Thursday - Knocked Off Balance: Doing Time
So first things first: Introductions. My name is Molly, I am a 36-year-old working mother of a four-year-old daughter, Eliza, and three-year-old twin sons Finn and Silas. My husband, Charlie, works part-time as a civil engineer running his own business and occasionally subcontracting out for other firms. We live in small city about 40 minutes north of Boston.
I was asked to write this blog about my day-to-day life as a working mother of three kids, and of my struggle to maintain some sense of work-life balance. There are undoubtedly also many probabilities playing out in my life each day, some of which I’m not so sure I even want to know. What are the chances that you’ll get pregnant with twins instead of that second child you were planning on being your last? What’s the likelihood of all three children melting down as soon as you sit down at a restaurant table? What are the chances that my husband and I can have an uninterrupted conversation at any time in the next two years? What are the odds that I’ll emerge from this next decade with my sanity intact?
When I first sat down to try to hash out a blog post I thought I’d focus on this whole concept of work-life balance, but all I could think of was work-life what? Balanced is not a word that I’d use in describing my life. In a previous job, one of my clients refused to even use the term work-life balance, but instead called it “navigating work and life,” and those words resonate much more with me. The idea of work-life balance implies that it’s actually possible to achieve a sense of balance, and I genuinely believe that it’s just not possible. And thinking that only sets us up for failure, for the sense that we’re not living life the way we’re supposed to, that we’re missing out on some sense of clarity, a fine point of balance that other people are somehow enjoying but remains elusive to us.
Luckily, I have a handful of working mom friends who are honest about their own experiences, and so I know that in fact none of us feels balanced. Instead, we’re pulled left and right, trying to do our best at work and as parents, and we often end up feeling like we’re not doing well in either court and really, really tired. How can you have balance under those circumstances?
That’s why all of those parenting and self-help articles packed with tips on how to balance work and life—set out clothes the night before, make a date with yourself to exercise, and while you’re at it, make a date with your husband once a week—are so patently ridiculous and also insulting. First of all, I hate the idea of making time as opposed to having time. I CAN’T MAKE TIME WHERE NO TIME EXISTS! And second of all, I do lay out my clothes the night before, plan out my week’s worth of menus, and I’ve practically eliminated all standards of cleanliness, but I’m still running through life like one of those downhill skiers I’ve been watching in the Olympics—racing against the clock at breakneck speed, on the verge of completely losing control and flaming out in a big way. But I refuse to believe that makes me a bad person. Instead I choose to believe that I was dealt a tough hand (that whole three kids in two years thing) and I’m just doing the best I can. People constantly say things to me along the lines of “I don’t know how you do it,” or “Wow, your hands are so full.” I always tell them that it’s not pretty, but we get it done.
When we first had our twin sons our oldest was just 19 months old. After the first few days home with the three kids it became clear that it was going to be really, really hard. Nervous breakdown hard. My husband told me that he felt like we’d been handed a prison sentence, that we were serving a three-to five-year term and the best way to handle it was to put our heads down and plow through. Since then we refer to this stage of life as “doing time.” We’re just trying to get through with our relationship and sanity as intact as possible. Forget about balance!
My pediatrician once told me that instead of worrying about how many servings of vegetables the kids take in every day I should think about it over the course of a week and I would probably be surprised how things even out. I’m applying the same principle to my life. Each day isn’t going to be a microcosm of perfect balance, but over the course of a week or two, things usually do work themselves out in a way that may not resemble any recognized definition of balance, but that’s just going to have to be good enough.