Balance. I remember taking my very first yoga class in college. I had to study the instructor’s every move since I had no idea what a downward dog looked like, or a triangle, plank, or cobra. While the rest of the yogis completed the movements in unison, I on the other hand was off. There was no flow to my yoga. No balance on my mat. I felt like I was constantly trying to catch up, hold my body up, and finish the class without collapsing into my new favorite pose: savasana. You know the one where you lay on the floor, palms to the ceiling, eyes closed. My fellow mat-mates were balanced. As for me, I was certainly not.
That was my one and only yoga class in college.
But after getting settled into my first post-college job, I was convinced by a friend to return to the mat to give yoga another try. This time some of the movement names were familiar, but my balance was pretty much the same: off. Luckily, my friend wasn’t about to let me out this time. My imbalanced self kept going back to yoga once or twice per week and slowly but surely I began to feel myself understanding the routine movements. I began to feel stronger, and eventually more balanced.
A life-change later, I am trying to find a different kind of balance. I’m a mother of two. No, I’m a working mother of two. No actually, I’m “a commuting, two separate daycare drop-offs, pumping, nursing, cooking, wifing, working mother of two”! Since going back to work from maternity leave, I’ve been completely off balance. I feel like this stage in life there isn’t a day that is exactly like the next. The routines and flow are always a bit (or a whole lot) out of balance. Some nights the baby sleeps, some nights she doesn’t. Some mornings the toddler gets dressed and eats breakfast in perfect harmony, but others it’s like trying to wash a cat; hissing, squirming, just impossible. I don’t have an office job or a career where I can work from home from time to time. I teach. So I have to be there on time. I can’t exactly FaceTime with my class to have them write strong leads for their argument essays on their own. Or can I…?
By the time I get back home from my day, it’s a late snack for toddler and baby while I get dinner going (and usually that snack ruins their dinner, but the toddler turns into a pterodactyl if she doesn’t get food the very moment we walk in the door (even though she has snacked in the car the entire drive back home). My friends that put their kids to bed at 7pm must think I am nuts for keeping mine up until 9pm (or later). But that’s just the way it is around here. And as for yoga class…there hasn’t been much down-dog happening lately.
Yes, the past school year was pretty wild trying so hard to do it all as best as I could. There were many nights of tears, passing out on the couch, and being too tired on the weekends to do much of anything. Now that I’ve had a summer vacation and the baby turned one, I’m learning to bring a little more balance into our house.
Here are some things I’m trying to give my work life and family life as much “balance” as I can:
1. Meal Planning
Pinterest has been a fantastic help for family meal planning. On Sundays I’ll map out our week’s lunches and dinners. I try and cook double what one meal would call for, so we can have leftovers. I’m not a huge fan of deli meat, so I usually make a big quinoa salad with lots of veggies and beans, or I will cook a bunch of chicken breasts to make sandwiches or put over a salad. I like to go overboard with cooking, so I still need to find balance in eating healthy recipes but not spend my whole evening chopping, and prepping meals.
2. Farmer’s Market
To make meal planning a little more balanced with weekend family fun, our family likes going to our neighborhood farmer’s market to purchase our fruits, veggies, homemade pastas, and even listen to local bands. Our farmer’s market has a great musician that always brings shakers, drums, and other music makers for kids to play and dance along with. Even though I meal prep before we go to farmer’s, I always have our toddler pick out fruits and veggies herself. For her, if she is picking out her own food, she is more likely to eat it.
3. Share Responsibilities at Home
With two working parents with no family living near by, it definitely helps bring more balance to share home duties. My husband leaves for work very early in the morning (still dark outside early), so I get the girls ready in the morning and we both work together in the evenings with dinner, clean-up, bath, stories, and tuck-in. On the weekends we each pick a day to get up early with the kids. Since neither of us sleeps in, we’ve found a good balance of a quick workout escape. I usually go for a run or a spin class while my husband prefers a bike ride or yoga class.
Yes, if we were both able to get the kids up and ready together and share drop-off, pick-up times that would make life much more balanced, but unfortunately with our work schedules this isn’t in the cards.
4. Warm Fuzzy Jar
I learned this one from my toddler’s preschool. Since our family has two working, commuting parents who function on a pretty tight schedule, there isn’t much time for breaking the rules. If our toddler was still a ‘threenager’ this idea probably wouldn’t work very well, but now that she’s four, we’ve been giving it a try to see if it helps balance our day. Here is how it works.
Get a glass mason jar
A bag of multi-colored fuzz balls (craft store or Amazon)
Each time our toddler does something helpful, is extra sweet, listens, follows directions, etc – she can put a ‘warm fuzzy’ in the jar. We talk about what the warm fuzzy was for and she feels so proud!
When the jar is filled to the top, we celebrate with something special (frozen yogurt outing, family dinner at her favorite restaurant, etc)
If she isn’t co-operating, she has to pull a warm fuzzy out of the jar. This sometimes backfires into tears, but we are working on it!
5. Pop in a Movie
After a busy day at work, and looking ahead to making dinner and bedtime routines, putting a movie on for the toddler definitely helps. I am able to cook and get the baby fed. And I do have to admit, Belle from Beauty & the Beast has really gotten my toddler excited about reading. Since Belle loves books, my toddler now is really excited to learn to read and have a library as big as Belle’s one day. Go Disney!
6. “Best of 2017” Jar
Another jar activity I’ve been trying. This jar is family-focused. Here is how it works:
Get a larger size Mason jar
Use post-its or small pieces of paper
Have your kids decorate a label for the jar: “Best of (Insert Year)”
Every time something great happens (baby hugs toddler for the first time, dog snuggles with the toddler watching a movie, family ski trip…) or when someone says something noteworthy or hilarious (toddler singing all of the lyrics to “All About the Bass” on your commute home, or the baby saying “Bad dog” when the dog eats off her high chair tray) you write down the memory, date it, and put it in the jar.
At the end of the year, we are going to sit down as a family and read through the jar together remembering all of the great times (this is really going to help since so much in the news is just awful).
What would make this idea even cooler is to use a Polaroid camera and take a picture of the moment and then write the memory and date on bottom of the photograph.
7. Sunday Funday
In my 20’s I lived in Los Angeles, and my definition of Sunday Funday was meeting up with friends at a bar on the Hermosa Beach pier to watch football, have beers, and relax before another busy work week. Well, now Sunday Funday is a bit different! We recently moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and our goal is to be tourists on the weekends. There is so much to do and see in the Bay Area, and we’ve made Sundays our family fun day. We pick a location or event and go out and explore together!
So far our fall has felt a bit more balanced. We are still exhausted and the days fly by way too quickly, but a perfect balance between two working parents raising a baby and a toddler just doesn’t exist. And as for yoga, I’ve been back on the mat, as well as running, and spinning. For me, squeezing in a good workout gives me more energy, and those feel good endorphins are no myth. Exercise is a key piece to our family’s work-life balance. But getting a shower in everyday…it’s just not happening. I guess I can add dry shampoo to the balance list!