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1.20.2011

What does balance mean for me?

Photo by Ashley Faulkner
Having children has changed me.  Everyone says that, and I'm sure it's true for everyone in different ways.  For me, besides the typical stuff people say (giving me perspective, making me grow up, and making me realize what is really important in life... you know, all that cheesy stuff) I have also changed in ways that seemingly have little to do with children.  I am more confident.  I have more energy.  I have more motivation.  I have more follow through.  I am more assertive and social.  Before I had kids I spent far more time than I care to admit doing two things- watching TV, and sleeping.  If I wasn't working, odds were good I was doing one of those two things.  It wasn't at all unusual for me to spend an entire day watching TV on my days off. 
I can't think of a single other thing that I did, prior to having kids, that I spent more than a few weeks on.  I learned to knit in college, but I never seriously worked on anything until I was pregnant with Oliver.  I sold Mary Kay for like a month and a half.  I sporadically baked bread, but never more than two or three times a year.  I didn't meal plan.  I was lucky if I made a shopping list.  I guess I have read consistently ever since kindergarten- if you were to ask me "what are you reading" at any time in my life to date I would always have an answer.  In fact, it would be unusual for me to only give a single title (at the moment I am reading 5 books... 6 if you count Peter Reinhardt's Artisan Bread Every Day, but I don't usually count cook books).  But besides that I have never stuck to anything.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not a total slacker.  When it came to school and work I was very motivated- I was on the Dean's list and have always got promotions and commendations far faster than average at pretty much every job I've ever had.  But I can't say I ever had much of a balanced life, and my mental state was constantly in a state of flux.

Then I had kids.  Well, one kid first.  As with many new moms, the first few months were a difficult adjustment and now I can barely remember them.  And I can't say the change happened overnight- particularly when Izzy was a newborn I still spent most of my time just watching TV while I held her, while she slept, and while I breastfed.  But as she got older and began to interact with me more (and more and more and more) I began to be more active in her life.  I started turning the TV off after watching the morning news and taking her outside to play.  Or we went to the park, or a playdate with some friends.  She was the perfectly portable child- past three months she seldom cried in the car unless she needed something, and I could take her anywhere with only minimal stress.  So we went a lot.  As she passed her first year I began to apply what I knew from being a preschool teacher- I made sure she had different materials and different experiences to enrich her play.  I involved her in my cooking.  In our old house I had about three square feet of counter space, butted up against a wall, where I did all my prep work.  I put a chair up against the counter, where it intersected with the wall, so that she was blocked in on one side by the wall, one side by the back of the chair, and on the other side by me (it's not generally a good idea to use a chair in this way, so if you do this make sure you're EXTRA careful... even with my safety measures she fell off a few times... for a much safer way to have your children help you in the kitchen check out this product).  She helped me to measure, stir and even sometimes cut up ingredients and watched me cook.

I also began to develop my own hobbies, and actually stick to them.  I started to knit more and got a sewing machine.  Then, after Oliver was born, I did two things that really affected my life.  1- I started this blog (which, although it has fallen by the wayside, I have stuck to for two years now!) and 2- I joined Stroller Strides.  I was really apprehensive about joining, though.  Many other moms that I knew through my cloth diaper group were in Stroller Strides and raved about it, but most of the reasons they cited for loving the program so much I didn't feel would make much of a difference to me- social contact (I don't like exercising socially) and not having to leave their kid (I have no problem leaving my kids, especially since I don't get to do it much).  But I needed more motivation to get fit and move more, so I did the free day, thought about it some more, and ultimately joined.  I was a member and attended regularly until just before we moved last spring (so about 6 months, total).  Did you know that if you exercise consistently for six months or more you're far more likely to stick with it for the rest of your life?  Intellectually I have known this since college, but I've never been able to stick with something for 6 months before.  So while I don't have a Stroller Strides program here, I still credit them with my continued commitment to exercising. 

So parenting has brought me balance, and I can't even explain why.  I should be MORE frazzled and MORE tired and have LESS time to do things like blog, run, knit, and bake bread.  Really, then number of hours in a day is the same for everyone, but being a parent has killed (most of) my desire to procrastinate everything until the last minute.  I know that my kids and their physical and emotional needs will monopolize most of my day.  So I know that if I have five minutes while they play or nap or eat I need to use it to it's full advantage.  I also know that I need to work smarter, not harder.  I make the things I KNOW I have to do as easy for myself and as efficient as possible.  For example, I do all our laundry on Tuesday, fold it Tuesday night, and put it away Thursday... and that is it.  Anything else that gets washed during the week out of necessity (like a load of kitchen towels) gets thrown in a basket until I fold on Tuesday night.  I have reminders of the tasks I have to do each week or month (and like to procrastinate or forget) in my phone, my ipad, and my computer.  Food prep tasks that need to be done ahead I mark on my meal plan board in the kitchen on the day they need to be done.  And my recent push to eliminate paper has done wonders for my efficiency and my state of mind, simply because the management tasks that I need to do (meal planning, bill paying, recipe filing, research, etc) are easier to accomplish on my electronic mediums, and because I don't spend any time moving, cleaning, or organizing piles and piles of papers as I used to.  Of course, there are still piles in my "office" (ie the couch).  But one is a pile of gardening books, seed catalogues, and my garden journal, and the other is a pile of magazines I (still) need to read that date back to before I stopped buying magazines.

Balance, to me (as I am starting to learn) means doing these things daily:
  • I have to limit my use of electronics to primarily those that enrich my life or help me be more efficient (meal planning software, recipe storage app, ical, Things for mac, blogger, zinio, etc) and seriously limiting other uses like gaming and facebook.
  • I have to stick with my "two cartoons a day" rule with my kids.  They would watch TV all day if I would let them, and sadly there have been days when, for various reasons, I have.  But they are happier kids when I limit them.
  • I have to eat mostly whole foods.  And eat something living (like yogurt, sauerkraut, or kombucha... btw, anyone in central MN have an extra kombucha mother they need to get rid of???).
  • I have to do something bloggy, be it self promotion, editing and cleaning up past posts, or actually posting.
  • I have to avoid procrastination of the daily tasks I don't enjoy (do em' so they're done!).
  • I have to have contact with some outside adult entity, be it a family member, a friend, or even an online conversation.
  • I have to have conversations with each child.
  • I have to read a book to my kids (and despite my large affinity for reading, this is one I struggle with).
And these things have to happen weekly:
  • I have to take a few hours away from the house, without kids.
  • I have to exercise at least three times a week.
  • I have to do productive activities like gardening, baking, canning, sewing, knitting... obviously I don't have the time to all of these things all of the time, but I have to be involved in SOMETHING that produces a useful finished product.
  • I have to provide enrichment to my children's play area so they continue to learn through play.
  • I have to have some time to read... this one I don't struggle with so much.
  • I have to have conversations with my husband, both serious and otherwise.
  • I have to keep my environment and my finances in control and organized.
That is what balance looks like to me right now.  My primary goal each day or week, beyond meeting the basic needs of my children, my family, and myself are to accomplish each of these.  When I do I am happier.  I think that is the breakthrough that having kids has brought about- sitting on the couch and watching TV doesn't make me happy.  Being crazy busy and getting things done does.

What does balance mean for you?  Or are you so out of balance you don't even know? 

As a final thought, I encourage you to please put some extra time and thought into assessing your life- are you happy?  Do you feel balanced?  Do you feel frantic, anxious, resentful, or frustrated most of the time?  You may be thinking "it's selfish to worry about how I feel, I need to focus all my energy on taking care of my family."  But it's not selfish.  You are a better mom if you are happy.  You are a better wife, as well.  Think of yourself as a pitcher (I am sure I have used this analogy before- I stole it from one of my college professors...).  You pour and you pour and you pour all day long.  If you don't take some time to refill each day you're going to run out.  I say this because so many women are guilty of this, and I think I only avoid this trap most of the time because of my talent for deep introspection and my distaste for guilt.  If something is bugging me, I change it.  If I'm unhappy, I change something.  But not every woman has the ability to recognize this.  So take a minute and reflect.

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