I have this idea that at some point in my life I will achieve perfect balance. I daydream that I will eventually find the ideal combination of time and energy for exercising, preparing tasty and healthy meals, maintaining a perpetually clean, well-decorated house, dressing in cute, affordable outfits, and, most importantly, being a supportive wife, a patient, engaged mom, while dedicating an appropriate level of energy to interacting with my friends, meeting new people, giving back to my community, spending time in prayer and devotion, and prioritizing self care. This will be achievable, of course, because of my top-notch organizational skills as well as my ability to deftly navigate the unscheduled curve-balls that are constantly interfering with my plans. This balance will lead to minimal and manageable amounts of stress, enjoyment, peace, and fulfilment in the here and now. Really, I don’t want anything too fancy or extravagant, just, balance.
My first problem with achieving this ultimate goal of balance is that I, clearly, set unrealistic expectations for myself – not only on large-scale visions but also for daily routines. I’ll convince myself at the start of a day that I can dedicate set amounts of time and energy to very specific goals (ie: so much time for a workout, devotion, writing, making breakfast for everyone, cleaning up, spending time with the kids). The thing is, life doesn’t flow in an orderly fashion. Nope. This household inevitably contains chaos, despite my most committed efforts to maintain structure and schedule. For example, the other day, the toddler started the day out by throwing up in her crib, which generated an unexpected load of laundry, and the preschooler woke a half hour earlier than normal, and in a foul mood on top of it all, which resulted in a decent amount of energy comforting, cajoling, and disciplining. The next well-intentioned day, the husband and I overslept the alarm and scrambled to get him out the door on time. On both of these days, by 9:00am I was already hopelessly behind schedule. However, I wouldn’t give up on the idea that I could recover. I spent the next hour and a half cleaning up from breakfast, starting to prep lunch, changing a dirty diaper, spending a few hurried minutes playing with my kids, only to realize it hadn’t been an hour and a half but actually two and a half hours. You can pretty much guess the rhythm and pace of the rest of the day. It’s easy for me to feel defeated, and I usually end these days promising myself that the next morning I won’t try to do so much.
Sometimes I get discouraged with my (apparently) feeble attempts to maintain a somewhat clean house and fix at least marginally healthy meals, all while working to foster the development of my children into happy, kind, and smart individuals. This leads me into the comparison trap, and I wonder how others accomplish life and still find time to go above and beyond in so many areas of life, while I often struggle to complete, not even always very successfully, basic, necessary tasks. I envy friends who have a knack for living with seemingly effortless, always graceful, flourish, while I feel perpetually awkward and chaotic. Achieving my daydreamed balance feels like a very distant goal.
Those are my bad days. But then there are the good days. These are the days when I jam out to my favorite tunes while I dance and clean the kitchen. I play games with my kids while I simultaneously work on chores. I come up with silly things to say that make my kiddos giggle while I start making lunch. On these days, I make a conscious effort to put all my energy into doing everything to the max. I buckle down and focus on completing each task. I feel like a supercool supermom and I have a confident attitude that matches. These are my few-and-far-between awesome days. The days when I think, practically shout out loud, “heck yes, I’ve got this…I’m rocking this” (whatever this is). Although I’m often able to accomplish everything on my to-do list, the energy of these days is unsustainable.
So, those are the highs and lows. Then there are all the days in between the mess and rockstar; the average, everyday days. Although I don’t want to admit it, partially because these days feel so ordinary, but I think these are the days I get the closest to achieving balance. The strange thing is, these are the days when I focus the least on finding a balance. I allow myself grace to go with the flow. I do my best to maintain a schedule and complete the necessary to-dos, while allowing the inevitable interruptions. To help with my self-care, I give myself one or two small things to look forward to in the afternoons during nap and quiet time and I prioritize those activities over other things I could be doing instead. Most importantly, I ask for help. I almost hate to admit it, but a large part of the success in the days when I feel most close to achieving balance includes asking for help. I have also learned that finding balance is not the same as doing it all. An important part of balance is saying no, whether to an outside request or to an internally placed idea of an activity I think we should be doing. I concede, without indulging my seemingly ubiquitous sense of guilt, that I simply can’t do it all.
It’s hard to fully articulate, but there’s a peace and relief that comes from letting go and accepting that rather than me achieving my daydreamed-about idealized balance, a more realistic but still beautiful balance has found me.
I’m likely never going to achieve the unrealistic balance I presented earlier, but I think I can find peace and acceptance with a close-enough balance that affords me perspective and a healthy dose of grace.
Wendi, her husband, and their two kids are currently perfecting their best “ya sure you betcha” accents, having recently relocated to northern Minnesota. She is co-author of the blog The Unexpected Ever Afters and a member of the podcast Moms Who Wine.
*photo credit: personal photo taken along the Mississippi River*