Seeking Balance: Taking a Closer Look

Oct 12, 2012
My latest blog was posted on the Amsterdam Mamas website today ( In it, I reveal my own journey toward finding work-life balance and pass on some tips for how others can as well. You can also read it here . . .

When both my kids attended elementary school, there was notably quite a bit more breathing room to gain more grip on the theme of balance. Yet, actually achieving balance between mothering, working and “partnering” still isn’t a piece of cake. It’s become a passionate subject for me, and I wish to share some of my experience here.

Before I first became a mama over eight years ago, I naively thought it was relatively straight forward. MY mother was the full-time, stay-at-home sort and raised me to believe that I could have it all: motherhood, happy marriage and a career. So I never doubted it was possible . . . and this is why I felt shell-shocked when I tried it.

What I quickly found was that I wasn’t able to do any of the three “jobs” 100%, and my challenge was to either accept that or come up with a different plan. What kept rolling around in my head was, “But I’m supposed to be able to manage all of this!”– added pressure, which made matters worse. What I now realize is that my mother really wanted that to be a reality for me, when in fact she tried and couldn’t figure it out for herself either.

I wallowed for a long while, trying to remain the supportive wife, a do-whatever-it-takes employee AND the every-meal-is-self-made kind of mother I grew up with. It was a complete set-up for failure . . . all my expectations on each front far higher than was humanly possible to achieve.

Then I must have reached some kind of breaking point and got honest with myself and with my partner. We had a long talk, which began with my need to feel more connected with him and a plea for more dates. He responded by saying he didn’t even feel connected to himself and that some “self-care time” was his first priority. I swallowed hard, tried to empathize with the need he was expressing and not feel rejection. Fortunately, he added that if he could only get that kind of time, he would be a lot more fun and relaxed on our dates.

Whew! So he wanted that, too! He also helped me realize that I too had a (completely forgotten) need for self-care. Instead of complaining during our dates, wouldn’t it be great to go into them feeling rejuvenated? So, we made a plan: one evening for me; one evening for him; completely free of home duties; just find ways to restore the worn-out soul.

This was our strategy to find balance, apart and together. We fed our individual passions on those free evenings and had at least one connecting date a month. But it’s what ultimately worked for us, and not a one size-fits-all strategy. Anyone looking for more balance may want to consider the following tips:

Values vs. Time Spent exercise

1. Take a pack of post-it (sticky) notes and write down—one per note—the values you hold closest to your heart. Be honest with yourself, and try to think primarily about what is inside of YOU and less about, say, expectations of others. Consider a particular time span (a week, month) to help you zone in on 5-10 ongoing, routine priorities, including those you don’t find much or any time for but wish you could. You might include for example: “spending quality time with x person,” “expanding my passion for x,” etc.

2. Order your stack of priorities from most to least important. You might also consider grouping, but try to avoid “ties” between different values, as hard as this may be.

3. Take a hard look at your list and consider how much time (across your chosen time period) you actually dedicate to each value. For the best impact, you might sketch two multi-colored pie charts to help visualize the difference between what you want and what you actually do.

4. Let it sink in (without added guilt, please) – is there something you’d really like to change?

Communicate on the level of needs instead of strategies

When we talk to others about our feelings and needs, we are being honest with ourselves and “owning” what’s going on inside of us. In return, we often receive compassionate responses. Yet when we jump too soon to strategies (how we prefer to resolve issues), that’s where conflict happens. So if, after the Values vs. Time Spent exercise, you decide to make some changes, communicate this with others from whom you seek support based on your feelings and value-driven needs you wish to meet. Stay on this level as long as you can, so that joint creativity happens, instead of making demands about (your) new strategies. (For more information, see Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.)

Learn to respect your choices

We are constantly making choices about how we spend our time. Often, these aren’t conscious choices, because we typically act and react while set on “automatic pilot,” which is built largely from patterns from our past. We all feel irritated sometimes about how we are spending our time, especially when we perceive that we have no choice. But in reality, we are always making our own choices; it just doesn’t always feel that way. I find that it helps when I ask myself “I choose (fill in the blank) because I want (fill in the blank).”

A personal example: “I choose to spend hours each week meal-planning, shopping and cooking, because I want especially the kids to eat nutritious foods.” In this way, when I feel irritation about yet another evening spent slaving over the stove, I am reminded that it is my value I am honoring. I’ve come to believe that there’s always some underlying value, norm or perhaps even expectation from others that steer how I’m spending my time. Once I can get a grip on what’s driving my choices, I can either choose to change them OR better live with their consequences.

Cara Crisler
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