It’s what we strive for, but don’t always achieve.
When kids are young they require almost 100% of our attention, and balance is difficult. At least it was for me. Making a sandwich while holding an infant was a skill I didn’t have when Maya was born (even if she was in a sling). By the time Ben came along, I could practically cook a six course meal with one hand. Still, it was hard to find time for things like reading, or sewing or even showering! Everything, it seemed, was interrupted.
As parents we get so used to this lack of balance that sometimes we forget to adjust as the kids get older. We forget how capable kids become once they can feed and dress themselves. Somewhat ironically, this seems to be a greater problem in families with children who are schooled than in families who choose life learning as their path. Of course, I don’t know every single family with schooled children or every single life learning family. I am very aware and often reminded that there are exceptions and that I am generalizing. It’s a given in this blog.
But here’s the thing. Kids who spend their days in pre-school and then school are under constant supervision that includes specific rules and options for behavior. Then they go home for a few hours before bedtime and there is a list of things they must accomplish – dinner, bath and homework usually among them – so parents spend their time policing those activities to make sure they are accomplished. Parents become an extension of school and both they and the kids resent it. I am convinced that this imbalance is what spawned phrases like, “quality time”. Quality time is the equivalent of forced fun. Not very fun, or very quality. It is an attempt by parents to regain balance, but like everything else, if it is forced it usually fails. Balance, as any dancer or gymnast knows, is a combination of strength and relaxation. If you hold on too tight or are too tense, you are going to fall.
Here then is a snapshot of a well balanced day in a life learning family. Yes, I am using our life learning family for this example. Not because we are always perfectly in balance. We are not. Some days I get the impression that the only words to leave my mouth are “just a minute” and “wait till I’m finished”. Sometimes I forget that it’s time to prepare dinner until one of my kids mentions that food would be a good thing. And on some days I feel my entire purpose in life is to carry coats and bags and whatever other paraphernalia my kids couldn’t bear to leave at the apartment and then to spend hours sitting in a park or playground wondering what other people do with their time. So yeah, achieving balance is an ongoing challenge.
But when it happens it is so effortless and relaxing that I can’t believe it’s ever difficult. Like today. This morning I woke up before anyone else in my family and spent about 30 minutes catching up on the NY Times. Then I checked my email. When the kids got up they had breakfast. I went on my morning coffee run. Ben was cleaning the table when I came back, and he, Maya & I played games for maybe 90 minutes and they munched on an early lunch. Joshua asked me to help with a spreadsheet for the business, so I did that while Maya edited video and Ben built Lego. Maya and I went out to have her watch repaired, bought new hair dye (there is a change of color on the horizon) and got snacks on the way home. Ben was watching The Karate Kid (the new one) and has been practicing his karate moves while I sit here writing this entry and Maya reads.
Can I just bottle this day and sell it? Everyone is content and busy and doing cool things. Ben, for whom spelling is not yet a strong suit, came up with the word ‘dragon’ during a game of Scrabble in which he & I played as partners. Dragon? Fantastic! Maya is making a video that has a genius opening. So funny and creative but I have been sworn to secrecy and can’t reveal what it is. Joshua is working from home today and all is calm.
Balance come from flow. Too much control disrupts flow. Too much focus on one thing (like grades, school, tests, work) or one person (child, parent) throws life out of balance.
I hang the snapshot of our well balanced day on a wall in a room of my mind. Happily the wall is getting more and more crowded as the kids and Joshua & I grow together and balance is more often in our grasp.