Is the Quest for Balance a Joke?

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

My fellow dad-blogger, Paul Nyhan of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, has given up on the whole balance thing. He declared last week, in a post titled "Work-Family Balance is a Joke," that there is no sweet spot of work and family and soccer and violin and date nights that will leave every member of the family happy and energized at all times. The best you can hope for is to embrace the chaos and live for the moment.

In a way, Paul is right. You can't live a serene life when there is a kid involved, and the more kids, the more nuttiness. This is an immutable fact, a derivation of the second law of thermodynamics. I know that there exist out there "slacker" parents who proudly hew to the noble and shrinking tradition of letting the kids do what they may, but even that comes with a cost. Everyone knows what a bedroom looks like after a couple hours of "unstructured" play: rubble. You can't stop entropy.

But even if you've concluded that you can't possible ever win the balance game, the quest for balance isn't itself a joke. For starters, getting down to an acceptable level of chaos is always a worthwhile endeavor, which is part of the reason that the quickest way to get commenters here frothy is to describe the ways you've overscheduled your life.

But the ultimate lesson -- the one that Paul has learned and the one that I am trying to deal with -- is that you have to see on-the-verge craziness as normal, not a sign that the wheels are falling off. Paul has accepted that dinner won't always look professionally prepared. I've come to believe that trading Saturday morning television for an extra hour of sleep will vastly improve everyone's weekend. The preschooler does not care that the laundry will not always be folded before it is wrinkly. You can never remove all the Cheerios from a car seat. This is all to be expected.

The big question is: How do we redefine "balance" to move expectations more in line with reality? I figure if I can put two kids to bed happy, sleep seven hours or so, maintain a kitchen floor clear of major obstacles and keep my bosses happy, I'm ahead of the curve. How about you -- is anyone seeking perfection, or is good-enough enough?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at

By Brian Reid |  October 4, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts
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Posted by: pATRICK | October 4, 2007 7:26 AM

and now second!

Posted by: pATRICK | October 4, 2007 7:26 AM

and you are in Central time, LOL.

Good enough is good enough in most things. We do strive for excellence -- not perfection, but our best efforts -- in a certain few areas. We agree on what those few areas are, and we keep that list mighty short. For us, the short list gives us a way to set priorities. It also teaches our kids that you can't waste your precious home life bemoaning the fact that you have insufficient time to clean out the garage, power-wash the driveway, maintain washboard abs, or weed those front plantings for max curb appeal.

(and, WaPO, I hope someone is working on the comment submssion technology glitch. This is a pain in the tuckus.)

Posted by: MN | October 4, 2007 7:59 AM

My life is not perfect. My life has never been perfect. My life will never be perfect. But it's pretty d*mn good.

As long as I keep that in mind, then I'm achieving balance.

Should we give up on "balance"? No, we just need to realize what "balance" is. At the end of his blog, Paul writes that "Balance is found in the inherent imbalance of raising a family."

Bingo! Exactly right. It's never about getting everything perfect - it's about getting the scale about where you want it.

If your definition of "balance" is what Paul says earlier in his post: "Work part time. Share housework equally. Communicate. " and anything less isn't "balance" then you're right, it's not always achievable. Communicate - okay, that's a good thing, and we try, but there's not always time. Share housework equally? A laudable goal, but one of you is always going to do a little bit more because one of you cares more, or has a little more free time, or whatever. If you let it kill you or end your marriage, well, I'm sorry for you. Work part time - okay, for some that's a laudable goal but not for everybody.

In sum - the quest for balance is not a joke; it's a noble goal. The key is in understanding what balance means for you and your family, and striving for that - NOT for somebody else's definition of what balance should be.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | October 4, 2007 8:23 AM

I wanted to be first!

Posted by: anonthistime | October 4, 2007 8:26 AM

The hours of homework my kids bring home every day from school is the biggest time suck in my life right now. How am I supposed to get the leaves raked in my yard when my best worker is too busy doing some meaningless report such as the mating habits of the dung beatle?

Then I get home and one of the vice principles (I think the school is up to 5 of them right now) calls to "inform" me that my kindergartedner was roughhousing with his friend on the playground. Well, what's a boy supposed to do on the playground, why did I need to be "informed", and what can I do about it anyway?

Once again, I found myself wishing I had a phone with a bell ringer so I could hear the loud DING when I slammed the phone down.

Posted by: DandyLion | October 4, 2007 8:36 AM

Here's an alternative approach: you want balance? Check out this video:

It's a one hour and 45 minute video of Prof. Randy Pausch's "Last Lecture". A lot of you have probably heard about this. Prof. Pausch is a Carnegie Mellon University Professor of Computer Science. (For you Marylanders, he grew up in Columbia and graduated from Oakland Mills High.) He's 46 years old. He has three children, ages 1, 2 and 6. And this is his last lecture because he's dying of pancreatic cancer. He has at least 10 inoperable tumors (he shows slides of the CAT scans) and will live a few more months at most.

It's a really, really great overview of his life and philosophy - how he was raised; how he wants to (wanted to?) raise his kids; setting realistic goals and achieving them. Some of the points that have gotten wide publicity include

- he drew math equations on the walls of his bedroom. They're still there; his parents never erased them or painted over them. How better to learn the quadratic equation than to look at it on your wall every day?

- when he got his PhD in Comp Sci from Carnegie Mellon - one of the three best Comp Sci programs in the US - his dream job was designing rides for DisneyWorld. They turned him down. He kept at it, and eventually did.

If you have the time, watch it sometime and then you'll have a much better understanding of "balance."

Posted by: ArmyBrat | October 4, 2007 8:37 AM

No, there's no perfect place where you're never overscheduled -- but it IS possible to tilt too far towards overscheduled and start regarding it as normal. I thik we have to at least strive for balance.

I was pondering this quesiton the other evening when the commercial came on for the new Chrysler minivan with the swivel chairs, TV and built-in dining room table. I'm assuming this is meant for families that plan on eating all their meals in the car. I think that might just be giving up a little bit too much -- to decide that you're not even going to attempt to eat in your kitchen anymore. I found the commercial sort of sad . .

Posted by: justlurking | October 4, 2007 8:52 AM

margaret mead said "the key to happiness is to learn to nestle in the gale." i think of that every day as a mother. there is no balance; families are not see-saws. but there is a line between chaos and destruction and i try to live on that line.

Posted by: leslie4 | October 4, 2007 8:52 AM

I know we all do the best we can but I do find it frustrating that one part of my life doesn't acknowledge the existance of the other. Public schools act as if I had no job and I've had jobs that assumed I could always work late (never mind that after-school care closes at 5:30). Granted that being a single mom makes it more challenging but there are external forces that make balancing that much harder -- and if I had any extra time (!) I'd work politically to change them.

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 4, 2007 8:58 AM

Since when did the definition of 'balance' include 'perfect'? I don't think we have to give up on the quest for balance, but I do think we should give up on trying for perfection. Perfection is boring anyway, right?

My husband wrote a comment on Paul's blog about balance being much more possible when you tackle everything as a team of equals. Something like that. Anyway, he meant that so often blogs and articles, and probably even real people, forget that in homes with two parents, there are TWO PARENTS to balance the chaos. So much discussion is always about how much one parent has on her (or occasionally his) plate, but little talk about the spouse's contribution.

A wise person once said to me (back when I was single and childless) that when I have children, I would get to see chaos turn to order. He was referring to my then-need for an ordered life, and suggesting I start to think about embracing the chaos.

Embracing the chaos is good. Giving up on balance is not.

Posted by: violinline | October 4, 2007 9:04 AM

The Quest for Balance is not only for those who are married or those who have children. Single people also strive for some balance in their lives. We have many of the same stresses that married people have with less emotional support that they are lucky enough to have. While we don't have the additional complications of children we do have to find a way of balancing sick parents, fighting siblings, work and friends (many of whom are married with children which makes it more complicated).

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | October 4, 2007 9:11 AM

What I want to know is where this concept that we should be "A" students in everything came from. "Leave it to Beaver" wasn't real -- not even in the 1950s. And you can't have "everything, all the time"; even the fast lane only has 24 hrs in a day.

I shoot for an A or B in the stuff that really matters to us. The stuff I hate but have to do (decluttering, weeding the garden), I shoot for a C or D. And anything we do only because we "should," and not because it really matters to us, well, that's the first thing to get dropped (or outsourced).

I also don't pay much attention to daily "performance." Life is way too up and down -- work is crazy one week, so we eat takeout, drive-throughs, or leftovers; the next, it's dead, so we have home cooked meals at the table every night.

So to me, "balance" isn't some static "I will spend 6 hrs at work, then 1.5 hrs commuting and making dinner, then 2 hrs with the kids, then 0.5 hrs exercising, then 2 hrs with my husband." It's more dynamic (kind of like the guy trying to juggle 5 balls while riding a unicycle). But I figure if schools grade over the course of a semester or year, so can I. So I don't worry much about hitting everything perfectly in any given day or week -- you go with the highest priorities for that week, and just try to make sure everything balances out over the long term.

Posted by: laura33 | October 4, 2007 9:27 AM

Without kids, balance is pretty easy to acheive. But I'll add my two cents anyway.

For me, balance in life is about more than just "surviving." I think you have a balanced life if you have goals and make plans to acheive them instead of just doing enough to make it through the day and doing it all again the next.

Posted by: Meesh | October 4, 2007 9:27 AM

I'll add to Meesh's definition - I think of balance as akin to happiness. Balance to me is not needing a vacation from my everyday life. If vacations become escapes rather than adventures (or simply ways to mix up the routine), then I know my life is out of balance.

Posted by: violinline | October 4, 2007 9:31 AM

and you are in Central time, LOL.

Yes, it is funny. I am never first so for grins I logged on and voila! The quest for balance is like the quest for peace. You may never reach it but the journey is worthwhile and worth striving for.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 4, 2007 9:40 AM

And anne.saunders, I agree with you on different parts of life all wanting the same 8 hours of the day.

Why is the DMV in NC only open M-F from 8-5? Why does the Jeep dealership close at 5:00? Why do all the ultilities and credit card companies only answer the phone from 8-5 M-F? Why does my denitist close at 4:00 every week day and open at 9:00? And why doesn't my doctor have weekend hours?

Don't these businesses know how much people need weekend and evening hours? My dentist could take off on Wednesday, for example, and stay open all day Sunday. Why haven't more places thought of this?

That being said, I love that my grocery store is open until midnight, my dry cleaning and dog food are delivered to my door, and the vet has weekend and evening hours.

Posted by: Meesh | October 4, 2007 9:51 AM

More and more businesses are staying open longer and are open on weekends here in MD. My vet has hours until 7pm and is open Sunday until 2. My dentist has a second office in his home and sees patients until 6 a couple of days a week. Many of the grocery stores here have in-store banks that are also open evenings and weekends. The DMV is open on Saturday (but watch out when the doors open as it is like the running of the bulls).

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | October 4, 2007 9:54 AM

MEESH, they are practicing balance too. All those people have kids too and they need to exercise balance just like you do.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 4, 2007 10:00 AM

Trying to achieve balance in any one day is lunacy, which is what led me to call it "The 'B' Word." I try, instead, to find balance over time and, as many others have suggested here, let the small stuff go.

Posted by: jlkirk | October 4, 2007 10:08 AM

Duh, pATRICK. But wouldn't their lives be easier if they took a weekday off to run errands or clean the house and spend a weekend day working to get more customers? My life would be more balanced that way.

Or if the worker at the DMV went in at noon and stayed until 8, he or she could stay home with the kids later and the other parent could cover dinner so the kids have more time with a parent.

Or if the call centers used part time people to work only evenings or only weekends. Then parents who want part time work could take advantage.

I don't know, maybe I'm missing something that's obvious to everyone else.

Posted by: Meesh | October 4, 2007 10:11 AM

MEESH, maybe, but this was silly-"And why doesn't my doctor have weekend hours?"

Doctors are on call and work crazy hours already and you want him/her to work saturdays? c'mon.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 4, 2007 10:25 AM

Army Brat - I was wondering how long it would be before someone mentioned Randy's talk on this blog.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 4, 2007 10:29 AM

Meesh - I think you are on to something partially though. Like where I work there are certain hours everyone is expected to be here. Many of us wish we could come in earlier and leave earlier, and many others probably wish they could come in later. This would let all of us get our errands done before or after work, and if more customer services places did this they'd be open longer. Doesn't work obvious for sole proprieterships, but it's a start.

Posted by: _Miles | October 4, 2007 10:34 AM

I don't know that it's a joke...I think it is part of the Baby Boomer Generation who seemed to feel that they needed to do everything to the nth degree.

My parents are not Boomers - they are a few years too old for that. And while some of the neighbors they had while we kids were growing up were busy trying to keep up or outdo each other (as I found out later), my parents just stayed pleasant and neighborly, and did things to their own satisfaction - including how they raised us.

I can't ever remember my parents talking about "balance"...or if other families did or didn't have it. We went to school, played soccer (and that was it - one sport seemed to be enough), had jobs or summer enrichment courses once we got too old to just hang out during the summer ("hanging out" included trips to the pool or DC museums, hours-long games of Capture the Flag or Flag Football, and hikes to a nearby spot in the woods for big picnics).

I'm sure there was some kind of structure to my childhood, knowing my parents. But if it was there, it was just part of the routine that kids crave. (And yes, occasionally it fell apart - my mother still can't believe she forgot to pick me up from an after-school activity the day Ronald Reagan was shot, and there were a few times the car broke down throwing our day into a tailspin.)

But this absolute holy grail quest for balance? Ridiculous. Balance is what works for each family, and when you come down to it, each individual in the family. So over- or under-schedule to your heart's content - if it works for you, it works!

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | October 4, 2007 10:36 AM

Laura, I heard a rumor that "the guy trying to juggle 5 balls while riding a unicycle" has a messy house, is behind on yard chores, has a pile of paperwork still undone on his desk, and his kids are running wild!

Posted by: mehitabel | October 4, 2007 10:53 AM

Dotted, did you know Randy Pausch when you lived in Pittsburgh?

Posted by: mehitabel | October 4, 2007 10:54 AM

I made cookies last night. It was the first time in months that I felt good enough to really bake. I don't really care to much about balance. If the kid is okay and the house is even a little bit clean then I am happy. I guess that makes me a slacker mom or maybe just a tired pregnant lady.

Posted by: Irishgirl | October 4, 2007 10:59 AM

"I'm the Mom" -- latest viral video on You Tube, sung to the "Lone Ranger" portion of the "William Tell Overture":

What's YOUR favorite line?

Posted by: mehitabel | October 4, 2007 10:59 AM

"Laura, I heard a rumor that "the guy trying to juggle 5 balls while riding a unicycle" has a messy house, is behind on yard chores, has a pile of paperwork still undone on his desk, and his kids are running wild!"

Hmmm, let's see: check, check, nope (but that's only because my big case just settled and I was able to move the giant pile of papers to my secretary's desk to file), and well, we try to keep them at least within the corral. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | October 4, 2007 11:12 AM

I think the real key to balance is realizing that things will not be perfect, things will not get done and then get over it. Superman and superwoman are hust comic book figures.

Posted by: pATRICK | October 4, 2007 11:13 AM

mehitabel: I've known Randy since he was 12 years old.

Posted by: dotted_1 | October 4, 2007 11:16 AM

Dotted, How unbearably sad for you as well as all of Randy's family and friends to have to be facing the future without him so soon.

Posted by: mehitabel | October 4, 2007 11:23 AM

I know I will never achieve the ideal sense of balance, so I look at what I have the most control over: my attitude. My sense of balance is primarily based on how I perceive it to be, and some days the perception is better than others : )

Generally I'm not given to hero worship, but Professor Pausch is my hero. A very stark reminder that we're never sure how much "life" we are given in a quantitaive sense, so it's imperative to make the most of it--be it 10 years or 100 years--in a qualitative sense.

Posted by: pepperjade | October 4, 2007 11:36 AM

Meesh, I know where you are coming from, however, I think that everything being open all the time has contributed to the lack of balance, especially for families with children. I remember when everything except the gas station were closed on Sunday and everyone spent the day with their families. No soccer, baseball, dance competitions, etc...While I'm not remotely religious, I long for those "family days".

For us, having me at home helps us attain a state of equilibrium in which everyone gets most of what they want and everything they need which is our definition of balance. I know this is not possible/desirable for everyone. My husband is able to pursue his professional pursuits and personal interests knowing that I'm taking care of things at home. He is able to spend his free time with the kids and as a family instead of doing errands. I'm available to help/drive my children to their activities as well as just hang out with them when they are not in school and I'm able to feel like I have my arms around our household and pursue my personal interests as well. While I sometimes flirt with returning to paid work, I cannot conjure a scenario in which it would be worth the quality of life it would cost us all.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 4, 2007 11:37 AM

I've achieved the perfect balance at my office between getting work done and goofing off.

The secret? I rigged up a chute that connects my inbox directly to the round file. Now I have all day to chat with my spouse, send emails to all my friends, read online news, check my investments, and post to my favorite blogs.

- Your tax dollars at work!!!

Posted by: FedWorker | October 4, 2007 11:44 AM

The quest for balance may or may not be a joke, but a sense of humor definitely helps!

Posted by: mehitabel | October 4, 2007 11:47 AM

Every hard working father wants a Moxiemom. :-)

Posted by: DandyLion | October 4, 2007 11:52 AM

DandyLion, I wish I had a MoxieDad : )

Posted by: pepperjade | October 4, 2007 11:56 AM

Interesting pepperjade, my wife would rather have a MoMoneyDad. :-)

Posted by: DandyLion | October 4, 2007 12:06 PM

My mom and I recently discussed why I struggle with balance when she didn't when we were growing up in the 60s and 70s. In part, it's because we walked ourselves to and from school in kindergarten, we let ourselves in when we came home and we rode our bikes to lessons and practices. We had very little homework so supervision wasn't expected. Parental involvement in school meant bringing in cupcakes on your birthday, attending conferences or chaperoning a field trip now and then. The world of parenting has changed; we provide 24/7 supervision until they are nearly teenagers, we have to escort them everywhere they go and we are endlessly involved in the school and schoolwork. My parents house was always spotless and the lawn was always perfect. It took me awhile, but I no longer hold my housekeeping up to my mother's exacting standards. We live different lives in different times.

Posted by: trudylou | October 4, 2007 12:09 PM


"DandyLion, I wish I had a MoxieDad : )"

Yes. A lot of my married with children female friends are women whose husband is an "additional child" who happens to bring in a paycheck.

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 4, 2007 12:17 PM

"...some meaningless report such as the mating habits of the dung beatle?"

I think Ringo is the dung beatle. ;~)

Posted by: cjbriggs | October 4, 2007 12:22 PM

So Chitybangbang, are you trying to say that my wife is one of your friends? LOL!

Posted by: DandyLion | October 4, 2007 12:25 PM

Trudylou - I think your conclusions are correct - so do you think these differences are for the better or worse or some combo of the two? My father says that often in giving our children what we didn't have we neglect to give them what we did have. I think this is true many times in my household. We have to step back and look at what we really value and make sure we don't miss the trip because we are so focused on the destination.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 4, 2007 12:41 PM

Hey - I agree with the idea that we are way 'busier' than I remember things as kids. Yikes. However, I still had dance class, and piano, and ice skating, an instrument, etc.

We had a live in nanny til I was about 5, which I think helped. After that, we were all in school - mom could go about and run errands, etc.

DH indicates that when I was a SAHM he definitely thought things were different - he had no worries about errands, etc cause they were getting done. The difference now that I WOHM, is that, when he was the sole income in the house, he felt as if everything depended on him. So now life in some ways is definitely more hectic (although I'm definitely more calm in some ways), he doesn't feel the pressure of the only person having a paycheck - as in, he wanted to leave his job about 6 mos ago and do something new (then a job came through and we're still both working office jobs), and we had the ability to allow him to just quit his job without really knowing what he wanted to do, which was pretty freeing for both of us.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 4, 2007 1:03 PM

It's hard for me to say if things are better or worse today - probably a little of each. I grew up in a small town and now I live in a big city so the place is as different as the time. I do give my kids more freedom than many of their peers and I don't supervise homework like many other parents do. I think the kids need to learn to do this for themselves but their grades suffer for it. I'm there to help when they need it, not to crack the whip. I really wish they could have had the freedom to be away from supervisory eyes, especially when they were little, but I don't know how that would have been possible. I had more extracurriculars as a kid than my kids do now, but they have more demands from school. On balance, it kind of is all the same to them - it's just different for the parents.

My mother worked, as I do, but she is only now beginning to understand that my choosing to set a lower standard for the housework is part of the balancing act and is not indicative of a serious character flaw.

Posted by: trudylou | October 4, 2007 1:33 PM

I think the quest for balance is on-going and never achieved because we aren't all standing on a nice stable 4-inch-wide wooden beam that's just six inches off the floor. We might start out on the practice beam, then something in our lives changes (marriage, divorce, a child's birth, etc.) and suddenly the beam is four feet off the floor. Then a life-change comes along (changing jobs or roles, health issues...), and the wooden beam is replaced with a tightrope. Another change, and the tightrope is replaced with a slack wire which is much wobblier. Another change, and our shoes are replaced with a bicycle - or a unicycle.

Sometimes we find a tool, like the circus performer's umbrella, and the balance gets a little easier. Sometimes we fall, and we have to climb back up. Sometimes falling makes us realize that our lives have gotten so difficult that we have to simplify. The circus performer isn't ready to catch bullets while jumping rope blindfolded.

I hope the metaphor makes some sense. DH and I are in a "take-off-the-blindfold-drop-the-jumprope-put-away-the-gun" phase at the moment, and pushing autistic older son's school to do the right thing has stopped. At least until we can find a much bigger umbrella, or get the slack wire tightened up again.

Posted by: sue | October 4, 2007 1:39 PM

"My sense of balance is primarily based on how I perceive it to be, and some days the perception is better than others : )"

Spot on, Pepperjade! That's what I am learning too. Sure, it makes sense to try to make what changes you can - my hours at work have been pretty long lately and I am trying to get them cut back. But in the end, it's how you react that really determines whether you feel balanced or not. I can work long hours and feel stressed and pissed off and worried, or I can work long hours and know it's just what needs to be done right now and I am making what changes I can.

Leslie, I love that line from Margaret Mead, and that captures all of this beautifully.

Posted by: LizaBean | October 4, 2007 1:40 PM

Turdylou - could you please let my mother-in-law know that poor housekeeping is not a character flaw? Thanks.

Altmom - I appreciate your perspectives on bearing the burden. We are lucky thus far that my husband really likes his job. I too am grateful that he likes it because he is a happier person. Nothing more soul stealing that a job you hate.

Sue, I liked the metaphor. When you have a child with different needs such as you do - how do you know when to stop pushing? I can imagine the inclination to do anything and everything you can could be life consuming.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 4, 2007 1:48 PM

moxiemom: Spot on! DH never said anything to me about it until VERY recently - i.e., 2 yrs after I went back to work. I know he knows I went back to work for everyone in the house, not just me. He recently took a class over a weekend so I had the two kids pretty much the whole weekend - and we didn't really need to do many errands. After that, I know I made the right choice to go back to work - of course they're a little older now and in school a little, but it was definitely a tough weekend.

However, there are definite tradeoffs as you have indicated!

re: job you hate: I think he really appreciated the idea that even if he didn't have another job, he could quit his job and stay home and we'd figure out whatever we needed to in order for everything to work out. That we're a team and we'll do what is needed. I knew he couldn't stay at that job any longer, and the one he's at now fell in his lap.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 4, 2007 2:04 PM

I had a conversation with a friend of mine the other day. She gave birth to her first child two weeks ago and was exhausted, was worried about her job (she has her own business and was already thinking of how to ease back into it), was concerned about what was going to happen when her sister left town and she and her husband were on their own with their new baby, and was having serious doubts about the daycare situation they had signed up for a couple of months ago. She said to me "I just want to know when things are going to return to normal!" I told her that the minute they did for me, I'd let her know.

I remember thinking the same thing when I had my first child--it took me a good six months to realize "oh, this IS normal now! You just have to redefine normal." My friend is smarter than me--she'll probably get there sooner.

And that's balance for me--not making sure everything is going just right or that I'm devoting just the right amount of time to each aspect of my life daily, but being flexible with my expectations and willing to let things go that I might have though were really important at other times in my life.

I love Laura's idea of "grading" parts of your life--working towards an A or B in the important stuff, accepting C's and D's in the not-so-important stuff. Me? I'm totally auditing "Dusting 101."

Posted by: sarahfran | October 4, 2007 2:07 PM


"It took me awhile, but I no longer hold my housekeeping up to my mother's exacting standards. We live different lives in different times."

Agree. My mother had six kids, but she didn't have a lot of stuff that needed to be managed.

No closets bulging with clothes, no overflowing dressers or toy boxes. One bathroom; no family room with even more toys.

I was the dishwasher for 10 years!

Posted by: chittybangbang | October 4, 2007 2:10 PM

SarahFran, I was right there with you and your friend! It's funny how we seem to have this idea of there being a "normal state" and yet our lives never seem to actually be in that state, LOL. I still find myself thinking, "Well, when things settle down..." But they never settle down! And probably if they did I wouldn't know what to do. As one of my friends is fond of saying, "What's the point of getting your s***t together? Then all you have is a big pile of s***t."

Posted by: LizaBean | October 4, 2007 2:14 PM

"I still find myself thinking, "Well, when things settle down..." But they never settle down! And probably if they did I wouldn't know what to do."

Boy, ain't that the truth. My case settled two weeks ago, and I suddenly found myself with plenty of time on my hands. So which of those 80 gazillion things on the "wish list" have I tackled? Have I weeded the garden and removed the 30-foot-tall vine that is strangling my tree? Have I made my lamb ragu with homemade pasta that my husband loves? Have I dived into my "I really should read this" list? Nope, nyet, and don't even think about it. Instead, I have played computer games. Worse: I am playing my 6-year-old's Webkinz computer games, (so at least I earn her "money" to buy her Webkinz things on the website).

Very soon I will have to get a life again.

Posted by: laura33 | October 4, 2007 2:43 PM

Why is that when we have a lot to do and limited time we get it all done but when we have a lot of time with little to do we can't manage to do it? Lack of inertia or enjoyment of a job well done or just plain lazy?

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | October 4, 2007 2:45 PM

Trudylou ---

You are definitely onto something. When I grew up on Army bases it was pretty ideal from a kid-autonomy point of view. I could bike to the swimming pool, movie theater, baseball practice. At 10 I got allergy shots twice a week so I just got off the schoolbus a bit early at the dispensary, got my shot, waited 15 minutes to check out, then walked home (Mondays walking first across the street to the bowling alley to bowl in my weekly kids' league). My comings and goings really were autonomous.

After we left the Army and lived in the styx, transportation was a huge issue. Few activities were available to me, I only knew of those through school. When I stayed afterschool for any activity, I had to wait 2-3 hours afterward for a ride home from my dad on his way home from work. That wasn't so awful, though - the school lobby was a clean well-lighted place where I could finish homework and read.

Living in a closer community was a priority for me as an adult, so we could walk to things and so kids could have some autonomy, and feel less isolated, before age 16. And though in principle my kids *could* walk on their own to some activities (piano lessons for example are a 10 minute walk away; aftercare a 25 minute walk), I'm not sure at what age I would be comfortable letting them. My eldest is 10 now and I don't think it would be til middle school (well, that's only next year) or later --- it involves walking along a major multilane road with loads of pedestrians, mainly high school and college students and adults - the high school kids quite rowdy - and I'm nervous that she would attract attention as an unattended and easy target for hassling, messing with or worse. Somehow aside from college campuses and military bases, we build few sheltered communities that place a full kid's world within safe reach. Maybe small bikable towns? but then the jobs are rarely close by . . . . (As a kid I always felt safer on a bike; any menacing character could be sped away from, and even in the old days a kid did encounter creepy or bullying types.)

But atlmom, you say you had plenty of activities as a kid. Hey, as a kid your parents just made it all work, you got moved through your day with no worry or effort on *your* part. Of course it seems tougher when we're the parents, as we're the hidden hands keeping everything going. When we do well, the logistics should seem to just happen, appearing effortless to our kids . . . lol, a standard I strive for, well at least a month or so into the year it should mostly just work without too much fretting. . . Kids get accustomed to their routines and I don't think they're really that aware of the shuffling parents do behind the scenes to make their routines work.

Though, you never know what they will appreciate. Mine will be so happy and appreciative sometimes at the tiniest things I think I owe them as a good Mom --- a new batch of seamless socks for my youngest, a new vegetarian entree for my oldest, new clothes that they like. It's a sweet and unexpected reward . . . .

Posted by: kbatl | October 4, 2007 3:03 PM

No closets bulging with clothes, no overflowing dressers or toy boxes. One bathroom; no family room with even more toys.
Posted by: chittybangbang | October 4, 2007 02:10 PM

This is one area where I try to exert some control. Not having too much sh** helps me maintain balance. (Kids' stuffed animals are one sore spot however.) Realized I was close to my goal when one of my pots got left behind at a potluck and I really needed it!

Posted by: anne.saunders | October 4, 2007 3:05 PM

"Nope, nyet, and don't even think about it. Instead, I have played computer games."

Laura, LOL, I so hear you on that! Congrats on your case settling by the way. And I do the exact same thing whenever something big gets finished. Sometimes I justify it as just needing to recover, other times I have to fess up to the fact that I have slipped into an all or nothing pattern, where I don't get anything done unless I have a deadline looming.

Posted by: LizaBean | October 4, 2007 3:09 PM

Lizabean ---

My kids hate the word "deadline"! They know it means one parent will disappear from the routine for a while, or be sleepy after staying up late.

It was much smoother when they were smaller, it just meant one parent took them out for a day of fun (the zoo! the botanical gardens!) so the other could work.

Posted by: kbatl | October 4, 2007 3:16 PM


My son doesn't know the word deadline yet, but he is definitely savvy to "You and daddy are going to the zoo!" meaning I'm going to stay home and work. Scary. Guess I'm in for worse ;)

Posted by: LizaBean | October 4, 2007 4:01 PM

kbatl: well, the ice skating rink was too far to walk to, so mom was on hand for that. For all/most other activities, I was on my own. From third grade on, I walked home to and from school (my older sister was with me before that). I walked to synagogue for religious school twice a week, I walked to dance class, piano lessons were at home.

Mom really wasn't there in the activities except to sign us up. She was almost never there when I got home from school - I don't know if she was when my older sisters had been that age, but they were for the most part home when I got home, until sometime in middle school, I guess.

The only streets that were busy that I had to cross had a crossing guard. That's the only thing between my house and the elementary school (when my son goes next year) - there are a couple of major intersections to go through.

That's why we dream of moving somewhere where we don't have to drive - then the kids wouldn't have to be shuttled around everywhere either!

Posted by: atlmom1234 | October 4, 2007 4:20 PM

Sue, I liked the metaphor. When you have a child with different needs such as you do - how do you know when to stop pushing? I can imagine the inclination to do anything and everything you can could be life consuming.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 4, 2007 01:48 PM

Sometimes we stop pushing because we've finally recognized the Sisyphian nature of the stuggle. We stopped - for now - because the school district settled the discrimination lawsuit with one of his peers, and is trying to make adjustments to the program for him.

We "fell off the high-wire" - couldn't face going to the back-to-school open house, or the drama department potluck, after DH got into a shouting-match with the spec. ed. teacher (who we really love and treasure) and pulled the boy out of school for a day because DH just plain didn't feel our boy was *safe*. There's nothing like being over the top and making a complete fool of oneself in front of 5-6 school officials in an emergency meeting.

After we've caught our breath and regrouped (now that Dr. Statham has left Oakland, and while we wait to see if Dr. Harris is leaving, too - good luck to anyone in the WDC school district, since that's where they're going!), we'll look again at the adjustments that have been made to the classes and program. If there are still problems we'll get our lawyer involved - a "much bigger umbrella for the circus act".

Posted by: sue | October 4, 2007 4:27 PM

Wow, Sue, that's quite a struggle - I wish you the best with your time to regroup and refigure.

Posted by: LizaBean | October 4, 2007 4:54 PM

Sue, I don't think you were making a fool of yourself. If you aren't passionate about your child who will be? If you aren't an advocate for your child, who will be. Sometimes administrators can forget the real human side of these things. I would expect you to show up like Joan of Arc for your boy! Good luck and god bless. It shouldn't have to be that hard!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | October 4, 2007 5:02 PM

Thanks for the support!

I wasn't there - that job-thang - and DH self-reported that he was over the top. It happens about once a year or so. When he explodes in a rage, that's a pretty good clue that we need a break.

It's okay (good and necessary) to be a strong advocate for a kid. It's not okay to scream and hurl insults at someone who is an ally. As Grandma used to say, "You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

So, at next week's meeting, which I will attend, I'll be making nice and consiliatory.

Posted by: sue | October 4, 2007 7:13 PM

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