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Rejecting the Balance Myth

God knows I've asked busy moms how they do it all, hoping they'll share the secret. Or the magic. Or the pills. I'm not picky, really; I just want some of whatever they've got.
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How do you balance it all?

Other moms ask me this all the time, and as a mother of five kids, I don't blame them for wondering. God knows I've asked busy moms how they do it, too, hoping they'll share the secret. Or the magic. Or the pills. I'm not picky, really; I just want some of whatever they've got.

  • How do you balance your home and your job?
  • How do you balance your kids and personal hygiene?
  • How do you balance cleaning the toilet and finding time to write?

I'd like to apologize for laughing when you asked, mama friends. It's important to let you know, I wasn't laughing at YOU; I was laughing at BALANCE.

Because, of course, I don't know Balance. I haven't met Balance. And every time I think I sense her nearby, sniffing around the periphery of an organized room or an updated calendar, Balance fades back into the mist with a trip to the emergency room or a call from the school principal.

In fact, I'm beginning to suspect Balance is a mythical creature. Like a unicorn. As much as I'd like to spend time with her, Balance seems skittish and nervous. And no matter how quickly I move or deeply I search, I can never manage to track her down. Maybe she'd like me better if I found more time to shower.

My life is out of balance, and that's the truth, but I'm starting to wonder if balance is more than something I can't attain. Maybe balance is also something I don't need to attain.

See, I tend to look at balance like a set of scales perched precariously on a fragile pin.


But if I use scales to measure my life, I have to weigh the pieces against each other, and I'm forever choosing sides. I spend time with my kids at the cost of time with my husband. I sweep my floor at the cost of writing an email to a friend. The merest breath can cause the scales to shiver -- not to mention the mini-hurricanes that are my children -- and I live in fear of teetering, afraid I'll either rocket off the top on a trajectory I can't sustain or thud to the bottom when it all falls off the other end.

No matter what I do with a balance-the-scales system, I'm left feeling like a thief, stealing the pieces back and forth and always coming up wanting.

There is another way, though.

Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk? The stumbling, joyful, crazy mess of learning to lift oneself off the floor?

We use babies as a metaphor for falling and failing and persistently trying again, and I like that metaphor because it's true. But another truth is this: Babies don't spend their learning-to-walk time just falling and failing. Babies spend their learning-to-walk time finding their center. All that flailing serves a purpose. Because when the baby finds his center, he finds his gravity -- the thing that secures him firmly to the earth and allows him to move forward, swaying his body like a pendulum, always out of balance and always coming back to the center.

The antidote to the balance myth is embracing the pendulum swing. A pendulum, you see, swings wide and wider, crazy off-balance, and then comes back to center.


I think about my life thirteen years ago as a new mama. And nine years ago as a new mama again. And five years ago as a new mama again. Every time I became a mother, I was thrown off balance. And every time, I was embarrassed by my awkward attempts to woo Balance, that invisible unicorn, into my life. I longed to be like other mothers, nuzzling and petting their balance contentedly.

What I didn't realize is that motherhood throws most of us off balance. Of course it does; when we become moms, our center of gravity shifts by an entire human being.

These days, I'm not interested in the scales. Instead, I'm trying to find my pendulum rhythm which is as loud as it is dependable and is meant to move.

Rhythm reverberates through my heart. Its click-click beat chats up my soul. It teaches me how to dance with the pulse of life. And, if I listen closely, it whispers gentle reminders that its pace will slow over time to give me brief bits of rest before it swings into motion again.

Rhythm doesn't require me to hold my breath and or stay still as a statue to balance on the pin. No. The pendulum rhythm -- including the wild movement outward -- ultimately sends me closer to the middle, which is where all my important things are found. My people, my purpose, my joys -- they're all poised there, right at the center. My gravity.

These days, I see balance the same way I see the unicorn; it'll be fantastic if I find out someday that it's real, but I'm not going to set traps for it -- or myself -- anymore.

Instead, I'm living my life by the pendulum rhythm; I wildly swing back and forth and I always come home to center.


Scales image courtesy of Kittisak at
Pendulum image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at

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