Wednesday, November 01, 2006
the balancing act
People talk a lot about the Balancing Act. It seems to be the defining phrase for life in the Western world in this part of the century.

And sometimes as I’m falling, flying, tumbling in turmoil, I say “Oh, so this is what she means.” Paul Simon, Graceland.

jump castle 1

I often think about writing about my work and family: I have three kids under eight, I have a full time job and a partner who works full time too and we have no family available to help out; the act of balancing consumes much of our waking existence and a goodly portion of my sleeping life, too.

The thing is, the more I think about the balancing act, the less qualified I feel to discuss it.

You know that abbreviation YMMV? Your Mileage May Vary? That's my view of this balancing act caper. There is no standard size, there is no golden rule, there is no - and here I’m goin’ righteously post-modern on your arse – correct way to do it.

And there is a good reason that YMMV is found on message boards and other places where care must be taken to avoid offending others in the faceless, toneless space of screen-read messages.

It's a phrase that succinctly accepts that we are all different and that the situations and solutions applying to one person's life may not apply to another.

In the more personal medium of blogging, perhaps this acknowledgement is not necessary. Many bloggers take the view that they will write what they like, without fear or favour, and fair enough too. It's a simple enough choice: if you don't like what you read, take your browser elsewhere.

Mostly, that is how I write. As you may have noticed, there is a tad of absolutely essential swearing - if you don't like it, move on. There are sexual references - enjoy them or look away. There are kiddie photos that show faces - maybe it's not wise, but for me the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, not eternal caution.

And quickly, I hasten to add that YMMV. Because there are many blogs I admire enormously where swearing never occurs, where hilarity is generated above the belt, and where carefully cropped photos of children are artistic and easily as evocative as any picture that might show their faces.

sparkle flowers

But back to why I do not write (much?yet?) about the Balancing Act.

Maybe it's because of the kind of work I do, but I cannot see a blog simply as a personal diary. If you just want a private record of your life and thoughts, why put it on the internet? Why make it available to others? You must, by virtue of the medium, be trying to say something to somebody else, whether it’s your brother or your knitting group or the combined populations of the Americas.

And this makes me feel self-conscious about the working mother/balancing family thing, because, in my view, the Internet has only toughened the glass wall between mothers like me and those who do not have a paid job. There is a maternal militancy out there in cyberspace, and I do not want to enlist.

My view: we all work, and very few of us spend 24 hours a day exclusively attending to children. We're all doing the best we can for our kids and our patch of the world. There's no need for winners.

You better think, think! Think! Think about what you’re tryin’ to say to me. Aretha Franklin, Think.

After a year and a half of more or less regular blogging, with many hundreds of posts and much reading of others' blogs, I feel this exercise is less like a personal diary and more like street publishing: one writes and photographs, one places words and pictures in a pleasing way, and one stands upon a reasonably busy street corner, perhaps next to a park, offering one's pages to others to read and, in turn, reading their work, and in time a sort of loose collective forms in which there is learning, laughing and the occasional quiet weep.

Every now and then, some series of particularly brilliant or hilarious or poignant post makes its way to a real publisher, ensuring the writer will spend one year correcting proofs, another year sucking down free champagne on an author tour, and then a lifetime trying to repeat the process.

Don't tell me you haven't thought about it.

I know you have.

But this ramble on blogging is getting a long way from why - even now - when I feel the need to explain the absence of posts, the lack of female RSM candidates for #11, the state of knackeredness that is leading to stupid comments on some blogs and no comments on others, even though I'm still reading them - I do not wish to write about the round and round and roundabout of keeping family together amid difficult jobs.


The revolving door from work is especially apt. It spins under its own power and it is left to pedestrians to make their entry and exit without injury. Those in the know, however, use the small sliding door next to it that opens on demand via foot pressure. Is there always an easier way? Is it always less obvious?

What is the state we are seeking when we look for balance?

Is it a positive glow of accomplishment? Does a bell go off to tell you you’ve hit the right spot? Or do the alarms just stop ringing?

Is it just finding that point where there is an absence of either triumph or self-pity?

I have no answers.

I am terrified that I am messing this up and – which is more - I have a superstitious dread of examining my working parent actions in writing and, in this bloggerly sense, in public, lest I discover that my terror is well-founded and my actions have been hopelessly, endlessly, irretrievably wrong.

In short, I have the fears of all parents everywhere. I’m just too chicken to write about them.


I said I have no answers, but that is not quite right. Amid so much uncertainty there are some truths, some things I can trust and hold to be constant about my own Balancing Act:

• If I don’t look for balance, I don’t find it. Balance, like happiness, can be wrought – sometimes from thin air.

• If the Prof and I neglect each other, everything goes to hell in a handcart.

• Some friends are more like family than some family and there is no shame in letting them be so. Time does bring the chance to help them in turn.

• Other than laundry, it is best for us not to plan to do more than one of anything in a weekend. That way, there's still time left just to be us.

And finally, speaking of being just us, the photo at the top of this post shows the Pea Princess, Gorgeous Boy and Sparkle in the jumping castle the twins' daycare centre brought in for a Saturday open day.

Much fun was had by all and the Pea Princess was offended by the bad manners of only one of the pre-schoolers, which is a good three or four offences below the average: a bonus.

Just before closing time I lost them and had to go hunting.

I found them here.

jump castle 6

Which reminded me, again, that we're not doing such a bad job with these kids after all.



Blogger meggie said...

Nice to read you Bec.
Blogging does seem a curious thing.

I cant define why I like to do it.
Initially thought I never cared if it never got read- but hey- ego sneaks in, even if we dont want to admit we have one.
Still, I feel I am just me, -no false front.
I dont know if that is a good thing or not.

Blogger My float said...

Beautifully written.

I blog, not so much for publication, but because it's very lonely working from home, and it makes me feel as though I'm part of a community. (Which sounds a bit naff - I am not expressing myself well.) But I like waking up in the morning and seeing what fellow bloggers have been doing, and laughing with some and being sad with others. It makes me feel connected. Mind you, I love getting comments but not because I want people to express wonderment at my brilliance, but simply because it touches me that someone I don't even know would make the effort.

In terms of the balancing act, well, you KNOW I think you're amazing. No further comment.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

I feel I should also add that anyone who feels militant about their work/home status is quite entitled to do so and in fact I admire the certainty many people have, I really do. It's mainly because I feel so conflicted that I find it impossible to write about the juggle without sounding both apologetic and defensive - so I just don't!

And Meggie - the way you 'sound' on your blog is a very good thing indeed. When I read you I feel like I can hear your voice talking.

My Float: dot point 3? you got that, right?

Blogger Surfing Free said...

Yikes! Balance.. that is a tricky word that I try not to examine too much because I am very afraid that I'm not doing right by work or by family.

And you are very right about the goal - how will we know we have achieved balance? Maybe we'll feel happy and content. Well, I don't think I've ever felt that way for more than a day or two, unless I'm on holidays. Anyway, it BALANCE does seem like a airy-fairy notion that can never be achieved.

What a great post and so much better worded than my pathetic attempt.

Blogger My float said...

Yes, Bec, I got point three! Ditto.

The other thing I meant to say is that I don't think there is such a thing as balance. It's just doing what you can, taking from here to fill a space over there. So to speak. Am in need of chocolate - obviously I'm rambling! Can you tell?

Blogger Emma said...

Does anyone ever achieve perfect balance? I am beginning to wonder ...

But I think as long as our kids turn out relatively normal, and not too screwed up, we've done pretty good!

I don't think so, Emma, or if they do, like SF says, it is for an hour or a day at a time.

After all, a balanced life might just turn out to be terribly terribly dull. Yes?

Blogger Suse said...
Blogger Lazy cow said...

Beautiful post. I had tears in my eyes at the end. For me, the perfect balance comes with feelings of peace and contentment. They may only last a few minutes, or hours at a time but when they arrive, it's wonderful. I felt it today when the Boy and I blew off our weekly meeting with friends and went to the park together, then to the shops and had a drink in a cafe. Other times it's when I can snatch a couple of hours alone, and most often it's when we're all at home, doing very little, but all together. The thought of paid employment looming out there in my future is enough to make my hyperventilate. But when I need to do it, I will. Probably not terribly graciously, but I'll do it for my family.

Anonymous shula said...

a sense of balance, like contentment, happiness and orgasms, are passing, fleeting sensations, to be enjoyed and appreciated while they last, because they're just about to tip over into something else, which will also pass.

I've never understood why anyone would expect to be able to sustain them indefinitely, or anything else for that matter. Surely inherent in the sense of balance is that of counterbalance, and therefore change. And so much of their value and poignancy lies in the temporary.

Are you standing? Coherent? Laughing frequently? Enjoying a lot of what you do at any given time? I think....yes.

That, my dear, makes you a fucken champion.

Hey Bec, you remind me of my Dad, the way you're quoting songs as you go, he used to do that all the time. Very H.S Thompson of you.

Blogger nutmeg said...

Balance. As a libran I think I'm supposed to have this one all wrapped up. Ha!

I like your point about the stay-at-home mum vs. working mum divide. Why does it exist at all? I recently went to a talk with Naomi Woolf and she said she had recently been to a panel discussion in New York where this was the topic of discussion. She said she sat there in disbelief; that there was so much more important things to discuss - things that every woman shared whether they worked or not. Women can really be their own worst enemies sometimes (well, a lot of the time really).

This was a wonderful, wonderful post. I too have been thinking a lot lately about why I blog. Your points are very apt. So too My Float's about receiving comments. It really is amazing and gladens the heart that there are people about who do take the time to write. The world really can be an amazing place. Blog on. I say :-)

P.S. that office entryway is very familiar.....

Blogger kt said...

I will say nice post with the proviso that you gave me heart a bit of a start--I was worried that you were going to finish with something along the lines of..."and that's why I've decided to end this blog bytying it up with little silky ribbons and tell Bitacle what to do with itself....".

MUCH prefer your lovely photo at the end. What a sweetie-pie trio.

Hey Shula - you got it right with the judgment of balance - maybe it should be called the teetering act so we'd appreciate the transitory nature of the state!
Hunter S: what an honour!!

This is the office with the view, Nutmeg, not the normal full-time one (no photogenic entry there!!) so, yes, you could very well have seen it before... it's reasonably new and notorious!

Blogger Stomper Girl said...

Thankyou Bec for a great post. You have such clarity and such elegance of expression, which is why I like your blog so much. And I love that you fearlessly present yourself, without judging others for doing likewise.
I started blogging in an attempt to 'capture' the magic of having kids, because I know otherwise it will be a foggy memory. And maybe in my present life, I'll forget to revel in the good side, the laughs, the things we share as a family because I'll get too preoccupied with the hard slog of parenting, and work and housework and coping . So it's been a little means of smelling the roses.
And the blog was partly for me and partly for absent family & friends to chart our life, but the weird thing is, they never say anything much about what I put out there. So I felt a bit like I was blogging into a void. But eventually new voices came to me out of the void, people's blogs and comments that I now look forward to. A little online circle of friends to share a laugh with or reach out to.
Sometimes I feel like a blog is one's own little soapbox and those who choose to can listen without interruption and then make of it what they will. Parenthood can be quite isolating. It's good to have a soapbox.
Apologies for the essay, you must have touched a nerve!!

Blogger blackbird said...

That was just perfect.

Blogger Em said...

I've missed you, but this was worth waiting for. The picture at the end of your your darling children is perfect.

I gave up trying to do the balancing act after five years and fell head first into full time parenting - and yet I'm still pretty wobbly most the time.

As for blogging - part of it is wanting to capture memories and moments in time, part of it is to connect with others and part of it is therapy (because how else would I stay sane?!)

For the record, and because it makes me laugh when I think about it, 90% of this post was written on the laptop, on my lap, in the driver's seat of our car, waiting for the Pea Princess at Girl Guides on Monday night. I was parked outside a group of villas full of old people - most of whom decided to walk several times past my car to see what was the weird (wyrd?) blue light shining on the strange lady's face outside their home...

And Kt and Stomper and Em and Blackbird - thank you.

Blogger Angry Dad said...

I'm glad I read all your comments, because I was thinking that with all that balance going on, how did you ever find the time to have such a long and very interesting post!

I agree with everything you've said. My aim with my blog was to write a post everday about family life. But its not what I'd term a "personal diary", rather a reflection of what we do as a family for others to hopefully enjoy.

And on the balance front, I find it a useful means to reflect on the days activities, and to wind down each night by writing about something that really matters - family!

I got to you via H&B!

Blogger Carolyn said...

Before I even comment on the post, I have to say that your daughter has GORGEOUS eyes!

Ah, the balancing act. I feel like a complete failure.

I want to be perfectly thin and beautiful with a clean house, wonderful parenting skills, lovely dinners and well-behaved children.

I haven't met any one of those goals yet and it makes me feel inadequate.

We are all mothers in the same boat, trying to do the best for our kids, regardless of where or how we work.

And that is universally across all cultures, I believe.

Blogger MsCellania said...

YES on your beautiful children! And yes on the beautifully written comments, too.
I know that for me, the joy lies in the imbalance of daily life - when things suddenly *click* there is a moment of perfection. Then everything goes back to ACK again.
I write in a weblog because I enjoy sharing a bit of our daily juggle. I like reading other's stories better.
I refuse to get into any 'Work In or Out of Home' debates. It Is All Work! Geesh!
I loved reading all the comments here, too. Great Post!

Anonymous sueeeus said...

Well said. Now I think I might go to my street corner and take down my signs. Maybe. Or maybe later. Or maybe not. :)

Blogger Joke said...

As a libertarian, far be it from me to tell you what to do, but in my case, the Balancing Act has been aided immensely by insomnia.

I'm just sayin'


Blogger Badger said...

I think maybe I blog BECAUSE I'm unbalanced. Oddly enough.

Blogger Muzbot said...

I blog therefore I am... apparently.

Another enjoyable read Bec.

Anonymous shula said...

there is nothing unbalanced about Badger.

Blogger Jane Henry said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you Bec about the stupid and unecessary glass wall (rather then ceiling! - don't we girls have to deal with enough glass???) between working/nonworking mums. In fact I take issue with the phrase working mum anyway, as it implies that SAHMs are just sitting on their arses all day long drinking coffee (which is what my husband thinks). All mums work period. It's just some combine it with a job in the real world as well - whether for financial/personal or anything to keep sane reasons, it doesn't matter. As a mum of four who bowed out of the ratrace (and am lucky to be able to do so because my other half earns enough) eight years ago I both envy and admire anyone who can juggle both, especially without family support. I don't have a great deal of family support either and it's a tough enough act coping with all that life throws at you (children breaking limbs/trips to hospital etc) without having to factor in a job too.

For us at the moment me going to work just wouldn't make sense econonomically (I don't earn enough to cover childcare and travel costs) or practically (our life would implode and I would need to employ a nanny/housekeeper/gardener!), so I stick with working from home, which suits me (and gives me time for blogging).

I am in an interesting interim period in my mummy life though as my youngest has just started school and next year my oldest will be going to secondary school, and is already getting less needy. I suddenly find myself at home with TIME to do the jobs that normally get left. But you know the strange thing, the more I do, the more I think, shit, I should do this and this and this...

So maybe the balancing act just changes as our lives change. Time is after all elastic... (first rule of mummy hood that).

I think we should celebrate our differences and say a big huzzah for our sisters still out there in the big bad world holding a torch for women in the workplace.

I hope one day I'll be able to rejoin you, but if I did it now my own particular house of cards would come tumbling down...

Sorry, this was rather a long response! But it was such an interesting and thoughtful post, I thought it deserved it.

As to why I blog.
1) I am an egotist
2)I'm into self publicity and as an aspiring writer it seemed like a good idea
3)Cyberspace is such a good place to let off steam!

love to all you mums out there - repeat after me - We Are All Doing A Fantastic Job!!!

(And no, 90% of the time, I don't think I am either...)

love Jane

Blogger Suse said...

Well gosh I've come back and been humbled by all the thoughtful eloquent comments to this post and decided I should add something more than 'What float said'.

So. Happy 40th in 288 days time.

Blogger velcro said...

I love that feeling of balance; when you feel serene and happy and even if it only lasts for a few minutes you know you can achieve it occasionally. It happens rarely in chez velcro these days though.

on the subject of the fearsome battles between SAHMs and working mums, I've only once heard a nasty comment made about working mothers, and that particular person ended up going back to work 6 months after her child was born! personally I think if you work you work and if you stay at home you stay at home and both positions are equally as hard just in different ways.

Blogger Joke said...

That's what I figure Heaven feels like. Everything is OK, everything has been OK, and everything shall remain OK and the weather is nice and the food and drinks are yummy.

Although this was a terrific post, I'm trying not to dwell too heavily on it, because I have worked long and hard to be this shallow in order to not feel inadequate.


Blogger shellyC said...

Fantastic post Bec!

I hadn't heard of YMMV - thanks. I think I should explain it to some of my friends.

Anonymous thordora said...

I'm tired and about to go to bed and far too stupid at the moment to say anything intelligent, but this was a really, really good post.

It's hard. We have those thoughts

But like your shot at the end, we figure we aren't messing them up too bad.

Ok, not more than therapy can fix. :)

Keep talking. It helps, I swear.

Blogger h&b said...


Eloquent, touching, fabulous, worthy.

At the moment, I am not working, and very very grateful for this. Like Jane Henry, my husband works like a dog to support us. Rather than look down my nose at those that work, I am constantly in awe. All of my old friends had to return to work, and I seriously, seriously do not know how they do it. They are amazing. And they cook, wash clothes and manage to look presentable for the corporate world. They're not even snarly about it. Incredible.

Funny that Stomper should mention the family thing. I've kept diaries and journals, letterwriting and maintained 'family' webpages for years - all to keep distant family & friends up-to-date. The blog was an extention of this ( and by far my favourite medium of all ) .. but for a while I wrote into the void too. The people I wrote for never said boo. Did they read it, do they still ?

Then strangers came along, and over time, they are the ones I enjoy having read my blog, and I have a similar 'My Float' experience - I love reading about them too. The comments are uplifting, thought-provoking, interesting, funny. Their posts crack me up ... or otherwise. They give and they share and they vent and they love and they hate. And they write about it.

I love it that I keep seeing the same people around the traps, I love the 'locals', the community.

Blog on.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We suggest cheapest prices for sildenafil citrate. Be sure
Follow the links:

buy viagra online
purchase cialis online
buy levitra

And HUGE FREE soft archive here: myzips

Post a Comment

<< Home