Are You Blended?

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Gina Chen

A fellow mom recently explained that "balance" or "juggling" has been replaced by "blending" -- the new term for what we parents do, trying to perform well at our paid jobs while keeping our kids fed, healthy and safe.

I immediately Googled it. Sure enough, the term comes up in many mainstream publications. The idea, I guess, is to put a positive spin on what we do rather than make it seem like the crazy calisthenics it is most days, at least for me.

I don't like the new word. Blending sounds seamless and smooth to me: A perfectly pureed life where no mom forgets to turn in the elementary school fund-raising order for her children, ages 7 and 5, as I did last week. Or a life where a weeknight dinner means more then reheated soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

I guess sometimes I blend. I may type an e-mail to my children's teachers as I sit on hold at work. Or I'll do a quick phone interview on my cell as I watch my son's Little League game.

But my life is hardly pureed. Most days, blending or balance is a fantasy. Juggling is more the reality of raising two children while both my husband and I work full-time outside the home in challenging jobs.

Many days, the balls don't just fall, they crash to the ground. Like the day my husband and I stole away for much-needed alone time and had lunch together during a workday. At nearly the same moment, both our cell phones rang.

It was the coordinator from my son's after-school program, who was watching him all day because regular classes were closed for a holiday. I had forgotten to give my son a bag lunch. As his father and I dined on gourmet sandwiches, he had nothing to eat.

As Dad dashed off to bring him some food, I sure didn't feel blended or balanced. I felt like the worst mother in the world.

So, let's not try to make balancing work and family sound easier than it is. Having children is amazing and inspiring and wonderful. So is having a job that I love.

But it's challenging. We should use a word that gives us some credit for that.


Gina Chen and her husband, Peter, have two children, ages 7 and 5, and live in Syracuse, N.Y. Gina writes about parenting and family life for The Post-Standard and on her Family Life blog.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  January 22, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Comments

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first, but shaken, not stirred.

Posted by: chemguy1157 | January 22, 2008 7:48 AM

Gina, good job for cooking up a topic that makes blending kids in the mix of life seem like a challange.

Looking back on the time when I only had 2 kids to worry about and comparing it with today's challanges, I have to say that life was a piece of cake back then...

served on a silver platter! Hahaha!

I smell a lot of metaphors that relate working in the kitchen to family life brewing up today.! :-)

Posted by: DandyLion | January 22, 2008 8:09 AM

Gina, the word you are looking for is "life."

Posted by: dennis5 | January 22, 2008 8:10 AM

Blended? Blended? This past 10 days we have been in a blender which has chopped my family up into big chunks!

Started out with me going to the ortho for problems with my hand. Later that day, my younger son was hospitalized. The next day (Tuesday) Freida went for a breast biopsy. Thursday, the surgeon confirmed that she has breast cancer.

Ain't no blending going on here!

Posted by: Fred | January 22, 2008 8:14 AM

Hmmm, not sure I like the new word (had never heard it before). It sort of implies that the goal is for everything to be mushed together, so there are no distinctions left between work, home, etc. Which, of course, just encourages the never-ending creep of work into the home life. That may be how things are in reality, but I still want the "ideal" to be to keep work and home in their own spheres as much as I can.

For ex., this weekend, I spent about a half day each day working on a brief that needed to get to the client Sunday afternoon. Had to be done, but it still sucked. So, yeah, we were "blended" this weekend (especially Monday, when school was closed but we both still had to work). But I don't think that's anything to brag about or strive for -- I don't want to blend my work time into my family time, I want to keep my family time to myself as much as I can.

The juggling concept works for me -- these are all separate spheres, and the point is to dedicate enough time and effort to each to keep them going.

Posted by: laura33 | January 22, 2008 8:14 AM

Nope, we're not blended, we're mixed up into a strawberry daiquiri pie!

That's our favorite summer dessert - sweetened condensed milk, strawberries, frozen strawberry daiquiri mix, and whipped cream all mixed together and put into a pie crust, then frozen for 24 hours and enjoyed with more strawberries and whipped cream on top.

Blending it would only serve crush all the strawberries to smithereens, and it's the chunks of strawberries that give it the best flavor.

So no, our family life is not "blended", it's a bunch of good stuff all mixed together with large chunks of berries still left in it. And you have to enjoy those berries while you can, because they don't last long.

(How's that for a kitchen metaphor for life? Dang, now I'm hungry!)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 22, 2008 8:15 AM

Fred, I'm so sorry! I know it's silly because this is "just" a blog, but I almost feel I know you and your family.

Bon courage to Frieda.

Posted by: StickyNote | January 22, 2008 8:16 AM

Fred, I'm so sorry! Please send our best wishes to Freida. And how's your son doing?

Posted by: laura33 | January 22, 2008 8:16 AM

Wow, Fred - bummer! Tell Frieda our thoughts and prayers (for those who partake in prayers) are with her.

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 22, 2008 8:16 AM

BTW, Gina, I do agree with you, blended does not convey what most of us go thru on a daily (or monthly or yearly) basis.

I think also the word blended is too closely associated with blended families. That is what I though the column was about until I read it.

Posted by: Fred | January 22, 2008 8:18 AM

From the title, I thought the topic was about "Blended Families"....

Would the coordinator from her son's after-school program really have let the kid go hungry? Why did it take till lunch time to find out the kid had no lunch?

Posted by: chittybangbang | January 22, 2008 8:19 AM

Son is out of the hospital and much better. Thanks for asking.

Wish I could say the same about me. I am home sick today and can barely talk. You would not believe how much that is killing me! The not talking part. (Maybe you would?)


Posted by: Fred | January 22, 2008 8:28 AM

chitty:
"Would the coordinator from her son's after-school program really have let the kid go hungry? Why did it take till lunch time to find out the kid had no lunch?"

I agree; normally the school would find this out early. When our kids were in elementary school, one of the early morning tasks was collecting lunch money/milk money, and that would show who didn't have anything (food or money) for the day. Calls were placed then, if appropriate. If necessary, adults would loan lunch money to the kids to buy lunch so they wouldn't go hungry.

Gina said that it was a school holiday, so perhaps the after-care program wasn't that well organized and didn't check lunch status early in the morning.

(However, our school has now stopped the "loaning money" bit because some kids/families just never paid it back. There was one family that never sent their kids in with food or money; they were rumored to owe several hundred dollars to staff members. And I knew the family well; they could have easily afforded it.)

Posted by: ArmyBrat | January 22, 2008 8:32 AM

On the subject of blending - I agree with the previous person that said they want their home and job lives to be separate. I have spent my whole career taking jobs that paid a little less so I could still have time for me and my family without phone calls, emails or take-home work interrupting. Well worth it in my mind...

That said - Fred, so sorry about everything! You are in my prayers.

Posted by: jjtwo | January 22, 2008 8:33 AM

I thought a blended family was one where there are stepkids involved. But maybe I'm hopelessly behind the times. And I also agree that blending is not what I do these days. It's more like being tossed into a food processor with the parmesan blade attached.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 22, 2008 8:44 AM

Fred, I am so, so sorry to hear this news. Sending warm fuzzies your way.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 22, 2008 8:45 AM

Fred, I am so, so sorry to hear this news. Sending warm fuzzies your way.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | January 22, 2008 8:45 AM

Today's song lyrics from Poor, Poor Pitiful Me

Think of the "he" as life, not a particular person.

"He put me through some changes
Lord, sorta like a Waring blender"

Warren Zevon wrote this song and it is much darker than it seems when performed as a pop ballad.

Posted by: Fred | January 22, 2008 8:49 AM

Fred,
Wow...this January is hitting you too hard. Give Freida a giant hug from me today. First you cry is the initial reaction. But second you hug. No talking today, too? I wish I could help somehow, if only to read and respond.

Count me in on the reading of 'blending' as being about step-families...this is a new use of the word. While normally I like putting a positive spin on things, this use of the word 'blending' makes it seem...well, easy...and we all know there is no one recipe to solve our changing daily lives.

Posted by: dotted_1 | January 22, 2008 8:54 AM

A bit more info and a tie in to Gina's topic.

Frieda has stage 1 cancer which means it was caught early. The prognosis is excellent. But there are months of therapy ahead.

I spoke with my manager yesterday and she told me that she would support me in any way within her power. She has already decided to shift some of my work to other team members. Now, that is balancing needs, not blending them!

Frieda had quit her job late last year and then the boobie lady comes up with breast cancer. How is that for irony?

But, given her family history, we had long knew that this was a probability. She has had other forms of cancer before that she has conquered.

Thanks for your wishes and prayers. As I say, this is a journey that together, we are just beginning.

Fred

Posted by: Fred | January 22, 2008 9:08 AM

Fred: my thoughts and prayers are with you.

As for blending, I'm not sure we do that either. It sounds good in concept, but really - we all just try as best we can. And as someone said: if it's all blended, you don't get to see each piece individually for its merits, everything together allows it all to lose its 'flavor.'

And for the lunch: I brought my kid one day, and left the lunch in the car - they called around lunchtime, I explained what happened, they gave him something to eat. Of course, he's 2, so he doesn't eat much (well, some days...).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 22, 2008 9:12 AM

Fred--I'm so sorry about your wife and the rest of your news. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Count me in as thinking that this was going to be a blog about blended families. The term "blended" in this context somehow brings to my mind the image of kids getting swept up in the chaos of parents' lives and lost in the mix. At least the term "balance" implies that there are separate spheres of life, with kids occupying their own, worthy of parents' full attention. To now decide that kids, work, life--it's all just one big busy mess; to me that's just depressing. If life has become that much of a blur then maybe that's a sign that something's gotta give.

Posted by: maggielmcg | January 22, 2008 9:14 AM

Instead of prayers, Quakers talk about holding someone "in the light" so I'm holding you and Frieda in the light, Fred. Sounds like you have some idea what you're dealing with but that doesn't make it easy. Good luck and keep us posted. Get well yourself while you're at it! At least you can talk with your fingertips here.
Incidentally, I hate the word "blended" since it implies we can somehow get it smooth. Juggling parenting and work is rarely smooth!

Posted by: anne.saunders | January 22, 2008 9:38 AM

"Instead of prayers, Quakers talk about holding someone "in the light" so I'm holding you and Frieda in the light, Fred."

Chalk this up as another one of those interesting things I learn on this blog. What a positive image of a support community.

Fred, what she said.

Re: the sandwich story, and I do not mean this as a criticism of Gina: adults between 25 and 40 seems to look for a reason to feel like failures every day. Forgetting lunch once in awhile does not make one a bad parent. Not noticing that a kid doesn't have her lunch until lunchtime doesn't make a teacher or childcare provider a poor teacher/CCP. I recommend that anyone feeling bad about not turning in a fundraiser envelope or book order on time consider that maybe we're not sending our kids very good lessons about perspective. If you're showing your kids a good marriage and you're meeting their BIG emotional needs, that's a home run. Insert standard disclaimer here about the fact that you can also hit a home run as a single mom or having made other life choices, yada, yada, yada.

Posted by: mn.188 | January 22, 2008 9:52 AM

Fred and Friea,

Much strength to you in the coming days. And kudos to your manager to being a good one. By being proactive and re-balancing your workload, she both takes care of you and the work.

Posted by: robinwfcva | January 22, 2008 10:23 AM

Fred: not enough coffee yet - my thoughts are prayer are with you *and your family* in these trying times.

None of anything we discuss matters much, in the scheme of things, when one is confronted with terrible difficulties. Our health and the health of our families is incredibly important.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | January 22, 2008 10:37 AM

Fred, good luck to you and Frieda.

That's a misuse of the term "blended." I assumed it was a multi-culture/race family topic. Isn't "balance" or "juggle" enough? Have the NYCers gotten bored and come up with a new term?

I'm in oops-I-put-bologna-in-the-smoothie mode. Back-to-back respiratory infections, huge work deadline, and preparing for long-term guests. Gack. Big thanks to DH and a Z pack.

Posted by: atb2 | January 22, 2008 10:38 AM

Fred, I too will hold you all in the light (thanks anne for sharing that).

MN, I think that's a really good point. I think that seeking some sort of pureed perfection, as Gina put it, is a total mistake. Life will never be without its bumps and falls and crises and disappointments - I'd much rather focus on learning how to deal with these effectively and from a place of inner peace than expend all my energy trying in vain to keep them from happening and beating myself up when I can't.

Posted by: LizaBean | January 22, 2008 10:56 AM

Fred, sending you and your family warm wishes and hope. Sure, my life is blended or chopped. Whose isn't?

Posted by: foamgnome | January 22, 2008 11:36 AM

Fred, I just want to echo the comments in sending you & yours best wishes. It's super they caught it early!

On the topic - I agree that the lunch moment doesn't make anyone a bad parent, but it definitely would be one of those 'balance' moments.

I do think juggling is a better metaphor. The whole idea is to do things "Well enough" not seamlessly!

Posted by: shandra_lemarath | January 22, 2008 12:05 PM

Fred,

I'm so sorry to hear about Frieda's diagnosis. I'm glad to hear you have a good boss who is proactive and understands your need to support Frieda through this difficult time. I wish you both strength and comfort.

In case resources for this healthcare need have suffered in New Orleans post-Katrina, I'm posting a link to a list that includes the top national cancer centers in your region. Apparently, one of the best indicators for quality of care is number of patients treated for a particular kind of cancer by a facility.
http://www.nccn.org/members/network.asp

Posted by: marian3 | January 22, 2008 12:07 PM

Oh yes, we should give it a word that gives credit to how challenging it is. How about

ain'tasnowballschanceinhe**ofeverachievingit

Good grief. Who CARES what you call it? Like another poster suggested, it's life. It shouldn't need a special name. And if we are going to call it something, why NOT call it something that makes it sound achievable and positive. Oh wait, I know - because if we do, we'll put Leslie out of a job, because the secret will be out...it's really not that tough to find balance in life.

Posted by: fake99 | January 22, 2008 12:24 PM

I have a "blending" issue this week--no where near Fred's (my thoughts are with you--I'm normally a lurker but you have always had tons to contribute). My beloved non-profit preschool just informed me that they are no longer going to provide part-time childcare. The choices they have given me are pay full time tuition (which I can't afford on a part-time salary) or find my daughter new childcare.

I'm getting on my soapbox here and saying that taking away part-time daycare options limits parent's (let be honest here, mother's) options for blending/balance, whatever you call it. Having a professional career on part-time hours has been my solution for the last four years--what am I supposed to do now?

SO, anyone know a great part time daycare provider for a 12 month old in the Fairfax area?

Posted by: diaworld | January 22, 2008 12:25 PM

diaworld, we have a similar issue. My daughter goes to preschool 3 full days and 2 half days during the week through the public school system. But I have to pay full time day care so that I can insure she has a permanent spot. Have you tried some preschool/daycares? Some of the private preschools offer before and after school care. In Alexandria/Springfield, I know of Calvary Road Christian school that does that.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 22, 2008 12:54 PM

My work likes the "blended" language. The idea is that work and life aren't two seperate spheres to be balanced on opposite ends of the spectrum, but that personal goals in both spheres are best acheived when they are allowed to mix - so you phone your doctor to set up appointments from work and IM your kids, and check your work email in a few quiet minutes while cooking dinner and put in a hour after the kids go to bed when things get busy. I work in software, so this kind of mix works well compared to the "seperate spheres" idea, and many men and women at work really take advantage of "blending".

But I don't really care about the language. Juggle, balance, or blend - it's work, and I'm just glad I have an employer that supports what I need to do to meet my obligations in a satisfactory way. If calling it a "blend" makes it easier for HR to explain why its necessary to support family life at work, then I'm happy letting them choose the term - anything that lets me take care of my family and hold a job at the same time.

Posted by: ethele | January 22, 2008 1:06 PM

ethele, not to by a cynic, but of COURSE your work likes the "blended" language! By "allowing" you to do home chores at work, they get to take credit for being "progressive" on something that they know people will do anyway -- and give you one less excuse for leaving work in the process. And on the flip side, they take away any possible reason for you to object when they call you at home on nights, weekends, and vacations. Double bonus for them!!

I'm not exactly a poster-child for work/home segregation -- more like the poster-child for what NOT to do if you want to keep the spheres separate. But that's exactly why the words I use DO matter so much to me: it frames the issues in my own head in a way that helps me push back against a job that will more than happily shove itself as far into my home life as I let it.

Posted by: laura33 | January 22, 2008 2:39 PM

Fred and Frieda, warm wishes to you both as Frieda undergoes treatment for BC. I'm hoping for the very best for Frieda and your entire family.

Posted by: mehitabel | January 22, 2008 2:52 PM

Wow, timely!

First and most important, my thoughts and prayers are with you Fred and Frieda.

The comments about work liking "blending" are somewhat valid. But I take responsibility for keeping the work-intruding-at-home to a reasonable level.

Since the beginning of the year, two of the people I work with most closely had personal/familial situations that required them to be out at the same/overlapping couple of weeks.

That meant I was alone, trying to keep up with the work of three people. They're both back at work now, and they *really* appreciate how I kept things from falling apart while they took care of their lives.

It's a trade-off - they've done the same for me. Our managers understand this too (they also have families and personal needs), and adjust our schedules and assignments when someone's overwhelmed.

Really, for the last five years or so I've had the best job, and for the last two I've had the best managers of my entire career. Which means that the corporation is long overdue to have a major reorganization and - no, started to say "eliminate our group", but they really can't, we're generating 60% of the division's income - okay, work is looking wonderful and stable for as long as I want to stay put. I guess that means I must be due for some sort of disaster with home/family.

I hope getting poison oak at my sister's last week end is sufficient!

Oh, yeah - rambling back towards the topic - I don't like "blending" as a term for what I (and we all) do. "Balance" is better, but for me at least, the best description would be "juggling dangerous objects while riding a unicycle on a tightrope over a flaming pit without a safety net!" JDOWRAUOATOAFPWASN, anyone?

Posted by: sue | January 22, 2008 5:30 PM

Good grief. Who CARES what you call it? Like another poster suggested, it's life. It shouldn't need a special name. And if we are going to call it something, why NOT call it something that makes it sound achievable and positive. Oh wait, I know - because if we do, we'll put Leslie out of a job, because the secret will be out...it's really not that tough to find balance in life.

Posted by: fake99 | January 22, 2008 12:24 PM
-----------------------

Perfectly said!

Posted by: dennis5 | January 22, 2008 6:31 PM

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