Balance is Overrated

kwan

Michelle Kwan, who has superior balance.

I once had very good balance.

As a competitive figure skater, I teetered on a 1/4 inch blade, jumping and twirling. The feeling was exhilarating—a pristine, smooth sheet of ice at 6am, my edge hugging deep curves, a satisfying crunch beneath my boots.

Then I became a mom. I had to put skating aside. I was injury-prone and the thought of being laid up with a stress fracture while having to care for a baby seemed terribly selfish. I said I’d go back when she began sleeping through the night and I could skate having felt rested.

I never felt rested. The baby didn’t sleep. For three years. (Of course, now I can’t get her out of bed to go to school in the morning, but I digress.)

Then I had a second daughter. Skating was no longer important to me. I figured I’d go back when my girls were old enough to skate themselves. But my older daughter never showed interest. And then, just when my younger daughter was at a suitable age to take lessons, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The balance center of my brain was scarred, destroyed.

It’s something you never imagine will happen to you. It will happen to someone else, but not you. When it does, you ask yourself “Why?”. But that’s the wrong question to ask, as it assumes there is a reason. There is no reason. It just happens.

As an author, I’m often asked how I balance writing for children and raising them. Heck, it’s even the name of my blog!

Well, I don’t balance them. I can’t. I find it impossible. Balance is a term that no longer exists in my world.

laundryThere are laundry piles on my living room floor, school papers littering my kitchen counter, things I have to sign and write checks for. I don’t have any more apples left and I don’t have the energy to go buy them. (This will cause a scene later. My daughters must have their apple slices after school!) I have no idea what I’m making for dinner. There are two holes in my bathroom wall from when I yanked the towel rack out to stop myself from falling. My suitcase—from a December trip—remains unpacked in the corner of my bedroom. I’m writing this blog post unshowered, still in my jammies.

But, I have a new submission going out this week. And I just finished the first draft of a hilarious new picture book story and sent it to my critique partners. Two weeks ago when the idea flashed into my brain, I had to search Amazon to see if anyone else has already done it. I couldn’t believe my luck when I found NOTHING. I have high hopes for this manuscript.

But last month, when my kitchen floor was mopped and my bathroom wall still intact, I hadn’t written a thing. I didn’t have writer’s block per se, but I just didn’t feel like writing. I had all our dinners planned, all the clothes washed, and I attended weekly 4th grade basketball games and YMCA ballet lessons. January I was in full mom mode.

If you ask me how I balance writing and parenthood on a day-to-day basis I will answer that I don’t. I’m no good at it. I struggle. I want to go back to sleep after I drop the girls off at school. And sometimes I do. Then I wonder why 3pm comes around so quickly.

I don’t know if I am supposed to balance work and home so gracefully. I don’t think it’s a natural thing to do. Balance, in my opinion, is overrated. Some days writing takes precedence. Other days, I’m nothing but mom. I volunteer at the school, I bake brownies, I chauffeur around town.

It took me a very long time to not feel guilty about not doing housework or not writing a new manuscript. Both my family and my writing are important to me, of course, but one has to suffer while the other thrives. I can’t do it any other way and I’m tired of trying or apologizing to myself when I’m not as perfect as I want to be.

And that’s another thing—perfection is overrated, too.

So come on over, knock on my door and let’s have a cup of tea and chat about our latest manuscripts. You’ll ignore the crumbs on the floor and the fingerprints on the fridge, right?

After all, it’s in the name of art.

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29 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Writing and Life

29 responses to “Balance is Overrated

  1. Great post, Tara! Yes, this is how it works at my house, too. I can only be one thing at a time, at least with any amount of success. So every day I have to choose my battles. Each role has to take turns with the others. You described it perfectly.

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  2. How is it possible that I am the first to comment on this? Tara, if you can’t hear or see me you are missing a standing ovation for this post (AND I’m in the quiet section of the public library [so I don’t have to see the dishes in the sink]-SHHHHHH) This post feels so on-the-mark for me right now. Thank you!

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  3. Cynthia Levinson

    This is a beautiful, brave post, Tara. Thank you for this advice for all of us who feel out of balance, in different ways.

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  4. annastan

    “Balance is overrated.” That is exactly what I needed to hear today. 🙂

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  5. Mike Jung

    I was gonna say this is a perfect description of what “balance” really means, but that would go against the “perfection is overrated” thing, which I really and truly believe in, and what was I talking about?

    Great post, Tara. I do think you’re some kind of superwoman, jsyk, but yes, the balancing act isn’t one where we find some perfect ratio and regimen for making use of our time and energy. It’s an unending and constantly shifting process of juggling our assorted priorities to the best of our abilities.

    I’ll take a cup of lemon ginger, please, and please ignore the foodstains on my clothing…

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  6. Thank you for this. Everyone assumes when we post something on social media about my children, a home project, writing, day job that we are some sort of superwomen. What they don’t know is we are always choosing to drop a ball – the trick is to not always drop the same one!

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  7. This is spot on! Thanks so much for saying it so well (and allowing me to feel in the company of other occasionally discombobulated parent/creatives)!

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  8. Amen. Once again, we are leading parallel lives. Please pass the sugar. 🙂

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  9. annbedichek

    Tara, this gets right to the heart of everything. Balance IS overrated. We can’t do it all — and when people talk about finding a balance, I think that’s what they really mean. And everyone always thinks other people CAN do it all — and ARE dong it all. What we need is more honesty like what you’ve given us today, more confessions of what hasn’t been done. Like today I’ve spent some time critiquing a friend’s manuscript and I’ve done a load of laundry, but in the meantime, I’ve also run out of clean clothes that fit my newborn, so she’s in a half-snapped,outfit until I find the time to go up into the attic and find the next box of clothes. And my lunch is mostly eaten, but the plate is in the middle of the floor of the living room — which is actually just a few feet away from the Christmas Tree that is still up, and surrounded in needles. And I could go on and on.

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  10. Laurie Young

    Thank you for writing this. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with everything at the same level. I find that alternating priorities is the only way things actually get done, but I always feel guilty about the things that are temporarily set aside. It is a no-win situation. I now give myself permission to live an unbalanced life!

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  11. Those skaters, they make it look so easy, right? But there were a lot of graceless falls and bruises to achieve that appearance of effortless balance and perfection. And possibly some unpacked suitcases, a lack of apples, and holes in the wall!

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  12. Such a moving post, Tara. You are such an inspiration! Thanks so much for sharing it–and you–with the world. xo

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  13. Tara – This may be the loveliest thing you’ve ever written. Many hugs and head-nods coming from me!

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  14. I am a poster child for guilt, and in this world that believes in the myth of multi-tasking (don’t try to tell my kids that it doesn’t exist), I struggle with it all the time. Guilt over what I’m not doing when I’m doing this, whatever THIS is. But the reality is that you can’t do it all. We have to keep reminding each other of that: we are doing what needs to be done, one item on the list at a time. Thanks for speaking on this subject.

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  15. I’m reminded of the saying, “You can have it all, but not all at the same time.” My life also goes in swings. Lots of productive writing = everything else pretty much a disaster. Lots of mom and house time = not much writing. And my full-time job always has to get done no matter what. I think it’s good for our kids to see us focusing on what needs to be focused on at any particular moment. And, as they grow up, it’s good for my kids to see their dad and me sometimes focus on something that’s not them. We’re all cogs in the wheel that makes up our family, and the wheel doesn’t always spin just around their needs. Great post!

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  16. Susan Halko

    Thank you, thank you, Tara.
    You have summed up this internal mom duty vs. me duty struggle so beautifully.

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  17. Tara, this post speaks to me so much, and I’m not surprised to see the flurry of other people responding to it. I haven’t got close to the number of responsibilities you do, and still I struggle with the guilt of not writing, or cleaning, or exercising, or [whatevering] as much as I should. What a good reminder that even if it’s not all balancing out every day, it probably will all balance in the end.

    And I’d love to have tea one day! 🙂

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  18. Thank you for sharing your personal story. I too have skated competitively for many years, and after tearing my ACL back in 2010 all I want now is to finish my Junior and Senior Freestyle tests. But I’m also 33 and getting married in April and trying to finish two new manuscripts. I want to meet my skating goals before I start having a family, but it’s just hard to find that right balance between skating, work, writing, and life. I sometimes feel like I’ll never pass my tests and I’m just not good at any of it (including the regular life stuff). And maybe as you say balance just doesn’t exist. We just have to do the best that we can on a given day and try to do more tomorrow. Thank you again for sharing a part of your life with us.

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  19. Obviously you’ve struck a nerve with this amazing post. Everyone seems to agree that we all struggle with finding that non-existent balance between the different parts of our lives. So why is it that we try so hard to hide behind our “super” image? Just one person being honest can open the way for the rest of us. Thank you!

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  20. Oh Tara, what a lovely, lovely post. I so wish I could knock on your door or you could knock on mine and we could chat about our manuscripts over a cup of tea (and ignore whatever piles surround us). My father once said to me, “Sure, you can do everything you want to do, just not at the same time.” I’ve tried to remind myself of that at different phases of my life — we don’t need to balance everything. Some things need to go by the way side and they may or may not be picked up again or pursued. I so identified with the lack of sleep during the baby stage. I actually thought that with all that time off from work and a cute baby sleeping by my side, I would write a novel. Hah! I barely took one shower in a week! Yes, your honesty rings so true. I hope you know that you have touched many readers today.

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  22. Feels like I’m always telling all those other moms, the ones whose homes seem impossibly tidy, to please ignore how messy my house is. Really, I should be inviting other writers over so there’d be no need to explain.

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  23. Shawna Lenore Kastin

    Wow, as a person trying to balance dealing with a chronic illness, job hunting AND writing, this really resonates with me. Sometimes I feel like I’m failing at everything. But then I try to remind myself to take it bird by bird…

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  24. Eva

    isn’t that picture of michelle kwan? What exactly are you a champion of?

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    • That is Michelle Kwan–I thought everyone would recognize that, as she’s doing her signature inside-to-outside edge spiral. I will put a caption underneath now for those who don’t recognize her. As for me, I won the Adult Eastern Sectional Championship in my division back in 2002 and went on to Adult Nationals.

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  26. So grateful to find this post today . . . when I am teetering between guilt and inspiration/grace. I’ve been writing more lately, a lot more, and, conversely letting dinner, housework slide. Thanks for sharing your views on “perfection” and “balance”–ideas that my well help me be more at peace with this teeter-totter that is my life:-)

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  27. tinamcho

    Excellent, honest post! It’s so hard to balance writing, being a mom, wife, etc.. But I’ve learned that when my kids are around, I need to give 100% to them and put writing aside until they’re occupied or away. Thanks, Tara!

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