How I Achieve A Balanced Life

When I was younger, I had a very distinct vision of what my life would be like by the time I was 30. In this mental picture, I saw myself being a woman who juggled multiple challenging demands with ease: successful, fulfilling career, loving marriage, a couple of wonderful children, free time to pursue personal interests, etc. And me, easily navigating it all. Kicking butt and taking names, basically; having achieved that most elusive of things: work-life balance.

I am now 29. And while I wouldn’t say that I am kicking butt and taking names or some type of #bossbabe, for the first in my life I feel like I am getting close to having and successfully balancing all of the great things in my life that I described above.

Now, I know that the concepts of “having it all” and “work-life balance” are gendered in ways that are problematic. Men don’t frequently get asked how they balance work and family, or if it’s hard to find time to work and parent and spend time with their spouse and maintain a home. Only women get asked those questions, and judged on the basis of them. But the fact remains that work-life balance is an issue that many women do struggle with, so I wanted to explore how it’s working for me these days while acknowledging the problems that exist with it.

A few important things have changed since we moved to Atlanta that help make my work-life balance more possible: 1) support from my family that has resulted in a little breathing room financially and logistically, 2) a much happier work situation,  3) the fact that my school district actually pays teachers a living wage and 4) that I’ve been really trying to nurture my personal passions.

Living two doors down from my family has been amazing. Our normal weekday routine now involves my mom taking care of Jonah, as I’ve mentioned. And more than that, just the fact that there is always at least one backup person to help in case of an emergency feels very reassuring, especially to me, who tends to prepare for the worst-case scenario in all situations. I can breathe easier now.

As to work, I read a quote posted by some random person on Facebook the other day which said “It’s a lucky man or woman who gets up in the morning, puts both feet on the floor, knows what they’re about to do, and thinks it still matters.” (I just looked this up and it turns out it’s a Joe Biden quote.) This is where I am about teaching. I know that what I do matters, and I’m happy to go to my school every day. It’s what I want to spend my days doing.

On the practical side, I feel better-treated than I ever have as a teacher. There are several responsibilities that our current school system helps its teachers with, such as lesson planning, so that makes life a little easier and less stressful than previous teaching jobs.

More importantly, for the first time I feel like my colleagues and I are being paid close to what we are worth. To illustrate: I am making $10,000 more than I would were I to be teaching now in North Carolina, with the same years of experience, same degrees, etc. I am making $20,000 more than I did last year at my non-school system job. THOUSAND. Not hundred.

All educators deserve to make this, and more. Making enough money allows a person to do a few things for themselves. My family can now afford a gym membership and some housecleaning help without feeling like we won’t make it to the end of the month, which is where we were in 2015-2016. Money being extremely tight led to me being both less healthy and more stressed, because there was always work that needed to be done at home once I got home from my day job, and because I knew I wasn’t taking care of myself.

It’s hard to practice self-care when you literally can’t afford any non-essentials, and when you can barely afford the essentials. To employers: want your employees to be happy at work and have a good work-life balance? Pay them a freaking decent amount of money.

Because I feel less stress in other areas of my life, I’ve had the freedom and space to devote to people and things that I love. When I am spending time with Jonah and Jonathan, I can be all there, not worrying about when I will have time to clean the house or do those hours of lessons plans or if we can afford to go to a museum.

It’s kind of a snowball effect: just like stress in one area tends to build up and spill over into other areas of your life, peace can be the same. Remove a tremendous stresser in one area, and everything else gets calmer and more peaceful. Serenity spreads.

I’m also devoting more time to my personal passions. Readers of this blog have probably noticed that I am writing more regularly than I used to, because I actually have time to do it. I am also getting to go to yoga and Pilates at the gym weekly, which I love but couldn’t afford in the past.

I know that I am tremendously lucky, and I am so thankful for how my family has been blessed over the last year. Is everything perfect now? Of course not. But I’m feeling better physically and emotionally than I have in a long time, maybe since Jonah was born and Jonathan and I took on the responsibilities of parenthood. I feel…balanced.

To sum up: in my experience the answer to the work-life balance question is the following: get outside help from family (or friends) if you can, do a job you find fulfilling and find an employer who will pay you what you’re worth, take care of yourself physically, and take time to nurture your inner life and do the things that you find meaningful.

 

How do you achieve work-life balance?

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How Should We Respond to Our Privilege?

“Just because I’m privileged and other people aren’t doesn’t mean that’s my fault.”

This. This was said to me last weekend, word-for-word, in the context of a conversation about some people being unprepared to go to college due to poor literacy skills. I was trying to explain the root causes behind low literacy. (Ya know, because I work at an adult literacy agency and all.) When I stated that people like us who are born in middle-class families with long histories of educational success have a leg up in life, my conversational partner made the statement above.

What d0 I mean by privilege? “Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them.” ~Peggy McIntosh. If you are white, if you are middle-class, if you are straight, you are privileged.

I walked away from the conversation, and I kicked myself later when I thought of all the things I should have said.

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I should have said, you’re right, it’s not your fault that you’re privileged, but it’s also not other people’s fault that they aren’t.

Rather than being merely a difference in where you happened to be born, attitudes that blame the less fortunate for their misfortune say this: You have a hard life because something is wrong with you. You (or your family) did something wrong and you deserve what you get.

I should have said that just because you, like me, happened to be born a white girl in an upper-middle class family doesn’t mean that you are somehow better than those who struggle.

I should have said that this statement ignores the existence of structural inequities in society that are oppressive to low-income people and minorities.

The”pull yourself up by your bootstraps” story that Americans idealize is a myth, most of the time. Ours is often not a country of equal opportunity, and to say otherwise is to ignore reality. For example, the gap between the rich and and poor is larger right now than it’s ever been. It’s much easier for people who are born with tremendous privilege to succeed than those who are born below the poverty level. This is just common sense.

I should have said that this statement absolves the fortunate from any responsibility to advocate for the less fortunate.

As Christians, we have a biblical responsibility to work for a just society. For racial justice, gender equality, equity of educational access, and in general, equal opportunities for all no matter the circumstances into which they were born. For gun control, so that people who are known to be troubled can’t walk into clubs and movie theaters and kindergarten classes and kill large numbers of people with freaking assault weapons.

Fellow Christians, we’re falling down on the job. Rather than saying, “I’m privileged and those other people aren’t, lucky me,” why not use that privilege to help those who don’t have it? To make the world better during the time that we are here? To tell people about Jesus, sure, but also to act like his hands and feet by making lasting changes in society?

I just can’t with the world right now.

Working Moms: Where Are You?

Here’s something I’ve been wondering for a while: Where are all the working moms? Regular readers know that I am a full-time working mom of a toddler. Other than a 3-month maternity leave, I’ve worked since my son was born. Statistics say that I am one of many, many working moms of young children in America: 64 percent of women with children under age 6 work or are actively looking for work, and 70 percent of those work full time.

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Since this is the case, why do I only know a handful of other full-time working moms, either in real life or virtually? Most moms I know either stay home or work part-time. Maybe this has something to do with my immediate context in the South, where “traditional” families are perhaps more common than in other parts of the country. And I read a lot of mommy blogs, which tend to be written by SAHMs. Maybe most full-time working moms don’t have time to blog.

Perhaps this is a leftover element from my younger years, but there is something about being different from most people around me that makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, or that I’m not privy to some secret that others share. I find it annoying that staying home still seems to be what is considered normal for moms of young children, even though, as the statistic I discussed above indicates, working is now actually more common. You wouldn’t know it. I would like to take Jonah to a toddler storytime at the library, but when do you think they are? Weekday mornings. I joined a toddler playgroup Meetup, but when do they always want to meet? Weekday mornings. Moms’ bible studies? You guessed it: Weekday mornings. I. AM. A. BIT. OVER. IT.

Me working full time is what works for my family at this point–it’s not really optional. However, it’s what makes me happy, too, though I won’t lie and say I haven’t occasionally felt envious of those who get to stay home. Overall though, I get a strong sense of satisfaction from my job. I like making my own money. I’m proud of myself and what I do, both at work and at home. I like the example that I’m giving my son of a strong, accomplished woman. Another reason to be glad that I work: Recent studies show strong, long-term benefits for adult children of working mothers.

But really: Where are the working moms? Let’s be friends!

How Yoga Helped Me Take Myself Seriously

It all started with a Groupon.

About two months ago I began doing yoga. I’ve always wanted to try it, but all the studios I had looked at were pretty expensive, and as the working mother of a toddler I didn’t see how I had the time. At the beginning of March Jonathan found a Groupon for a local studio and suggested that we buy it, and I agreed.

I started going to classes and was immediately hooked. The combination of pushing my body outside of its comfort zone plus mindfulness and proper breathing did wonders for me physically. I felt better.

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public domain image via pexels.com

Soon I noticed that something strange was happening. During and after class, I began to have lots and lots of ideas to write about. I’ve enjoyed writing for a long time, but have always been very much a slave to inspiration, meaning that I would only write when I had a great idea–which wasn’t often. But once I started doing yoga, the ideas just started flooding into my mind. Yoga inspired me, and I started writing multiple times a week. I haven’t stopped yet.

Then, I got the crazy idea that someone else might want to read what I was writing, and that they might even pay me for it. Why not submit some posts to some other websites and see what happens, right? Can’t hurt. And two weeks later, I had five posts featured on BlogHer, including one I was paid for, and two accepted for publication on YourTango and Scary Mommy.

I think yoga has inspired me to write in three ways: 1) I am actually exercising on a regular basis, which benefits my body and mind, 2) the mindfulness that is a part of yoga practice helps me to clear my head and focus on my breathing, so when I do begin to think of other things again the ideas flow freely, and 3) yoga and writing are both things that I am doing only for myself. They are mine–not part of my roles as wife, daughter, mom, employee, just Holly.

I really think this is the crux of the whole issue: When I started taking care of myself in one way it enabled me to take care of myself in other ways, too. When I started believing that my writing was worth taking seriously, I found out that other people thought so, too. And that’s an empowering thing.

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public domain image via pexels.com

As women, we seem to have a tendency to discount our gifts. Maybe you have a little hobby that you dabble in now and then but you don’t think that it’s worth showing to other people. Or you downplay your strengths at work in order to not seem pushy or like you’re showing off. And this benefits nobody. It doesn’t help the people who would benefit from your gift, and it certainly doesn’t help you.

So I guess the moral of this story is to find whatever it is that inspires you, and make time for it. Don’t be afraid of the gifts that you have. Embrace them, and find others that do, too. Make yourself a priority. Take yourself seriously. And try yoga–it’s the best.