About two weeks ago Don and I took the kids to the Austism walk that happens every year around Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Don’s work sponsors a team for the walk to raise money for Autism awareness and they do a nice job of having activities for kids and a nice little BBQ after the walk itself is over. Inevitably at events like these I get cornered by some of the other mothers and the conversation quickly turns to our children. A few of the women, some part-time workers, some stay at home moms, asked me exactly how I manage to balance work and my family. My response to that was hysterical laughter.
I’m sure I’ve written about the concept of balance between work and home before but I’m too lazy to go back and figure out what post I talked about it in. It seems to come up in conversation even more now that I have two children instead of just one. I get asked constantly if I work and when people find out that both Don and I have full-time jobs, in challenging fields nonetheless, I get a mixture of reactions. Most of the time people are either horrified that I leave my children with someone else so many hours a week or they want to know my secrets for managing to juggle both home and work effectively.
Let me tell you guys a giant, goddamn spoiler: I don’t. I don’t balance both work and home at all. The thing is the word balance implies that things are evenly distributed at all times. It implies that I can function as an awesome mother, star employee, and bangin’ wife simultaneously. That shit is just.not.possible. The laws of the universe combined with my patience, simple physics, and planetary alignment do not allow this to happen.
The reality of the situation is some days I feel like I am on the top of my game at work. I feel like everything works, I am awesome, no one is smarter than me, and BRING IT ON BITCHES. On those days however I feel like I struggle as a mother/wife. I have a shorter than usual patience fuse with my kids, the idea of my husband even breathing in the same room irritates the shit out of me, and the concept of cleaning my home or cooking makes me want to claw my eyes out with a spork.
On the other hand some days I get to work and feel deflated before I even start. Nothing works on those days, I make stupid mistakes, and I feel like I don’t even deserve the Masters degree that I rightfully earned. The thing is when I get home I feel like the best mother in the world on those days. I’m reading books with my son, I have infinite patience for baby banshee fits, I want to have long conversations with my husband, and I make dinner and wipe down the counters before Don even gets home.
Since I have had children I have had exactly zero days where I felt like I could be awesome at all things at once. Yes, you read that correctly, zero days. At the very best I have felt mediocre at both my job and my home life on the same day. This is why I struggle with the idea that mothers should be able to “do it all” or “balance home and work.” That idea that one human being can do everything well all at once is ridiculous. It sets expectations on us that are just not possible.
Honestly I don’t believe in that concept of balance as it seems to be defined by the world we live in right now. Balance to me implies instantaneous perfection. The best way I can explain it is to think of walking a tightrope. If you don’t properly balance your weight at every instant you will fall. Life just doesn’t work like that. We don’t spontaneously combust if we aren’t equally proportioning the pieces of our life at every instant. Instead I think the better word is equilibrium. That word implies that forces in all directions have found a way to distribute themselves equally. The way it applies to this particular life situation is simple: it means I have the same number of days where I feel like a shitty mother as I feel like a shitty employee. I know now that I can’t do everything right in one day. It doesn’t even make sense to set that expectation. I do however feel like if I can get to the end of the month or year having had as many good days as bad days, both as a mother and an employee, that I have found a sort of life equilibrium. The scales will be level.
Once I finally got my mind around this notion that everything would even out over time I felt better. I felt better about having the occasional bad day at work. I didn’t beat myself up quite so badly when I lost my patience with my son more quickly than I should have. I felt less guilty when Don and I opted to just kind of pass out early instead of staying up and having a conversation. It’s almost freeing to not hold such ridiculous expectations of myself. It makes me feel less broken, less frustrated, more human.
I’m not sure who decided that mothers had to be some sort of mythical, unicorn like creatures who poop rainbows and had no space for anything less than perfection. Maybe it is more our own perception of ourselves than a societal one. I really don’t now. Regardless we all need to give ourselves a break, pour a glass of wine (whiskey?) and do a better job of assessing ourselves over time. Let’s not judge how we’re doing in 24 hour increments but instead average over time. If it works for science it should work for motherhood.