We’re all after this thing we call work/life balance.
But what IS balance actually?
Well, here’s how balance was (not) going for me on Sunday:
My kids requested lunch at Subway. Far from my favorite, but fine. We hadn't even gotten through the check-out line when my three year old peed in her pants. She immediately burst into tears. I looked down to see her boots all wet and a puddle on the floor.
Normally I’d be super embarrassed at this kind of thing happening in public (not my daughter’s accident so much… more so that there was pee everywhere in a restaurant). But yesterday I was just too tired to get upset. I did my best to balance a five-week old baby in one arm while I used paper towels to clean up the mess with the other arm.
I was doing neither one well.
Basically, my baby’s head bobbled around while I smeared pee on the floor.
After getting home and enduring my sweet girl’s continued meltdown for the next hour or so, I sent my older kids outside while I tried to get the baby settled into a nap. I haven't written a blog post since before our tiny baby was born, and while it is a work-related activity, yes, it's also a soul-related activity for me. I've been really really wanting to write.
With two kids outside and one in a swing, I curled up with my laptop to start writing a post. But then the littlest lost her pacifier and was fusing, so I begrudgingly left my comfy chair to go soothe her. Just as I took my seat again, the older girls were calling me to come watch what they were doing outside on their bikes. I watched for a few seconds with a forced smile before I turned around to get back to my laptop.
I’d only opened a new Word document when my six year old came in to use the bathroom and was then yelling at me to get her some... "supplies". On my way to get what she needed, my three year old rang the doorbell…. as if to remind me that she had been left outside by herself. Even though I knew she could open the door on her own, I opened it to appease her. She wasn't just playing around though. She announced she was coming in and needed help bringing her things back inside.
I helped her bring her stuff in and hurried back to the bathroom to help my 6 year old. I paused for a second mid-step because I thought I heard the baby fussing. While standing still, I noticed the time and wondered how the day was going by so fast. What had I been doing all day?!?
When my six year old was finished in the bathroom, my three year old was next in line. How did she need to go to the bathroom again so soon? Wasn’t it just 10 minutes ago that she peed all over the floor in Subway? Finally I sat back down at my computer, but then I noticed some new notifications from Facebook on my phone. So I checked those and got distracted scrolling, when… yep! Sure enough the baby was fussing again.
And that’s when I realized, here I am doing my best to be both mom to three young girls and blogger extraordinaire. But...
I was doing neither one well.
In fact, I was crabby with my kids and hadn’t actually written a word yet.
It was about four days ago that my newborn baby cried through far more of two coaching sessions than I was comfortable with. She was in one of those fourth-trimester-moods where the only thing I could do was snuggle her to my chest tightly and bounce vigorously on a physio ball.
When I noticed that I was starting to feel anxious, a picture of one of my clients flashed into my mind. Just a few months ago, the situation was reversed—she was the one with a brand new baby, bouncing on the ball and simultaneously nursing, while we talked about her goals and dreams for her practice. She apologized repeatedly during our session for how she was balancing her little baby. But I thought she was handling it all awesomely.
Thinking back to that moment with her, I thought for a second that I should give myself the same grace I would give someone else. But basically I put a lid on my feelings so that I could focus in on my client.
Shortly after our session ended, I texted my husband and let the lid come off my bottled-up emotions. I told him, “This isn’t working. I need to figure something else out,” referring to having our little baby with me while I’m working.
His response… “But isn’t that part of what your message is? How to balance life and work? Maybe women respect you for doing this? I think you’re doing great and you’re too hard on yourself.”
Balancing life and work doesn’t mean doing both at the same time, though.
Sometimes the sitter calls at the last minute to tell you she’s sick and suddenly the kids now have to go to work with you. Sometimes doing both at the same time is just what you’ve gotta do.
But more and more, I find that trying to mother and work at the same time leaves me feeling like I’m doing neither one very well.
So, if this isn’t balance—being a mom and a doctor simultaneously—then, what is?
The more important question is: what are we really wanting when we say we want “balance”?
It’s probably NOT to take a little from one part of life to give a little to another part of life. Because that’s what I’ve been doing lately and I certainly wouldn’t describe how I’ve been feeling as well-balanced. No.
It’s a lot more likely that when we say we want to find more balance, what we really want is to feel like we’re doing the best we can in each dimension of life. That we want to be able to stop thinking about work quite so much when we’re snuggling with our babies, and to feel more confident that our kids are just fine when we’re at our offices without them.
And now as I write this blog post, I realize that if my ideas here have some truth to them, then really when we say we want more balance what we’re actually longing for is to be more present.
Think about it.
You want to be with your family when you’re with your family. Not worrying about how many chart notes are unfinished.
You want to be able to take a couple of extra hours a week to write out a marketing calendar and get your accounting updated without feeling guilty for spending the extra time away from your child.
When we feel out of balance, it’s likely because we need to be more present.
I wonder how many times I’ve used the word balance when I’ve really meant present. How many times have I said I feel out of balance, because what’s really been going on is that I haven’t been paying attention?
Today, I’m committing to being more present. Even just 1% more present with my husband, with my kids and in my work.