“Mom! The Monsters!” was the pick for our bedtime book last night. The story opens with the main character describing his fears: “Once upon a time, I was very, very afraid at night. I was afraid because I thought they were hiding in the dark. Hairy monsters with sharp teeth who smelled like dirty socks.”
The character is afraid of the dark and the monsters that are hiding in his room. Throughout the story, his mom vacuums up the monsters (dust bunnies), washes and irons the ghosts (towels and sheets), sweeps the ogres away (breadcrumbs), and tidies up the witches (closet).
He ends the story by talking about how tough his mom is: “That’s why I’m not scared of anything now. Monsters, ghosts, witches, and ogres don’t come to my bedroom anymore: they are too afraid! Because they know that their biggest nightmare lives in my house… my mom!”
After I finished reading the story, my son turned to me and said, “No matter how busy moms are, they sure are good at taking care of stuff.” His take-away that night was that moms make it happen, no matter what.
This idea got me thinking about a conversation I recently had with my daughter after a long day at work. I had just walked in the door and could hardly wait to take off my high-heeled boots. As I tugged my sweaty, swollen feet out, I must have sighed loudly because she turned to me and said, “Is being a mom hard? It seems like you do so much.”
Her comment seemed so fitting because, like most moms, I struggle with finding work-life balance. This mythical idea that the world of work and the world of motherhood should just magically come together and women should be able to do it all has put a lot of undue stress on moms who are already doing the best they can.
We assume when we hear the phrase “work-life balance” that the two entities somehow live in harmony. The reality is, work and home life are going to collide; it doesn’t mean you have to give one up in order to save the other, it just means that you need to be aware of it and not put extra stress on yourself when it does.
A woman who I admire greatly once said to me: “I am from a different generation than you. I am sorry that many women of your generation feel this pressure. I think when we moms from the 70s told our girls that they can do anything, we forgot to make sure that they understood that they don’t have to do everything.”
I go back to her words often; finding comfort in them now that I’ve realized that work-life balance is not an equation I have to solve. I wonder what would happen if we shifted the goal from being balanced to being centered? What if we start telling ourselves that we don’t have to have it all?
Anne-Marie Slaughter says it perfectly in her article, “The Failure of the Phrase ‘Work-Life Balance‘” in The Atlantic: “The notion of balance summons an image of a see-saw or a scale, a stable equilibrium in which people have the right amounts of different things that they want. It is the ultimate expression of having it all – just enough of this and just enough of that.”
The truth is, I have spent many years believing that I have to do it all, and in the process I lost myself. I wonder what it would feel like to finally let go of the notion that we need to have it all? What if I, instead, embrace integration and being present, over this idea that we must have equal parts home and work.
I’ve spent too much time modeling for my daughter that women should strive to have it all and in the process, I’ve also taught her what it looks like to live a life full of anxiety, worry, and disappointment.
As I begin to make this journey towards being centered, I find encouragement and peace in the words of Slaughter: “Balance is a luxury, something only the very luckiest can ever attain. Equality – of the activities that are equally necessary for our survival and flourishing – is a better framework, as it demonstrates why care is something everybody needs to do and everybody needs access to. That’s not about balancing work and life. That’s about valuing all the activities that society needs for humans to flourish.”