How do you balance it all?
It’s funny, but I always thought of balance as a static thing. Once I achieved balance I’d just have to keep doing things exactly the same each day and it would all stay balanced, right?
For example, there was that happy time of life when my one baby slept at regular times in the morning, afternoon and night. I knew when I’d have the time to do my work. I rocked life then and accomplished crazy amounts of things. And then he dropped that morning nap. I didn’t know they did that.
This lead to a rather chaotic adjustment to create the new perfect routine. That only lasted until I was pregnant again. Then I needed the nap.
And then there were two. You can laugh. I didn’t. I felt like I was failing at life. I had had perfect balance and lost it.
But no problem. I can do this. And I did. Got it all down to a perfect routine again.
And just a month after number two was actually sleeping through the night I was needing to nap again. Yes.
Sadly, that beautiful boy passed away about halfway through the pregnancy. Add crazy hormones and deep sadness at the loss with two wee ones and I can look back and wish I’d given myself a break. But that drive for a perfectly balanced life kept on.
I kept trying to do life exactly according to my perfect schedule. I kept failing. Because now there was more work, different dreams, and two really active little boys. I couldn’t keep adding in all I was doing and keep the results the same of accomplishing all I had been doing before. I just kept on trying, and feeling like a failure because I couldn’t now and I had before. What was wrong with me?
Then we decided to follow our dreams and gave up our no longer ideal suburban life. Which led us to put our home up for sale to see what would happen. It was 2010, probably not the best time for this, but we decided we didn’t want to look back at the end of our lives with regret.
Now I really did need to keep the house looking like a model home at all times for showings. With a two year old, a one year old, and yes, another was baby on the way. Looking back, I sometimes question my sanity.
Eventually, after ten months of turmoil we landed in a new place. We had our home and now our land. Someday I’ll write about the first 24 hours there. It’s the stuff legends are made of. And the stories had just begun.
Over time I began to see the problem was not that I believed I could balance it all. The problem was that I thought the balance once achieved could be maintained without change.
I didn’t allow for new seasons, both literal and figurative. Babies stop napping. Gardens must be planted. There are seasons of building and seasons of maintenance. Harvest time requires more and very different work.
But I kept trying to do the same basic things I had made required work everyday, which were already a lot, and just add the extra work on top of the already full schedule. I could not do it, and I went from feeling like I was failing to feeling like I was simply a failure. It appeared like everyone else was doing it all and doing it well, but me. This is not a good place to be.
And the craziest part? I was doing it to myself. I’m married to a pretty kicked back guy and I have three awesome kiddos who are really happy no matter what. I was raised to believe that everything had to always at least appear perfect, no matter the reality. You would think as a grown up I could just let that go, but it really is a struggle for me.
When I began learning about Permaculture I found the phrase “Dynamic Balance” in one of my books. I can’t even recall which one, but it changed my whole view of my life. Crazy, isn’t it?
I think the easiest way to define dynamic balance would be that it is balance in motion. It’s balance maintained through anticipating change and being ready to change positions as needed. So, instead of developing a perfect system and trying to keep it going without fail, we prepare in advance for the changes that will, of course, always be coming our way.
We’re not failing. Life is ever changing. We look beyond the moment we are in to see the bigger picture.
People will get sick.
The car won’t start.
Dinner didn’t defrost.
We are not behind. We are not a failure because we didn’t get everything done on our to do list today. Someone needed us and we were there.
I’m not saying we don’t work hard. I’m not advocating never having a schedule. I am daily trying to show and teach my children diligence and steadiness. But not rigidity, not perfectionism.
I have found I do better now with rhythms and routines than a rigid minute by minute plan. There is a natural pattern to our days of meals, lessons, play and all that. I can tell you we usually do math before lunch, but there is not a set time.
I’ve also learned to take the actual four seasons into account when planning our bigger picture schedules. It makes sense for us not to do a lot of inside lessons in late Spring/early Summer because there is planting to be done and we all want to be outside. Book lessons worked great this last year in the late Summer afternoons when it was too hot outside to play.
I need time during the Autumn to harvest and preserve food. And believe me, preserving food takes a crazy amount of time. Some weeks, no lessons at all are scheduled. Winter brings holidays and a long break to enjoy and plan for them. How happy we all were that we started the school year in July when it meant we could enjoy having from Thanksgiving through the New Year off!
Now, before you completely dismiss me because you don’t have as much freedom in your schedule understand that I get it. These are the general principles I now operate under.
However, there are absolutely insane stretches in my year where I am growing materials for my products, making all my dozen different products and trying to sell as much as I can in the short window of time I have. That, of course, coincides with the busy season for my other business: I have a guest house on AirBNB and the growing and selling season is tourist season in our town.
Thanks goodness the daylight hours are long in Summer. I’m up and working in the mornings, cleaning the guest house as soon as people check out, teaching in the afternoons, cooking and cleaning for us, checking in guests, and working in the garden until dark some days. Then Autumn brings all the preserving as well as the last of the Farmers Markets and the beginning of the Holiday Sales season.
The difference for me now is one of perspective. The lens through which I view life is so different than it once was. That’s really what I’m trying to share here.
By freeing myself from a rigid view of time and how to cram all of life into little 15 minute blocks, I can feel free in the middle of even the crazy times. Sometimes I picture that dynamic balance, not as me spinning out of control, but of twirling in laughing circles like my daughter. Head thrown back, arms outstretched, I am free in the moment as a child.
And that grounds me.
Maybe your life is one reduced to small minute by minute requirements. Most jobs have set times they must be done. I know that.
But what about the moments outside of the job? What about the moments that don’t have to be scheduled? Can you see a way to move with the waves of life, floating with the current instead of constantly fighting it? Can you schedule buffer zones for when it all falls apart? What activities and things you think you should do could be dropped, even if just for a season? Do you allow enough time in your plans to deal with someone losing their shoe, or not finding that perfect parking space right outside the door?
I’ve had to let go of so much in life. A lot of that has been the vision in my head of how it all should look. It doesn’t. How others expect it should be. It isn’t.
It never will.
It’s taken me most of my life to be okay with that. And honestly, there are still days I forget. But I move on.