Last week Josh Spector* shared an article by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang from Thrive Global called Work-Life Balance Is About Years, Not Days. This is basically a fresh take on the ’tilting’ theory of finding balance, something I first read on Planning with Kids years ago and was recently reminded of by Brooke at Slow Your Home.
I like to think I’ve left the silly notion of finding ‘balance’ between work and family and everyday life behind. I’ve accepted that there will never be balance – my heart is always full of family even when work demands my head. This is the reason I always feel slightly heartbroken and why my head explode most days. It’s the reason why time to myself is so bloody important, yet so bloody fleeting.
Balance = impossible.
But if not balance, then what? I still need to / want to work and I still need to / want to care for my children and I still need to / want to have a life outside of both of those things too. I’ve always liked the ’tilting’ theory of work/life balance because it allows us the space to tilt towards the thing that most needs us in that moment, on that day. The kids might not get the best of us on Thursday when our deadlines need to be met, but we’ll be tilting back their way on Friday when the work is done.
It’s such a lovely concept and I’ve been happily living this way since I imploded all over the internets last June, and yet. There are many, many times in any given week where I feel like I’m being split in half as I need to tilt towards both the kids and the work at the same time. Some days I’m split in half, other days I’m just very, very dizzy.
It just hasn’t felt like the answer after all.
Then one day, I found myself saying to Lottie, “you need to solve this on your own because I’m working right now.” I felt a brief swipe of mum guilt as I said it, but this was quickly followed by a rush of pure serenity. I felt like I was finally getting it right. The missing ingredient in the work/life balance wasn’t balancing and it wasn’t tilting. It was the kids. It was years and years and years of the kids.
Now, Lottie is eight and I’m well aware that a two-year-old won’t “solve stuff on their own”. But they can wait. They can learn that mum has other things going on besides themselves. They can be taught boundaries around when mum is available and when she isn’t. I wouldn’t actually know, of course, because despite being a working mum for almost every bit of my kids’ childhoods, I’ve never tested the theory. I was so caught up in believing that my kids should always come first, even when they clearly could not come first, that I preferred to split myself in half rather than test this theory. Heaven forbid I ever let the kids think they weren’t #1 in my world.
It seems ridiculous in hindsight, which is exactly why, when I add the “measure balance in years, not days” theory to the “tilting” theory, I instantly feel better. My kids are getting older and it’s taught me something very important:
The moments matter, the years matter, the days don’t matter so much
The days have a tendency to fall into each other and become one giant day. The moments within those days are what we are left with and the moments balance the years. My kids will not remember that on Tuesday last week I snapped at them for interrupting me on a work call anymore than they will remember that a month ago I left work early to take them to the park after school. One day, another day, both just days. Instead, they’ll remember that mum was a working mum and that’s just how they grew up. Bad or good, liked it or didn’t like it, that was how our family rolled and that was what we did.
They’ll also remember, fleetingly, like a stone skipping across a deep pond, the little moments we created in our days. A laugh at breakfast, a cuddle at bedtime, rainbow painted toe nails, an in-joke only we get. And, of course, the moments where I asked them to step up, to wait, to solve, to regulate, to be independent and considerate. The moments I asked them to grow up just that little bit more.
All I know is this: there’s a lot of useless angst left behind as the years rattle along. Since I’ve taken my foot off the accelerator a bit, the car is still getting us where we need to be and the kids are still in the back seat, happy as clams most days, pissed off at the world other days.
There’s your “balance” right there.
How are you doing with the ‘having it all’ thing?
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