The other day there was a picture floating around Facebook from Elizabeth Gilbert and it read, “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” I’m all about embracing glorious messes. Anyone who has met me knows that.
Sometimes the messes come from the kids. Sometimes I make them myself. Sometimes we just fall into them. And sometimes they come from out of nowhere and smack us in the head with a two-by-four. I don’t have a problem with the messes life often presents us with. They are inevitable.
But I do have a problem with the lengthy caption that followed the meme, which was a long explanation of why she is “Against BALANCE…” (that’s the way her Facebook comment began). She explained that she thinks balance has basically come to mean perfection for most women. That is a problem, I agree. Women need to make sure they know the definition of both those words and not confuse the two. But balance is important.
Balance is defined as “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.” We, as moms (and dads), need to remain upright and (relatively) steady. And even those of us without children ultimately want to exist in an upright and steady position. Of course, there are times when you completely lose balance—when you fall off that beam, or someone or something just comes running out of nowhere and pushes you the fuck right off. But we still want to climb back on.
I think the problem we have as women is that we often confuse balance with doing it all. That’s just not possible. Ms. Gilbert touched on the first few things she needed in order to find balance in her life with the book that put her on the map. First she ate. Then she prayed. Then she loved. She wasn’t necessarily balanced in that process. It was a ton of eating and then a ton of praying and then a ton of loving. But that got her to a place where she could incorporate all three of those things into her life and find happiness. Because she had found balance.
Granted, her three-item list was pretty sparse. In order to have a balanced life, you’re going to need to add moving your ass onto that list. Also add work, time for family, time for your relationship, time for friends, time for fun. If you are lucky, you can add a couple more things into the mix. But there are rarely times in your life when you can do every single thing you want to do. Even if you pile both sides of the seesaw evenly with all the items on your list, there is only so much weight that thing can take before it snaps.
So to create balance in your life, you’re gonna have to make some choices. Exercise is on one side, eating on the other. Work is on one side, sleep on the other. Time with your kids is on one side, time with your partner on another. Your seesaw is pretty full at this point. But those big-ticket items need to be in the mix most of the time. When they aren’t, balance is next to impossible.
But there are still your friends. There’s housework. There’s cooking. And what about that bathroom that you wanted to renovate? There was also that Pinterest project and the vacation you planned and the volunteering at school. There is the garden you wanted to plant and that book you wanted to read, plus you told your friend you’d watch her kids for a little bit, and fuck, you totally forgot about the time you will need for that club you just joined.
You have to pick and choose. Balance comes in acknowledging and accepting your limitations. Those curveballs, those messy moments that Elizabeth refers to, those are the times when you have added something unexpected onto one side of the scale. In order to achieve balance, or at least raise up the heavy side of the seesaw, you’ll need to take something off that side.
That from-scratch birthday cake you had planned to make? Well, maybe this year, you’re going to just have to buy one from the store instead. It’s OK. Your kids won’t care.
That bathroom renovation? Maybe this just isn’t the year to tackle that project.
Sure, you want to do it all. But the reality is, you can’t—not if you want to remain sane, not if you want to remain upright and steady, or just upright. There will be short little blips in your life when balance happens effortlessly and when things are running smoothly. But then, bam, something upsets the balance. Your mother breaks her hip. Your husband gets laid off. Your washing machine bites the dust. You have a fucking nervous breakdown. Maybe it’s something smaller. Maybe your kid dumps a whole gallon of milk on the floor. Maybe you run out of gas. Maybe you fuck up and forget to go to your kid’s class party.
Whatever it is, in order to balance things out, in order to remain sane, you have to even out the sides. You have to clean up a huge fucking mess your kids made that you hadn’t anticipated? So maybe you don’t get to the laundry that day, or maybe you work-out for 20 minutes instead of 30.
But when something is unexpectedly added to one side of the scale, don’t add more shit onto the other side to balance it out. Look for the thing that you can take off that heavy side. Or look for help.
Have you ever watched an elite gymnast on the beam? She is a balancing pro. But even she has a spotter every once in a while, especially when she is attempting something new or something difficult. That’s another obstacle in women’s quest for balance. The (mis)belief that if we don’t do it all ourselves then we have failed. Sometimes, in order to achieve some balance, you need a spotter. That doesn’t make you weak. It simply helps to get you back to the place you want to be as often as possible.
Upright and steady.
Maybe your spotter is a friend. Maybe it’s a therapist. Maybe it’s a coworker. Maybe it’s all three.
When you get to that point where you are capable of figuring out on a daily basis which things have priority on each side of the seesaw, when you are able to ask for help if you need it in order to stop completely wobbling, well, that is balance.
And balance is good.