Why I Choose Flexibility Over “Balance”

balance

Balance.

It’s the Mom’s holy grail these days, isn’t it? We’re supposed to aim for balance by penciling in “me time,”  scheduling date nights with our spouses, pursuing our passions, simplifying our lives by purging and hiring experts to help us…

I don’t know about you, but to me this “achieving balance” thing sounds kind of like a lot of work.

Don’t get me wrong, I think balance is a great thing. And overall, it’s important to me that my kids, my work, and myself each get enough attention. I’m just not sure if “a balanced life” is possible for a mom, especially a mom of young children, to achieve. And I wonder if it actually adds to all the stress and guilt and “shoulds” moms sometimes feel when they are faced with the (inevitable) truth that their life is out of balance.

I can’t control my kids (not really) or the weather. I can’t control how much my editor loves or hates the chapter I just turned in and when she may require a revision. I can’t control checks going missing in the mail or my transmission blowing up on the toll road. So the best-laid plans to get my butt to yoga class sometimes get thwarted by a virus or a flat tire, the day I planned to spend with my kids is postponed because of an unexpected last-minute work need, the morning I planned to spend reading is interrupted by a kid who woke up earlier than I expected, or the date I planned with my husband gets canceled because he has to work late or the babysitter cancels. All I can control in any of those situations is my reaction and outlook. And if I let any one of those very very likely scenarios wreck my sense of equilibrium, then the balance I thought I had created was really pretty superficial.

Some days I work 2 hours, then blow off the afternoon to go to the children’s museum with the kids. Some days I work 10 hours, use the TV as a sitter a little more than I should, and toss a little steamed broccoli alongside the ramen noodles so I don’t feel like a total loser mom. Some days everything goes haywire and nothing gets done at all, for me, or anyone else for that matter. And some days, things just fall into place and we float through the day with the perfect balance of my needs, the kids’ needs, and the needs of the rest of the world being met.

Thing is, it’s not always possible to predict ahead of time which days will be which. There’s just no way to plan out balance on a day-to-day basis.

Instead of “balance,” I advocate aiming for flexibility. It’s not quite as satisfying a concept for those of us who like to sort all the areas of our lives into neat, equal compartments, but when I am flexible, it helps ME feel in-balance even when my life is out of balance. (As it pretty much always is, for all the reasons I stated above.) Flexibility might mean deciding at noon that it’s time to knock off work for the rest of the day and enjoy some time with the kids. Or it may mean deciding that today, this deadline really needs my attention more, and not feeling guilty about a temporary lack of focused attention on the kids.

It may mean deciding at the last minute that I really need an hour to myself at the bookstore or coffee shop, even if I already had an hour to myself earlier; or it might mean I let the boys play too many video games so I can work, just because I really want to. Or it may mean deciding to take it easy on work today or skip a solo trip to the store because I’d just rather hang out with the kids or because they seem to really need it. It’s all about deciding which need has priority in the moment, and making a decision based on that.

If I allow myself the flexibility to make those decisions in the moment without feeling mom-guilt or its equally-evil cousin, “I-should-be-paying-more-attention-to-my-own-needs-guilt”, or any kind of should or regret at all, a funny thing happens. My life is still just as chaotic and unpredictable as ever, but in the midst of it all, I feel strangely…well…balanced.

What about you? Do you ever feel stressed out trying to make all the scales balance? Or do you take a “roll with the punches” approach to parenting?

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