If there is one thing I wish someone would have taught me, warned me about or at least explained the laughable nature of its implications to me years ago, that one thing would be: the myth of work-life balance.
Balance, at least in my mind, implies some sort of equation where all sides are equal. I picture Lady Justice, ensuring the balancing scales are kept in perfect harmony, through some mysterious and perfect (and I now know completely unachievable) allocation of resources on both sides. The theory: Two hours spent on work must of course mean two hours spent with family. Laughable, I know.
What is this balance I so often hear about, but so seldom feel?
Ever since becoming a mom eight years ago, I have looked high and low, read many books and articles and sought out the example of those who have gone before me. I looked to my faith, my neighbors, my friends, my church community; to the example of pioneering women in various career fields and to the example of amazing stay-at-home moms.
Each time, I came up with a piece of the puzzle, but never the whole picture. Each time, my situation varied just enough from the other’s situation that I was not able to connect all of the dots and put my own puzzle together in a way that both mirrors theirs and answers my unique questions.
Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever wonder how to make all your pieces fit together in a way that honors God, honors your family, honor your unique circumstances and honors your work or vocation?
You already know this, I’d imagine, but there really isn’t a one-size fits all solution. The solution that worked for my parents may not work for me and my family. The solution that works perfectly for your neighbor may be disastrous for your family. While you may share everything in the world with your best friend, what works for her or him may simply not be the hand-in-glove answer to your unique set of circumstances.
Therefore, it would probably be a healthy starting point to stop comparing our lives to the lives of others, for the simple sake of comparison. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” as Theodore Roosevelt once said.
Instead, a more healthy use of our energy and time might be to start honoring our unique callings and circumstances, and to begin creating a reality that brings peace, harmony or at least acceptance in our lives.
This brings me to a place where it may be fitting to state that I completely reject any commentary that will result in mommy-wars. If you don’t know what mommy-wars are, they are divisive conversations, usually related to one of a few emotionally and ideologically charged topics such as:
Should moms work or stay at home? Should moms breast feed or bottle feed? Should moms home school, private school, public school, or un-school their children? Should moms allow their children to eat, play, do….whatever?
Mommy-wars are any attempt to believe our own way is the right way, the only way, the superior way and all other ways are wrong, or at least less than right. Let’s not do that to one another, ok? We are all on the same team here. Let’s hold and live out our deeply cherished beliefs and trust that others are competent and capable enough to do the same.
Back to finding balance. When I am tempted to think there really is a mysterious one-size fits all, timeless, universal solution to this issue of balancing work and family, when I am tempted to believe someone else, everyone else has figured out how this balance actually works, a simple visit through my own past experiences paints a different picture…
My parents raised me during different times, simpler times in many ways, though far from perfect. We never learned the truth about what it looks like or feels like in college, but I do remember hearing the phrase work-life balance enough to actually believe this were a real possibility.
The Army taught me if they wanted me to have a family, they “would have issued me one.” (That phrase still makes me smile a sideways smile and laugh, many years later.) The Air Force was a little better, with nicer facilities and more focus on the family as a unit, but I was still left to search alone or in my close circle and community. It probably didn’t help that I was working with a bunch of aircraft maintainers and mechanics when our first child was born. I was actually in labor all day, bent over with back pains at work, and no one ever said, “Hey, you think you might be in labor?” Haha. My first bio was born a few short hours later. (I loved that job and those coworkers, by the way!)
But I digress….
Maybe this elusive balance I was searching for could be found outside of the military?
The corporate world tried to work this so-called balance into my salary and benefit package, under the disguise of a part-time or flexible work agreement. It looked like the real deal to me, on paper, but never quite felt that way. It always felt like I was doing one thing at the expense of another. And now, living life as a pastor-mommy, in a vocation historically reserved for males. Haha. Good luck!
So, we are still left with this question: What is this work-life balance that many of us have heard about, but whose reality seems to elude even the most organized and driven among us?
For me, the answer to this question came from a profound statement Campbell’s CEO Denise Morrison made on this exact topic. Morrison says she rejects the idea of work-life balance and instead encourages “work-life integration.” The idea of integrating work into one’s life and livelihood, instead of trying to balance it all out, made all the sense in the world to me.
This simple shift in expectations tells me it is OK to be passionate about my call to ministry, and that does not in any way negate or cancel out my call to be a wife a mother. It tells me that my husband and his career needs to be given their proper respect and place as a big part of our family’s whole. It tells me my days do not have to be perfectly balanced; that my days probably will never be perfectly balanced.
Integration tells me it is OK to have the freedom to create schedules and plans that works uniquely for our family, even if the hours every single day do not cancel each other out. What matters most is that all seven members of my family are on board with our purpose, and feeling connected to each other our journey.
Speaking about integration means that my family is part of every piece of my life, to include my ministry and work. This also means I am part of all aspects of their life, even when I cannot make Sunday morning soccer games. Because we are in relationship and integrated with our greater purpose, all is well.
There is freedom in integration, because rather than being a mathematical equation or a set of balancing scales, it is a whole-person, whole-family approach to creating a desired outcome.
In all honesty, I have found that the idea work-life balance is a harmful myth, an elusive concept. However, I have also found that integrating all of the parts and pieces into the complete picture of our family is not only achievable, but an answer to prayers. Ironically, when striving for integration, I actually feel more balanced. Yes, we are still super busy and have a packed scheduled, but we are all onboard!
We all get to be who God called us to be, as individuals and as part of our family. The pieces can and do fit together, but the jigsaw puzzle that my family creates will be completely different from your family’s puzzle.
If you are feeling like balance is something way off in the horizon, something that you want to get to but are struggling to achieve, maybe a simple shift in focus could help? Or, have you found something that works for you? What is it? Would shifting your sights away from the balancing scale and/or other people and toward a more holistic view of your own circumstances could help?
Good luck and many prayers as you create and recreate your own integrated puzzle, as often as needed to meet your family on its journey, wherever you may be!