The Search for Balance: New Priorities as a Working Mother

I’m no stranger to busy-ness. I work, I have a three year old son, and I’m studying for the PMP (Project Management Professional) exam, I’m planning a wedding, and planning a retreat.

Appropriately, the retreat is on …. balance.

Life Changes Make us Rethink Priorities
Balance has been that thing I’ve been searching for over the last three years. I had a child, and our lives changed. What once had been do-able (long hours, getting home after 8pm, working weekends) was no longer acceptable. I longed to spend time with my little Zoom.

Since the time he was very young, I had this achey feeling that each moment I didn’t spend with him was a moment that I would never get back, that I might miss little things, special things, and that when it was all said and done, no paycheck or bonus or plaque or LinkedIn endorsement would make up for any moment lost with my son.

It’s not that I stopped caring about work, but it’s that I started caring about something else.

And the search for balance was on.

Balance vs. Perfection
In the last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot about balance. I think one of my favorite takes on the topic is by the author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). She wrote the following on her Facebook page:

“We are constantly being told that we should be achieving balance — that we should somehow exquisitely be negotiating the relationships between our work lives, our home lives, our romantic lives, our health and well-being, our spiritual selves. You can’t read an interview with a famous woman these days that the journalist does not applaud her for having achieved BALANCE….and then if you turn the pages of that magazine, you will find ten more articles showing how you can achieve balance. too!

Be careful…

The word BALANCE has tilted dangerously close, I fear, to the word PERFECT — another word that women use as weapons against themselves and each other. …

That being the case, I dropped the myth of BALANCE a long time ago. (I buried it right next to PERFECT.) My life seems happiest — as I tried to explain to this young woman the other night — when I just surrender to the madness, and embrace the glorious mess that I am…and also when I embrace the glorious mess that everyone else is, and the glorious mess of the world itself. My life gets the most painful when I try to set the entire mess (myself other people, life itself) into order. “

I feel funny even copying her words because my goodness, it’s Elizabeth Gilbert, but I have to say this made me smile. And it made me think a whole lot about this elusive search for balance.

When we, as modern, amazing, delightfully smart men and women say that we want “balance” in our lives, are we actually saying that we want to be able to cram in all the stuff that we’re supposed to be doing, and making it look easy?

And what exactly is all the stuff we’re supposed to be doing? Having a clean house? An organized garage? A stocked and sparkling refrigerator? A full social calendar and exciting potlucks scheduled with our neighbors?

I don’t actually know anyone that lives like that. (Although Pinterest would have me think otherwise.) And here we are, like Ms Gilbert reflects, butting up on the ideals of “perfection,” strangely masked as “balance.”

Re-Balancing to Match New Priorities
But back to balance … I’m not sure I’d thought of balance in those terms before, but then again I kind of feel like this might be truer than I’d like to admit. As a new mom, I wanted to find a way to do “ALL THE THINGS,”  and my brain wasn’t coming to terms with the fact even from a time perspective, there was no way to do all of that.

And even more importantly, from a heart perspective, if I got really honest with myself, I didn’t really want to do all of those things anymore, because I had new priorities. I didn’t just want to be a part of the “moments” with my son, but I wanted to lay the foundation for a great family relationship with him. I wanted to be a part of his education, his routines, not a mother who worked hard and was rarely around.

For me, balance really does boil down to matching my priorities and desires with where and how I spend my time. It means that I need to be honest with myself about the things I want to do, and upfront about things that I don’t care about (or that no longer serve a purpose for me). 

And after reading Elizabeth’s words, I think the search for balance is also about letting go comparing myself or my family against an unattainable portrait of perfection. It will take a mindful and willful focus to let that go, for sure. 

How do you see balance in your life? What kinds of things have changed your priorities? Did you have to re-evaluate your definition of balance at that time?