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Relax, mama: Working mom balance is always a work-in-progress

Sometimes a mama’s life feels a little like keeping 100 spinning plates in the air.

Her job, her house, her marriage, the kids, her health and wellbeing. All of those things could sap a 24-hour-day with no effort. Add in potential extras like church/community involvement or caring for an extended family member and you’ve got a woman who is probably craving balance in it all, because it all demands so much of her.

Or, she’s craving a nap.

That was—and is—me, at least. At the end of a work week with a few late nights at the office, I’ll do the math and figure out that I’ve spent a max 90 minutes each day with my daughter. These aren’t fun, family-bonding minutes. These are move-along-to-the-next-thing minutes. Getting her up and ready for daycare. Getting her home, fed, bathed, and in bed.

Or the opposite is true—after a few days of a sick baby at home, I’ll carry around this subtle, ever so slightly panicky feeling that I’m a million years behind at work and everyone at the office thinks I’m a slacker because I was home with my kid.

In these seasons, I find myself wishing I was better at balancing work and motherhood. Maybe because I crave a way to stop carrying guilt of my perception that I'm falling short in one area to the other one.

I know it doesn't have to be this way.

I was about seven months into motherhood when I heard a perspective that was absolutely game-changing. It was a simple concept. But that’s the ironic thing about something speaks to your soul—it’s more often than not a simple idea, waiting right in front of you.

It came from a department-wide meeting with one of our Vice Presidents at our company. This woman is one of those who looks like she’s got her life together approximately 2 million times more than you do: an executive at a successful company, a darling family with two young children, and the most coordinated wardrobe I’ve ever seen. She’s respected by her peers and those who work for her, she’s kind and caring yet assertive and visionary.

She probably only eats healthy things like kale and quinoa.

We were closing out the meeting with a brief Q&A when a younger employee asked her how she balanced work and personal life. She paused and smiled as if this seemingly simple question had an answer that was hard-fought and well-earned after much struggle.

Mamas know the feeling, right? I do. You have this deep longing of figuring out how to balance it all, like it’s a finite place that you arrive at one day. So many spinning plates spiraling around at once and so much resting on each one. It can be a soul-crushing feeling, the longing for balance. And the hope of finding it “one day” deferred to a next day, a next week, a next month.

But she told us that she realized the idea of finding balance is not a finish line or a place we arrive to, never to leave again. It’s more like walking on a gymnast’s balance beam; a thoughtful discipline to practice vs. a place of arrival.

You are always adjusting, always using mental effort and physical energy to stay on the beam. When learning to balance on the beam, you are wobbling back and forth, throwing your limbs and torso around as you adjust to it. As you learn and practice, it becomes more natural and effortless. Seasons can come that make you feel like you are learning the beam all over again. But it’s always a place of movement, a practice to master. You begin to listen to your mind and body with an attuned ear so you can adjust earlier, quicker, smoother.

And what’s so interesting is this: you usually only need slight movements to find balance. To feel centered again.

Craving some quality time with your kids and feeling like work is taking up most of their waking hours? Say no to the guilt of putting work aside and grab 20 minutes with your kids at the park.

Hint: You’ll actually perform better at work if you do.

Feeling like the only conversations you have are with your littles and it’s got you a little on edge? Give yourself grace for being impatient and ask a friend to grab coffee for 30 minutes or an hour, if you’ve got it. You’ll have more patience with your kiddos afterward.

Has work been at the back of your mind recently because the kids have needed some extra time and attention? Set 1-2 small goals for the next few days at work, and crush each one of them. You’ll feel better once you see some tangible results that you achieved.

If you are like me, the first time you do anything mentioned above will be difficult. Like a rookie on a beam, you’ll wobble a lot. Guilt is not an easy emotion to silence. The first time I took my daughter Ella to the park when I realized I was craving some time with her after a lot of time at work, I was tense the whole way there. Guilt was screaming in my ear—you’re being selfish, you’re slacking off, you are lazy. But after hearing her dissolve into giggles on the swings, the guilt got a little quieter.

And I laughed with her, grateful for a moment to be present with her, to be her mama.

And I came back to work the next day with a lighter heart and a more ready mind to take on the projects ahead of me.

The pressure to reach a destination of a balance is off—because that place doesn’t exist. Instead, we can start practicing the balance beam. Becoming comfortable in the learning and wobbling. Listening to what feels off so we can adjust. Putting aside guilt—because when did guilt ever make you better at anything? Being gracious with ourselves if we topple over—because it happens to all of us. The point is to keep going.

Because when we don’t take a moment to inventory our one and only life, we’ll always remain in the wondering and craving, the guilt and the restlessness. Isn’t that the goal of balance? To soak it all in and make the most of our days.

And yeah—maybe also to occasionally have a glass of wine while reading a good book.

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