We often struggle with balance. We struggle with it before we become parents; add a child or two or more into the mix, and the challenges rise. And rise. And rise some more. Are they insurmountable? Is it even possible to be ‘balanced’ with young children in the house?
As I was mulling this idea over, my first response was, “Depends on the age. Not with a newborn, it isn’t. Everything is out of whack with a newborn.” But then I thought some more. I chatted about it with a few smart friends. Let the ideas roll around in my head for a few days.
And my conclusion?
Yes, it is. Even with a newborn. (The newest newborn is up to 3 months old, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll extend that to six months. A newborn will be a child up to six months old.)
But don’t panic! I am not about to up the ante, to declare that you can be put-together and sexy and keep a tidy home and put meals on the table and care for your other children and have time for your friends and have sex with your husband and attend school meetings and be productive at work and supervise the basement reno … while tending to a six-week-old. I am not going to do that. Not even close.
First, how do you perceive balance? Is it a daily struggle, or can you step back a pace and see it in terms of weeks, months, years? I think you can.
When a parent of a toddler worries about their child’s nutrition, I generally advise them to consider not what the child eats in a day, but what they eat over the course of a week. They may have an all-fruit, or a no-meat/protein day, but what’s their intake over a week? Is their diet balanced over a week? (It very often is.)
That is how we need to perceive ‘balance’. When you have a newborn in the house, you have to step way, way back. Having a newborn is a season in your life, a six-month season out of decades. During that season, your primary focus will be almost exclusively on the baby. Yes, there are other things that must be attended to (your other children would top the list) … but, really? That list of true essentials is pretty short.
When you have a newborn, particularly one less than three months old, you are immersed in their needs, their never-ending needs. You feed, you change, you feed, you sleep, you feed, you soothe, you feed …
Laundry? May not get done in a timely fashion. Housework? May not get done at all. If you have to go back to a paying job in this time, you’re not going to be at your best. You’re just not. You’re going to be sleep-deprived and distracted.
For a season. For a season you will be distracted, disorganized, focussing almost exclusively on this one, tiny, demanding, precious, aggravating, beloved, supremely important little being. This will make you feel like you’re out of whack. It’ll make you feel like you’re losing control, losing effectiveness, falling short of some standard of competence. But you know what?
There will be other seasons in your life. You’ve had a few before this. You’ve been a child, you’ve been a self-absorbed teen. You’ve been dependent on your parents, you’ve gained independence, you’ve been a student, you’ve held down a job, you’ve been single, you’ve found a partner in your life.
Each of those seasons has its demands and its pleasures. Now you’re in the ‘immersed in baby’ season. There will be other seasons after this, seasons where your baby grows and develops and gains his/her own independence, just as you did. There will even — and this is astonishing to realize when your baby is so small and all-consuming — come the season when your child is only one of many relationships in your life. An important one of course, but when your child is an adult, moved out, perhaps with children of his/her own they will just not be in your thoughts every waking moment. (No more than your parents are for you, now. You care, but they don’t consume.)
So, for a season, your housework will likely go to hell in a handbasket. Laundry will probably pile up, rooms will certainly get cluttery, baby stuff will take over your living room. You will have trouble being patient with your other children. You will likely not feel like having sex with your husband a whole lot. You may be groggy a lot of the time, easily distracted, you may find it hard to concentrate. Your memory will probably vanish in the fog of sleep-deprivation.
And that’s OKAY.
It does NOT mean you are not ‘balanced’. At this moment, for this season, you are focussed almost exclusively on that baby, and that is exactly what you are supposed to be doing right now. You can’t do it all. You shouldn’t even be trying. That’s not your job just yet. Another season will arrive, in three months, in six months, and you will begin to pick up the things that you’ve dropped for now. Dropped because you are holding something far more important.
Which brings me to my second point. What are you going to pick up again?
Too often we define balance as doing it all. We think that somehow, if we could just find that perfect point of balance, we could magically keep it all going. All at once. But, seriously? Do it all? At the same time? Take a look at this picture. Is this “balanced”?
Things piled on top of things, demands and expectations and roles and responsibilities, one piled on another, an enormous mound of “I must” and “I should” and “I have to”, until you’re nothing more than a stressed-out bundle of reactivity? Is that balanced?
Looks more like ‘insane’ to me.
You want to live your life like the Cat in the Hat, scrabbling frantically to stay on that ball, keep everything in the air at once?
Or do you realize, as one of my smart friends pointed out, “Balance is not doing it all; balance is choosing what to put down.”
Do the beds really need to be made every day? Do you have to attend that meeting, take on that volunteer work, sign your older kid up for gymnastics (and then drive them there twice a week)? Do you have to? Really?
I doubt it. For three months, for six months, you can let a whole lotta stuff go. You can, and you should. You take the life-long view and ask yourself, “In thirty years, will it really matter that I didn’t make cupcakes for the kindergarten bake sale? Really?? Will it matter in thirty years?” And then, when the newborn season is ending and you actually have the strength to take things back on, do it slowly. Pace yourself. Decide what is truly essential and what is optional. And I mean truly essential. Use that 30-year screen to filter out the non-essentials. Bear in mind that your definition of ‘essential’ and ‘optional’ will not be the same as another person’s. An uncluttered living room matters to one person; family dinners together matter more to another. That’s fine. Just make sure that your ‘essential’ list isn’t five times as long as your ‘optional’ one.
Pare down your life to the stuff that’s essential and the stuff that brings you peace and satisfaction. You may not achieve this kind of balance (though it’s a good goal!) …
… but you’ll be a whole lot happier.