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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Roomba and Me: A Love Story

Please, my friends, let me tell you about one of the miracles of modern life: the Roomba vacuum-cleaning robot. (Please note that this is not a sponsored post. I just love this thing so much I have to tell everyone about it.)

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The Love family Roomba

Haven’t heard of the Roomba? It’s a vacuum cleaner that you set-and-forget. You turn it on, walk away and DO SOMETHING ELSE while it vacuums the room (including going under furniture), returns to its charger and re-docks itself. Better yet, you can program it ahead of time and it does its thing while you are at work.

This thing has changed my life. My whole adult life I have felt so much pressure to keep a clean house, and a lot of guilt when I don’t. The tension between feeling the need to clean vs. not wanting to waste my precious free time doing it has been quite painful. This amazing little dude has taken a lot of that pressure away, just enough to make everything else seem that much more manageable. It’s given me back time, energy and peace of mind.

So this product is amazing. Get one right now. I’m serious! It will vastly improve the quality of your life.

Life essentials and self-care

I’ve had a wonderful couple of weeks. I’ve just been really happy recently, after not being so happy for a while. Nothing special has happened, so it’s taken me a little while to figure out why this is.

I’ve realized that I’m happy because I have been reading and writing every day. Jonathan and I have been doing better about maintaining a clean house. We’ve been cooking regularly instead of eating fast food and take-out. I’m spending time outside. I’m getting enough sleep.

These are the essentials of my happy life. I feel content because I am reading great literature, writing and creating on a regular basis. A lot of these things boil down to picking what is right for me versus what is easy. It’s easier to binge-watch tv at night after Jonah is in bed rather than make time to write. It’s easier to get Chick-Fil-A for dinner every night instead of cook. These things may be easy, but they don’t make me happy. Instead, I’ve been trying to simplify my life and focus on the things that I know are good for me.

Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan wrote recently about the challenge of self-care for busy people, particularly busy moms, and that really resonated with me. I realize that self-care is what this is all about. For women especially, it can be so easy to push ourselves and our own emotional needs to the side in trying to fit it all in and take care of everyone else. But I’ve learned that choosing the easy option is not what is best for me or for the people who depend on me. My goal is to choose a life that is simple, that prioritizes physical and emotional health, and that involves time for myself and the things that wake me up inside.

take time

What are your life essentials? Do you feel that self-care is a challenge to fit into your life?

The Great Housekeeping Slide, 2010-2015

When I was growing up, my family’s house was spotless. Maybe not really, especially when my siblings and I were young, but that’s how it always seemed to me. That has been the standard to which I’ve compared myself since the beginning of my adult life. However, it’s occurred to me recently that my cleaning and housekeeping habits have…shall we say…evolved over the years. For me, the beginning of marriage and of my adult life occurred at the same time–2010–so this is where I’ll begin to describe what I’ve started to think of as the great housekeeping slide.

Year 1 of Marriage: 2010-2011

  • apartment
  • full time job
  • no dogs
  • no kids

The first year that we were married, Jonathan and I lived in your classic one-bedroom, one-bath, nondescript beige apartment with wall-to-wall carpet. Jonathan vacuumed and I cleaned the bathroom once a week on Sundays, and I cleaned the kitchen every night. This was super simple because we cooked probably less than 20 times the whole time that we lived there.grelot apartment

cleaning-lady

I’m so happy to be cleaning my beige apartment!

Year 2 of Marriage: 2011-2012

  • small rental house
  • full time job
  • one dog
  • no kids

Marriage year two began with our move to North Carolina. We moved into a charming but grungy 1920s bungalow in the student area of town. This house was very not clean when we moved in. Our landlord had no policy regarding the condition of the house upon tenants vacating, so when we moved in the house required some very serious scrubbing, the kitchen in particular. While we lived here we got a puppy, Zelda, who was (and is) sweet as can be. With the dog came dog hair, but luckily this house had one of those very old, very weathered wood floors that show almost no dirt. I vacuumed and cleaned the bathroom in this house every two to four weeks. I don’t remember Jonathan really cleaning at all while we lived here.

Bruce St. Bruce St. kitchen

Years 3 and 4 of Marriage: 2012-2014

  • small-medium house of our own
  • full time job
  • 2 dogs
  • pregnancy and delivery (2014)

In May 2012, Jonathan and I moved into our own first little house. It was a split level that ended up being not entirely practical for our family, though we weren’t thinking about that at the beginning. We redid the floors and I loved them. Shortly after we moved in, we added Juno the dog to our family. Juno’s a long-haired pup, so that upped the dog hair level in the house considerably. I tried to clean pretty frequently, until…I got pregnant.

hill n dale

In 2014, I was teaching 2nd grade, pregnant and constantly tired. I just couldn’t bring myself to care too much about the state of the house when I could be doing much more urgent things like sleeping.

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Jonah was born in December 2014, a week early due to my preeclampsia. Someday I’ll write his birth story. The first month of motherhood passed in a happy haze of diapers, breastfeeding and sleep deprivation. Obviously no cleaning happened during this time. After I started to get back on my feet I tried my best to get things under control, but I found it very difficult to manage work, motherhood, marriage and taking care of the house.

Year 5 of Marriage: 2015-2016

  • medium-large house
  • full time job
  • 2 dogs
  • Jonah, sweet baby boy

At the end of July we moved into our current house, the “old girl”–so named because of the exterior color scheme, and because it was previously owned by an elderly lady.

audubon house

I love this house so much. I love everything about it–the size (roughly double the size of our old house), the backyard, the neighborhood, the layout, the colors, the quirky details of a house built in the early 50s. It’s a great fit for our family. I can’t see myself wanting to move ever again.

My priorities have changed as a result of motherhood, and I have learned that that’s okay. Where I used to feel guilt if I didn’t get around to housekeeping, now I tend to give myself more of a break, and realize that I’m just doing the best I can. Because honestly, when do I have time to clean? I’m either at work, taking care of Jonah, spending time with Jonathan or sleeping, essentially. During my stolen moments to myself, do I really want to spend time cleaning? No. I’ve leaned that an important part of being a good mom and wife is taking care of yourself, and if that sometimes (often?) means that things don’t get cleaned, that is alright. It’s more important to me that I am a good mom and wife, and someone who has time for my own interests and hobbies, than that I have a Pinterest-worthy house.

(I do know what I’m requesting for Christmas and my birthday, however!)

cleaning-service

I’d love to hear from other working moms: When do you clean? How do you find time for it in your busy schedule? How in the world do you ever have time to get it all done?