Why is everybody talking about “balance” all the time?
Balanced marriages. Balanced diets. Balanced checkbooks. Balanced attention to your children.
You know what? Fuck balance.
There’s nothing “balanced” about my life and there never has been. The only thing all this “balance” talk does is reinforce the validity of my suspicion that I am vastly underprepared for existence, or I’m living some whacked-out version of life in my own failure bubble. Both of those things may be true, but whatever.
Yeah, yeah, I know. There are nutjobs out there working 75 hours a week, existing on Jack Daniels and Ambien, working working working, never seeing their families, getting hypertension as we speak (but doing it in a brand new BMW!), etc. But check it out: if somebody is doing that for more than a year or so, they’ve got more problems that a “lack of balance.”
I’m talking about a regular old person just living a regular old life. Kids, work, marriage, social life.
I’m talking about the expectation that at some point things are going to smooth out into a “balanced” routine of kids, work, marriage, and social life.
It’s the biggest crock of shit ever. Life is never balanced. Life is constantly changing. That’s the nature of life.
Or maybe I’m just incapable.
I can tell you, though, after nearly 12 years hitched to the same dude, my marriage has never once been 50/50. One of us is always failing miserably in some department, and the other one picks up that slack. It’s 80/20 and then 20/80 and sometimes 95/5 (depression, anyone?). You know, like sometimes my husband can’t do anything other than work because he’s got some emotional stuff going on, or an early mid-life crisis based on some fear he invented in his brain, or he’s disillusioned with all the things and wants to join the pro-rodeo circuit. Or maybe I’m doing that exact same thing (sans the rodeo thing. But move to a yurt in Costa Rica? Totally into it.)
Or I’m pregnant. I ain’t doing shit when I’m pregnant. I’m growing a baby in my belly and pee on myself when I laugh. YOU CAN DO THE FUCKING DISHES EVERY DAY.
See? Not balanced. Sometimes I need him. Sometimes he needs me. But we never, ever need equally.
The only thing an insistence on balance does is turn my marriage into a giant score-keeping hell. I’m tallying it in my head “I cleaned our room twelve times. He did it once.” 12 to 1.
Mother fucker. I’m the better partner here. Instantly, miserable. (But god help me if he starts doing that: “Janelle yelled nine times today. I haven’t yelled since April.” I WANT A DIVORCE.)
And the work – family thing: I suppose we have a little more control in how much we let our jobs run our lives, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes, your job will run your life.
There will be that project from hell or that new boss that manages to suck your soul out of your body by the time you reach your cubicle. Or you’ll decide you want an M.A. in English and it will be finals week or you’re heading to a conference or you’re studying for the comprehensive exam.
You will miss family events.
You will not have balance. Your kids will suffer and whine and cry and miss you. You will drag your ass to campus with tears just behind your eye balls because it’s the 5th-grade awards ceremony and you’re studying postcolonial theory with a bunch of semi-conscious grad students.
And you do this for weeks, months, maybe a year or two.
Then you’ll open your Facebook news feed and see a helpful handy article “Five ways to maintain work-family balance” and you’ll smash your computer screen with your hardcover copy of Edward Said’s Orientalism.
And please, save me from the idea that my kids are going to get equal attention from me all the time. First of all, if there’s a baby in the family that whole thing is shot. You aren’t spending “equal” time with each kid. You’re spending all your time with the baby while feeling guilty that you’re not spending “equal” time with each kid.
You realize four days have passed and you haven’t spoken 20 words to your tween with nobody around.
You realize it’s been a week since your 7-year-old and you cuddled and read books in the big bed, like you used to.
And when this hits you, you drop your head for a moment and wonder what the chances are that your kids will end up even remotely well-adjusted adults. You give the baby to the husband and dart into the tween’s room, to have a conversation. You read the story to the boy. Then you feel balanced for a moment. Or two.
But it’s gone again in a week or so, when the baby gets the flu.
And even if there isn’t a baby there’s always one kid who seems to need me more than the others. One is angrier than usual and I can’t figure out why. Ava and I are butting heads constantly.
Rocket isn’t learning to read.
Georgia keeps launching herself off the ottoman at the dog and I’m pretty sure one of them is going to seriously maimed.
Somebody’s sick. Somebody’s struggling. Somebody needs me more than they ever have.
It’s never equal. It’s never balanced.
It’s a giant cluster fuck of shifting ground and changing priorities. Just when I think I have it figured out I get thrown a fast one: my own health deteriorates.
My husband gets laid off.
I fall into a depression.
Or he does.
I realize I’d rather off myself than continue working at same job.
I go back to school, or finish.
My boy gets diagnosed with dyslexia.
You know what I think my job is? Respond to life as it happens. Stop expecting balance.
Wake up. See what needs to be done right now. Let go of the idea that my life should carry on in some neat, systematic way and that someday I’ll be meeting all the needs of all the people all the time.
As if someday my marriage will be totally equal all the time and my health will be solid (cause I’m exercising and eating a balanced diet) and my kids are thriving neatly (just as they should!) and my house is put together (but not too put together because one must not obsess) and I’ll go to work and “Leave it there” when I leave (cause one shouldn’t bring that stress home) and I’ll take my “me time” with my friends and husband (because mental health, people!).
Or I’ll realize shit like that only happens in movies and self-help books.
As far as I can tell, the expectation that life will ever be neat and orderly is nothing more than a path to unbridled misery. Life’s not going my way! So I exert myself more and more and more and it’s STILL not working so I try harder and harder and nobody’s responding and I’m getting crazier and crazier, until I’m the dude working 75 hours a week.
Because I need some CONTROL. I need a sense of SANITY. I need to feel SAFE. But it never works.
Or I resign myself to the chaos, the insanity. Burn the Self! Magazine and fucking self-help books from hell. Drop the expectation that things will ever remain stable, “balanced,” controlled. Forget the next approach. The next gadget. The next “helpful hint.”
I’ve got no control. Life occurs as it will, as it should, and the only time I can be effective anyway is to remain unattached enough to respond as it happens, shift in lightning-speed to the new priority, the new need, the thing that needs me now.
It needs me more than it ever has. It didn’t need me yesterday, and yet it’s taking all my time today. Wow. That ain’t balanced!
But I give myself anyway, say “fuck it.” Learn to maybe enjoy the way life just will not hold still. And trust that when I’m really blowing it, things will start to suck bad enough that I’ll change.
I know. I should be a life coach.
But really, maybe that’s exactly what “balanced” looks like (total lack of control) and in the end, we all get exactly what we need in the time and place and way that we need it.
Or maybe I’m just “unbalanced,” totally, in more ways than one…
and just crazy enough to not give a shit.