetings and calls for those hours.  Sometimes a friend watches the kids if my meetings don’t line up with babysitting hours.  The rest of my work fits in to daily afternoon quiet time (only the baby naps, everyone else reads or plays quietly) or on Saturdays.  I am not very productive at night, so while I sometimes do mindless work stuff like admin or emailing after the kids go to bed, I prefer to unwind then and get to bed early so I can be fresh for the next day.  

I also spend some time every week on personal writing like blogging and fiction.  I don’t get paid for that, but I love to write and I figure that writing for fun makes me better at the writing I do for pay.  

School – According to time diaries I’ve kept at various times, I devote 20-30 hours per week to homeschooling.  That includes planning and prep, as well as direct teaching time.  At this point, having homeschooled in one way or another for six years, I have a lot of things figured out so I save time by not reinventing the wheel, but I do pay attention to phases and individual needs and am always tweaking things to improve them.  My primary goals are that my kids would love truth and beauty, be lifelong learners, and get an education tailored to their unique needs and levels, so I try to approach individual subjects from that perspective, rather than being locked in to other benchmarks.  Homeschooling is challenging, but for me it is very, very rewarding.

Mind/Body/Soul Care – Most days I get up between 5:30 and 6, throw on exercise clothes, and have my morning Biblestudy and prayer time while cooking and eating my breakfast eggs and having a cup of coffee.  Then I exercise in the basement (right now I am alternating Jillian Michaels workouts, modified somewhat to accommodate pregnancy).  By the time I’m done, the kids are usually up and starting breakfast.  If I’m lucky, I can finish my workout and start my shower before they get up, but if not the bigger ones are old enough to poor milk, cook eggs, serve baked oatmeal, or whatever.  Although one child did recently set a fire in the microwave so I may need to revisit rules about unsupervised cooking!

I keep my mind sharp by reading all sorts of things, and keep books all over the house and car so that wherever I am, if I have a few moments to spare I can read.  I’m not sure how much actual time this comes to in a given day–it varies–but I average about two books per week so I guess I’m getting adequate reading time!

I tend to go to bed early most nights, but I have a lot of insomnia issues, so adequate sleep is an issue.  Since it’s been a lifelong problem for me and I don’t make it worse by staying up too late, I just do my best.  I try to rest on Sundays, at least by taking a break from paying work and trying to avoid housework where possible.

Relationships – I like my husband.  I enjoy spending time with him.  We can’t afford regular date nights, and we’re always looking for ways to carve out more time together.  But we do try!  Although I spend a lot of time with the kids as a group, I also try to make time for one-on-one outings.  They take turns going to do errands with me, going out to Starbucks, etc, and Josh does that too.  So each kid gets at least one special date with me and one special date with Josh every month.  It’s often more, but it’s good to have an achievable minimum.  I’d like to have more friend time, but I find that the best I can really do is one or two outings or playdates per month, and I try to make one or two book club meetings.  I’d love to be in a position to really do the whole “community” thing with friends, but in our area I haven’t figured out how to make that happen.

Housework/Errands – I need things to be tidy or I get stressed out, so we pick up twice a day (kids have assigned jobs like sweeping, dusting, straightening, wiping the table, etc) but I don’t do a lot of deep cleaning.  The kids are learning to clean bathrooms, and I help them out.  Josh is really good at cleaning, being more detail-oriented than I am, so he cleans our bathroom every now and then.  He also does the yard work.  I do the cooking and Josh washes the dishes most nights.  I do the laundry and ironing and change the sheets.  We trade off for things like mopping and taking out the trash.  I usually do the weekly grocery/library run and other assorted errands with one of the kids (which makes it more like a fun outing and less of a chore), although sometimes I take all the kids to Costco (and almost always regret it) or if there is only a Costco list, Josh will do it because he is a ninja and getting in and out of there fast.  While I think we would both prefer to have a weekly cleaning service and someone else to mow the lawn, right now that’s not in the budget so we make do, and I think we do a passable job of sharing household responsibilities.  

Other – This is a pretty full list, so we don’t usually sign up for other activities.  We go to church weekly and both of us serve on the worship team and in the nursery.  We go to other church events as they come up and do random things like go to concerts or strawberry picking or visit a museum once a month or so, but we tend not to do a lot of evening events, especially not regularly scheduled ones.  The oldest three kids have piano one afternoon a week at the same place, and this summer they are in swimming lessons at the same time once or twice a week.  During the school year the kids take three electives each at our co-op, which meets one afternoon per week.  We don’t have any interest in living in the car or missing our evening family time, so that’s about it for now.

I’d love to hear about how you make time for your various callings and interests.  How do you balance?  If you have an epiphany to share or a link to a related post, let us know in the comments!

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