Published on May 17th, 2019 | by Ethan Somerman0
Balance is Bullshit
Balance is a myth of the modern world. It’s bullshit. The only real balance is when you stand on one foot. Everything else is a lie.
I gave up trying to balance my time when my daughter turned one and I stopped doing cardio during my daughter’s naps. It turns out that managing a family while your child’s mama starts an all-consuming business and you still work part time, parent full time, and run the house full time is just not an equation that can be balanced. I used to spend a lot of time attempting to accomplish the things I felt like I should be doing. And if I wasn’t doing them, I spent a lot more time feeling guilty. When I viewed my day simply as a pie to be divvied and allocated, I ran myself ragged trying to accomplish it all. I was forcing cardio into my day because I felt like I should. What I needed most was rest.
It wasn’t until my daughter turned two that I began to feel balanced. As she got older, the demands on me lessened. But, something else shifted – my paradigm. The way I shouldered societal expectations, pressure, and guilt shifted. I gained comfort in questioning assumptions, doing less, and paying more attention to how I felt rather than what I thought I needed to do.
I broke all those happy, hippie, foodie parent rules and bought more prepared foods. I stopped buying fresh vegetables and purchased frozen so I could dump a bag and heat. I quit planning quaint child-centered activities and opted for the activities I found most enjoyable and relaxing, like lounging in the yard. I let the house get messier. I neglected the garden. My daughter and I had more “do nothing” days. I let things go. I worried less about what I was doing with each day and thought more about how I was doing. I made emotional balance the priority.
The thing is, I am writing this at a period when everything in my life is completely off kilter. My marriage has ended and I am discovering the terrain of co-parenting. I do almost all the childcare. All of the housework rests on my shoulders. I am working more. I am “doing it all.” My productivity is beyond a capacity I can sustain for long. There is no hack, no trick, no stress-relieving practice that will change this reality.
This, in particular, is where the promise of balance is a lie. Just because you can do it all doesn’t mean you should; because you likely can’t keep going. The antidote to overwork and overwhelm is not balance. To relieve that ragged, overworked feeling, you have to cut away the expectations and guilt weighing down on you. You have to be willing to ruthlessly eliminate items from the every-growing list of things you feel like you should be doing. Shave off what you don’t need in your life. Hold close to the things that are bone-deep important. Create a life with your values at center and disregard the rest. We are so focused on giving ourselves a big, dreamy future that the now dissipates into the hugeness of it all. We crowd our schedules, our responsibilities, our homes, our selves with stuff and noise. When we pare down, focus, and eliminate we are able to have a more sustainable, intentional existence.
This sounds simpler than it is. The destructive, counter-cultural force of this work to minimize and simplify is mighty and heavy. But, it seems to me to be the only sane option. Balance in order to “do it all” is bullshit. It maintains the status quo. It’s helpful to know how to stand on one foot for short stint when you can’t fully ground or walk forward. But, it’s not a skill on which to build an entire lifestyle as a parent. I do not wish to teach my child she must perch airily into life, barely setting foot. I want her to learn to stand solidly on two feet and walk forward.