Losing the Balancing Act

Before I get all negative, let me start by stating, up front, that my husband and I are incredibly lucky and we know it. We have a strong, committed marriage; we are both incredibly excited – with a healthy dose of terrified – about the impending birth of our first child; and we both have careers that inspire and fulfill us.

That said…

We’re having a hard time finding balance these days. A week in the life of the W residence tends to looks something like this:

Sunday – we plan out our meals for the week by running through the nights we’ll both be home for dinner. Between late meetings at work and family commitments, this is quickly narrowed down to two or three. We grocery shop together, walk the dog, and then get busy on the myriad chores that have piled up over the week (laundry, ironing, cutting the grass).

Monday – E calls me at 6:30 to say he’ll be late for dinner. No biggie – we eat at 7:30 or 8:00, contemplate getting some housework done or taking a walk and instead veg out in front of the TV for 30 minutes … which stretches into an hour, during which I inevitably have to check my e-mail or answer a work-related call. Then we go to bed.

Tuesday – E calls me at 8:00 pm to say his meetings have run long and he’ll be at the office late – don’t wait up. I, of course, take this as an opportunity to “get ahead” on my work and shut down the ghastly glow of my laptop at 11:00, ten minutes before he gets home. For dinner? Cereal.

Wednesday – We have dinner plans, so we meet at 6:30, but E has to run back into the office for one more thing and we’re late meeting our friends. We enjoy our meal and the company, but at 8:00 pm we start checking our watches – or in my case, my Blackberry, where I have 17 new messages. We get home at 9:00 pm, and E watches ESPN until I can finally shut down at 11:00.

You get the picture. And unless you’re more of a workaholic than I am, you see what’s wrong with it. No time to talk about our days or relax on the porch swing and enjoy each others’ company. Less-than-healthy meal choices, because we’re constantly on the run. A puppy who gets a walk once or twice a week (thank goodness for doggy day care). Chores that pile up and consume our weekends, because we don’t have the energy to cram anything else into the day.

The thing is, we’re not corporate ladder climbers or status-obsessed yuppies. It’s just that we both have demanding jobs about which we’re incredibly passionate – we believe that what we’re doing is making the world a better place, and when you contemplate what’s at stake – the education of a few thousand children – a night out at the movies or a meal enjoyed together at the dining room table seems to pale in comparison.

Maybe we self-aggrandize. Is one night off really going to make a difference? Will this e-mail impact the world enough that it’s worth the choices I make to deprioritize home and family? Maybe more importantly, are the choices I make now going to have long-term effects that I’ll choose to regret – a marriage without passion or communication; burn out before I’m 35; alienation of friends and family who don’t understand why I can’t just take it easy every now and then?

I don’t know what the answer is. I know that I can try for more balance – giving myself 30 minutes a week to write, for example, or taking an hour on Friday once a month to have lunch with my mom or get a haircut. And my husband and I have a sacred “date night,” which usually involves ordering in and renting a movie, but it’s a start, right? An important one, because we know that having kids will change everything, and as this baby gets closer to being a reality, we’re going to have to make even more, harder choices – choices that ultimately come down to the question, do we put the kids and community we serve ahead of our own child’s needs?

I’m pretty sure E and I are on the same page about our answer, but thinking it and doing it are two entirely different matters, and I know that neither one of us has really grasped how incredibly difficult this is going to be. Until then, we’re working on baby steps – like taking the whole day off Monday to celebrate our afternoon ultrasound. I’ll leave my Blackberry at home … probably.

2 Responses to “Losing the Balancing Act”
  1. Skinny Sushi says:

    I think that no matter what we do, we are all striving for balance and feeling like we are giving the right attention to the things that “matter” and it sounds to me like you’re doing a great job!

  2. H says:

    I think the key to balance is lowered expectations. It sounds like a joke, but I pretty much mean it. Healthy dinners can be a can of black beans and some microwaved frozen peas. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve served my kiddo that 5-minute-dinner. And I find as I get older that a 15-minute conversation in bed before dropping off to sleep or just sitting next to each other with leg’s touching while we work on laptops is still nurturing a romantic connection. It doesn’t have to be candlelight dinners at dusk. And don’t even get me started on how my house is a mess. I just make sure to spray for roaches a few times a year. But we’re happy. I avoid comparing myself to other people who cook from recipes instead of cans and have dusted their TVs in the last calendar year. I just don’t expect that kind of thing from myself. How great that you have careers that you find so very satisfying and fulfilling! Parenting will feel the same, and doing two fulfilling and worthwhile things well is more than enough for this lifetime. I think so anyway.

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