Work, rest, move, play...everyday. This is a definition of balance I remember reading in a book written by Iyanla Vanzant (Peace from Broken Pieces). I thought it was brilliant. In our fast-paced lives we all talk about the importance of balance, but I had yet to ever hear it defined in such a clear way. In my private practice I preach about balance, but until I read this definition did I realize, as a working mom of 3, how far off balance I was.
What is balance? Balance is not an accident and I realized after reading this definition I hadn't been planning for balance. I had been reacting to and averting crisis. For instance, I noticed that although my husband and I knew we needed date nights, we never planned for them. One day I'd just look at him from the end of my rope and say, "When was the last time we had a date?" He'd shrug and we'd scramble for a babysitter. Creating balance is work, it's planned for, and it requires creativity - thinking outside the box.
I have noticed that working to get balanced sometimes throws my feelings into a more stressful state for a temporary period of time. For example, training a new babysitter about the ins and outs of your children and home is more stressful than not doing it, but once she (or he) is trained you have more flexibility and less stress than you had before. Sometimes I have to force myself to fight through this part to achieve balance. I've discovered balance is not something I achieve and then the work is done. Finding balance is an ongoing, never-ending process. You'll never get it done, so stop beating yourself up for STILL not feeling balanced. [...]
What helps me achieve balance one day may not help me feel balanced the next. And so, I have to notice how I feel in every moment and honor those feelings. That last sentence sounds wonderful and is easier said than done. No one ever taught me how to do that and I didn't see it modeled. In fact, much of my early life I felt stressed and worried and I didn't know any different. I thought this state was "normal." Over the years I've found a new, less tense, normal and I'm sure in years to come my definition of balance will change again and again. So first, ask yourself, "What would being balanced feel like?" Next, ask yourself what you need to feel this way. Sometimes the answer to that question looks more like a lengthy grocery list and can feel overwhelming. Breathe, and just pick one thing at a time, but know everything on the list is important.
Know your needs are important and you have the right to ask for them to be met. The first step in getting a need met is getting clear about what it is and what you need, the second step is knowing you have the right for that need to be met, and the third step is either giving yourself permission to meet the need and/or asking for support from someone else to get the need met. Shew! This one's hard. Many people are out of balance because they have been taught to neglect their own needs and this is magnified by the fact that we think asking for our needs to be met is selfish.
Many, including myself, will "beat around the bush" hoping our loved ones "get the hint" and when they don't we get angry. Expecting people to be mindreaders sets a relationship up for failure. I'm always telling people to be REALLY clear. Clients will say, "I was!" Then when we rehash the details of the interaction I find out she had a very serious need but requested it to be met in a joking way; laughing with a smile on her face. Or she went through a list of things that have happened in the past that she doesn't want or need. Pretend you're talking to someone who speaks a different language...from another country....or planet for that matter. I wouldn't say, "Ugh, I'm so tired," and hope that someone who speaks German, and a little English, to get the hint that I want him to do the dishes. But I would expect my husband to infer this message and if he didn't I'd probably judge him as stupid or inconsiderate. Be ridiculously clear. Sometimes when I need a nap and all my dramatic non-verbal, tired behavior isn't getting noticed I say to my husband, "I need you to tell me it's okay to take a nap." And he is usually surprised and says, "Of course! GO!".
Get more support. As a counselor who works with couples and families I strongly believe that most of us don't have the supports in place to be balanced most of the time. Watch the movie Babies. It's a documentary following 4 babies from 4 different countries. Pay particular attention to the African baby. From a developmental perspective this baby has it made socially, emotionally, cognitively, and physically. From a Western persepctive it's hard to get over the dirt and flies. You'll see many people of all ages holding the African baby, different people and children playing with and caring for the African baby, and moms breastfeeding together, chatting, and sharing food. It's not normal for our species to raise children alone, separate, without lots of connection, but I know I felt separate, alone, and disconnected when I had my first child on most days.
It took a lot of imbalance for me to reach out for more support and good connection. I'm still working on it. I don't like doing it, but I force myself through. A few months ago we found ourselves in the middle of a childcare fiasco. I reached out to 4 stay-at-home extraordinare moms I know and pieced together intermittent childcare and car pooling for 6 weeks. They reported they were happy to do it. I like helping other people when I can, too. And now me asking for help from them has opened the door for them to ask for help from me and I hope they will. I like feeling like I'm part of a villiage. Maybe the support you need doesn't look like car pooling. Ask yourself what you'd most like help with. Can you give this to yourself? I hope you can. Doing it all is overrated.
Learn to say "No." Learning to say "no" is fairly simple. Most of us have great practice at it as toddlers. But WHEN do we say it? This part can be painful! Ready? If it doesn't give you energy, you have no business doing it. I ask people, "Does it make your heart go up or down?" If the answer is down, JUST SAY NO. Keep it simple. Most people after they say "no" end up defending their answer, "because this" and "because that"; this isn't necessary. Keep your answer as short as possible and be confident that taking care of you is important. If you want to want to do the thing requested of you, but it still makes your heart go down say, "I want to say yes, but I have to shift some other things before I do." If it's possible to shift the other things consuming your energy then do so. When you say yes to someone when your heart goes down you'll have resentment. This is more disrespectful and harmful to your relationship than just saying no in the first place.
If you can hear what I'm about to say next relief will sweep over you. You give away your balance. No one can ever take it from you. But if you subscribe to the opposite belief you will have resentment. This. is. huge.
Be creative. Think outside your box. Sometimes I get stuck in a "woe is me" attitude and this blocks creativity in finding balance. Thinking, "I can't have this" or "I can't do that" sends my energy down. Thinking, "I need x...how can I get it?" sends my energy up and I feel more open to possibilities. We have a 3-month-old and she's unpredictable in the evening. I've spent the last few months bemoaning the fact that my husband and I haven't had a date night because she's so unpredictable. Woe is me. One day when I wasn't sleep deprived I thought, "I need a date with my husband. How can I get it?" Suddenly it became very clear: a breakfast date! Why I was so attached to our date time being in the evening I'll never know. I'm almost ashamed it's taken me 3 kids to figure this out!
Feeling guilty? Stop it. One of the most helpful things I've ever heard is, "The best thing you can do for your husband and children is to keep yourself happy." When I'm happy and balanced I WANT to play with my kids. When I overcommit myself playing with my kids feels like a chore. I want to model for them how to stay balanced. I want them to see me resting, exercising, reading a book for pleasure, and working (in the home or out) because all of these things are important for me to feel balanced. I want my cup to be full so I have more to give to them.
To be TOTALLY honest...as I write this blog my cup isn't full! I'm tired. What do I need? Sleep. How can I get it? Well, it's too late to take a nap, so I'll just go to bed early. I can hear my kids upstairs. My husband just came down, said he's fixing leftovers for the kids for dinner and asked if I'd like to join. I said, "No." We eat dinner at home as a family 99% of the time. I plan meals, grocery shop, and do most of the cooking. Family dinner time is important to me. It was how I was raised and I like it. Today, I need a break from interaction. My brain isn't firing on all cylinders. The thought of eating dinner with my family usually makes my heart go up. Today it feels better to be alone working on my blog. I've been with my kids most of the day. I want to want to be up there, and I know this feeling is temporary because of sleep deprivation. I'm giving myself a break because I don't feel well. If I don't listen to myself and go upstairs before I want to, I might resent my family. I could be snappy with my kids or my husband and damage my relationships in ways a balanced me wouldn't want. I'm THAT tired. I'm aware I lose my handy dandy communication skills when I'm tired and can quickly become something that resembles a fire-breathing dragon. So I'll say to myself what I say to my kids, "It's okay to be crabby, but you can't act out on other people. You can come out of your room when you can be nice." Nice and balanced, that is ;-)
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