Balance can mean different things to different parents, and we are all familiar with the concept. In dissecting the word to uncover the feeling beneath, you may find that you are ultimately trying to experience a sense of peace as you go about parenting and life.
Peace comes in many forms. Sometimes we just don’t feel peaceful or balanced. Parents who work have the unique challenge, or opportunity depending on how you view it, of combining the busyness of family life with being away from the family in one way or another. There are several ways to “find balance.”
One potential saving grace for the working parent is to observe and nourish the family’s rhythm. Routine and rhythm can be similar, although routine generally speaks to things we do regularly and rhythm points more to the flow of our day.
Tuning into the basic rhythm of life (unencumbered by our to-do lists) is as easy as noticing our breath. Just as we inhale – expand, take in air – we also participate in activities of life that are expansive, energetic, and powerful. As the oxygen goes to all parts of our body we receive what we need for the next phase of breath: exhale – contraction of the lungs, the release of air and toxins – time to release, introspect, and focus inward. In between the exhale and inhale you can observe a small space; a nothingness. This space is often missed in family life – the time to just be and not necessarily take in or let out anything.
Observing the family’s rhythm may or may not initially feel so easy, but with a little practice you will begin to notice trends in your family. Start by tuning into the rhythm of your breath whenever you remember and particularly when you feel stressed. Just notice the cycle of expansion-contraction-space. It is amazing how the body has an already built in rhythm that we can live our life from.
Next, choose a length of time such as a week or two weeks and observe how your family goes about the day. Notice what types of activities everyone is engaging in – expanding, contracting, spacious – and what results are experienced. Notice what doesn’t work, what does seem to work, and areas you would like to observe further, get some help with, or explore as you go along. For example, you might notice your infant does well when you nurse and talk first thing in the morning. On days you are too busy to talk and try to rush out the door she may be fussy. You may notice that too much TV results in crabby kids or that not enough healthy food in the house results in a crabby mom. Just take note.
From there, spend some time with your notes each evening and list your priorities as a working parent. Obviously your relationship with your child is important, as is your health, and your job. On a daily basis what do you really want to put first and what can you cross off the list when you feel like it’s just too much? Be accountable to yourself and re-evaluate your priorities as necessary. Be gentle with yourself and your family along the way; this isn’t about meeting some idea of a perfect rhythm.
Nourishing the family’s rhythm is about honoring and doing what works, in momentary increments. Many times we have a pretty good idea of what does work for our family and just need to see it on paper. Sometimes we need some help figuring that out. Other times we just need to honor the rhythm of life and change to a different type of activity.
Consider thinking about your family’s rhythm like you do your breath. It is already there; it just needs noticing. It may or may not be as rhythmic as the breath because it involves many people, their preferences, and uniqueness – but it is there. Attention to the rhythm allows you to focus and slow down. Sometimes just adding in some free space to do nothing can make the difference in a day that seems completely haywire.
Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.