Why I never use the word BALANCE

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Balance has been a word that has rubber-balled it’s way through my life from the moment my kids came into this world. I’ve never been one to put complete focus and attention in one area. I am just shy of looking like a poodle on a unicycle juggling tennis balls most of the time. In my quest for simplicity, I have felt a little inadequate, guilty, and in some instances the F word crept in as well…

FAILURE.

Feeling like you’ve failed at some things is one thing, but the worry about screwing up the psychological development of your children can sit on your chest like a stack of parenting books. You know, the books that are hard to get to because you’re so busy teeter-tottering on a wobbly tightrope.

I know now that balance is an illusion.

To best serve my career and family I must choose a different word entirely. I heard the perfect replacement word recently on a podcast: Harmony. It resonated with me, so I looked it up.

Harmony: agreement; accord; harmonious relations: congruity.

My own definition: things are going so well that it feels like a million me’s get it all done with reasonable amounts of effort.

In the search for this new friend Harmony in one’s home (he is not under the couch cushions…I checked), I’m beginning to understand how to do it.

 

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1) What do I want?

2) What do you want?

Asking for what you want sometimes takes bravery, as in:

“Instead of going to a three hour long track meet this weekend, I’d really love to attend this writing workshop. Can you be our family representative on the field on Saturday?”

Or it could take less bravery and more innovation, as in:

“It seems like 10 years since we’ve had a grown-up conversation without teenage voices interjecting demands. Wanna go on a adults only get-away?”

Granted, question one is a lot harder to ask then question two, because question one benefits one person and in the other it’s a win/win. BUT that doesn’t make question one any less important. Women are so quick to squish their own demands when it comes to a full calendar of living in the car and fluffing the nest. That saying still rings true in my house: If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

‘Tis true that your idea of harmony may not jive with your partner’s or your children’s grand pre-teen narcissistic ideas, but that’s where the question asking comes in. You’ll never know if you don’t ask! Of course, passive aggression can be a monster living under your staircase (He loiters at my dinner table sometimes). There might be emotion-stuffing, something I refer to as the Emotional Mute Syndrome, but take heart! If you ask the “What do you want to create harmony in our schedule and home?” as you smile sweetly, the answer might surprise you. When I ask this question of my girls, their expressions can look somewhere between complete shock or skepticism. When I asked my youngest what she wanted her Saturday to look like, she gaped at me as though I had poured spaghetti sauce on the floor and rolled around in it. I think kids are used to being told where to go, what to do and how it all is going to go down. Now, whether said Saturday resembled anything like what she envisioned is up for debate, but I did ask and got points for that. I really do try to cram in some 12-year-old friendly activities so that she feels listened to.That’s the goal:

All family members’ ideas matter, as well as his or her feelings about how things are going.

Voila’….Har-mon-ee.

Sometimes to recognize harmony, you have to have discord….like loud, boy-band, tone-deaf discord. We’ve had some “Hey, waaaaaiiiit a minute” moments when we have family meetings about the family climate.

There’s frustration.

There’s dissatisfaction.

There’s even a chance of someone committing the ultimate sin, walking away from the discussion.

Yet, there is always a coming back to home base. We figure out what’s working and what needs to change. Not everyone will be cheerfully doing a happy dance about things, but we do try to address all needs on the table. I like modeling that for my kids—it’s so important to show them that asking for what you want and listening to others’ wants should always trump throwing up your hands and hitting the road.

The self check-in is also a key to this Harmony Thing. I do this at least once a week…usually at 2:00 am when I wake with a nap jerk.

Is our schedule too full?

Are we getting enough alone time as a couple?

Is clutter creeping back into the house?

Are my kids acting stressed out or tired?

Have we eaten more than one meal at our dinner table as a family this week?

Do we flop into bed at night satisfied with our days?

I use that inner compass to find the Harmony North Star…it’s out there, I just need to adjust my sails.

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What questions do you ask yourself to readjust your own harmony sails?

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Four Questions for the Chronic Volunteer

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I’m convinced there are a lot of women sitting in meetings making grocery lists on scratch paper or daydreaming about sandy beach vacation induced naps. I also have on good authority that a woman’s schedule can quickly be overrun with countless organizational get-togethers and frenetic activity revolving around chronic volunteering.

Friends, this can quickly become breeding ground for some B & R: burn-out and resentment

I’m not sure there’s wisdom in creating a mental tally of gold stars for oneself simply because the calendar looks like a crossword puzzle. To be honest, I worry about women I know and love when they proudly list off a daily schedule of meeting to meeting schlepping , only to stop for a triple tall mochachino because their tank is completely dry. If a woman’s kitchen island is consistently covered in scraps for to-be-made school art projects while the minivan sits in the driveway stuffed with sports gear for a whole team…there needs to be a pause and an evaluation.

Believe me, I’m not picking on women who volunteer precious time to help with school and the community. As a teacher, I personally benefit from this selflessness.  I see the results of the same select few in my own town and am extremely grateful for their sacrifice. I enjoy the school book fair and library events as much as any mother in my area. I do feel these volunteers frequently for-go their own needs and secret desires because either a) an excessive volunteer schedule has been modeled for them by their own parents or b) they feel their own worth only when they are serving.

As women we naturally take a look around the “camp” and see the needs.

We are do-ers and problem solvers .

Many of us are first in line when it comes to bringing the chips and dip, chaperoning the annual aquarium fieldtrip, or addressing the gala invitations. We know that such tasks, events, projects and programs won’t just magically appear and run well without people there to create the magic. Yet, I challenge these service-minded women to identify the volunteer opportunities they feel deeply committed to, with a head and heart-filling connection. Now, I might be making the sorting of art supplies in your child’s Kindergarten class sound far more meaningful than it will ever be, but the main idea here is:

What matters most to you?

Let me dwell in a sea of honesty and self-deprecation and tell you that I am not first to raise my hand when the PTA comes a-callin’. I discovered years ago that this was not an environment where I thrive and present my best gifts. I also recognized that internal eye-rolling and nervous nail biting is not something that will help my kids’ school programs. There was some interior battle going on for awhile with those awful snotty mean girls living in my subconscious. They try their best to convince me that “good moms bring cookies to PTA meetings and they stay late”. I was finally led to the self-realization that I would be better off serving somewhere else.

What did I choose?

Women with breast cancer, dogs who need homes, a small school in middle-of-no-where Kenya, and a group of kids at a local high school who are risk of not graduating. In taking inventory, I found that my superpowers include capturing the spirit of people and animals with my camera, helping to create a fundraising event, writing, and building relationships to support growth. I will not be found alphabetizing novels in my kids’ classroom (much to their relief, I’m sure) or cold calling people for donations. It’s taken me years to recognize my “triangular shape peg-ness” when faced with circular shaped holes in the land of volunteerism. It’s taken even longer to not feel guilty about it. We should serve with joy and an excited heart…I believe this happens when we recognize that the gifts we possess are specific…diverse abilities and talents are poured into chosen people for a reason.

Yet, I will say that everyone can wash dishes, put away chairs, serve at a shelter, or cook for a neighbor in need. These circumstances pop up all over the place (especially when you’re part of a church community) and such serving is joyful, fulfilling and valuable. Whether a person chooses to wash dishes at every church picnic depends on their burning desire to serve in this area. It’s possible to have a running schedule for a cause you believe in and sprinkle in the occasional Sunday school teaching opportunity. Yet, trouble brews when the list of causes and occasional opportunities overshadow a day-to-day existence and already-packed schedule. Visualize the Sunday school gig being parlay-ed into  a month-long thing because there’s a constant need and someone is not able to say “no”.

Are you that woman?

That selfless, I’m-here-to-help, whatever-you-need, “Oh, it’s no trouble”, “I don’t mind at all” sweetheart whose volunteer list is rolled out on the floor like a roll of Brawny paper towels? Do you ever ask why this is? Do you kick yourself around the block for over-committing yourself?  Is there exhaustion, resentment, complaining…burn-out …loitering in your heart? This is a good time to grab your own lapels (hard to do, but so effective)….

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1) Which of these volunteer opportunities have significant meaning and personal investment in my life?

2) Which of these opportunities would be the easiest to let go of?

3) What will I say when I tell this organization that I’m no longer going to be volunteering?

4) How will I keep myself from taking on more opportunities to serve when I’m trying to pare down?

It’s a cycle friends…even (gasp!) an addiction of being available to do what others ask of you 24/7. Own your gifts (maybe that’s the first step—really identifying what those are) and then plugging into a few places that fit into your life. Pray and ask for opportunities to jump in your path that will Lego themselves into your gifts without force. We’re not talking about wedging yet one more commitment into your schedule like stuffing a pro wrestler into a pair of Spanx. It shouldn’t be stressful and a source of moaning and complaining (that’s your first clue that it might be best to let it go).

If you’re smiling and humming while driving to volunteer somewhere, that’s a good sign.

Go with it…and don’t obsess that you can’t fit in more.

More does not prove your worthiness.

You are worthy simply because you are.

Part of that worthiness lives in the gifts you use to serve others.

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