by Nathan Lee
It’s a word that many of us struggle to achieve in our lives and it’s easier said than done. The addition of a family makes for more added challenges and the demands can be overwhelming. Today’s families are so diverse in how they operate, there is no longer a one size fits all system that works for every situation. With all of the different lives that today’s families lead, the question becomes: “Are there any tried and true methods for this elusive word?”
Honestly, is there even such a thing as balance these days?
I think there are some things that never change and it’s fortunate for us when some things remain the same. But parents are putting in more hours at the workplace and less time at home, so there is usually little time to play catch up if you fall behind. Parental roles are also rotating on a daily basis. In the more traditional relationships, fathers are no longer able to come home and leave the chores and house work to their enduring wives. These days many wives have become the bread winners and get home hours after husbands get off of work. It’s almost to the point where spouses have to flip a coin to see who is cooking dinner for the night. With both parties working outside of the house equally, the burdens of the domestic bliss have to be divided into lists.
While the tag teaming of home life is essential to creating some sense of order and accountability, there still remains the often neglected adult life between partners. It is usually the first casualty in the quest for balance in families and that is unfortunate. Date night is more than just date night in a serious relationship, but in a long term committed one, it becomes something of a rare bird. It is the opportunity to reconnect with your partner and refill each other’s emotional wells. As much as the family needs the pillar and provider, pillars and providers need to have time to sustain their connection. It is that connection between partners that makes the rest of the family not only run more efficiently, but also more harmoniously.
So how can this harmonious balance be achieved?
Effort. And more effort.
As I mentioned there is no one formula, but there are some ideas that can help.
One of the major things I live by is organization. If you can organize, it doesn’t matter if your spouse or children are as disciplined. If you are an organized person, you can preempt your less meticulous family members. For example they do not need to remember to fill the coffee machine in the morning.
They do not outline their clothes for the week.
They do not prepare dinner the day before so all one need do is pop it in the oven.
Actually, in my house, my wife does this job. Another suggestion: whoever shows the most consistency and talent for a chore should be the one to perform it unless situations arise where that is not possible. It’s a fluid system, this harmony.
One prepared person can make the difference in a house even in the middle of chaos. Of course this kind of organization has its downside too. You can easily end up being the butler.
The best way to avoid this is to remember yourself in the equation. Personally, I fall into this category. We are the “order” keepers of the family unit. First in and last out. You only notice the Order Keeper’s impact on family dynamics when we stop doing it.
As an artist, my home/work schedule is complicated and at times misunderstood. The romanticized notion that we make our own schedule all the time, stand around staring at paintings contemplatively, and live stylishly is a farce. I spend most of my time away from home hunting for opportunities, worrying if I can pay my end of the bills without resorting to selling an organ. And of course feeling like I’m on pins and needles because of that. But as an individual of order it is my job to make sure that panic is kept off of the radar. The true working parent hauls butt. There is the assumption that because we are self-employed, we have more time. The truth is, I have the same 24 hours as everyone else. I meet clients, grind for residencies, spend time online following up with clients who are interested in purchasing my work and marketing my other business. Neglect of good time management results in discombobulation, and drama. With the added pressure of family members thinking it is all fun and paint, my mother still doesn’t understand what I do for a living, you have all of the ingredients to be in a real fix. What I have learned is how to use every last one of the 24 hours I’ve been given to work with. I plan out every day and I even allot time for the classic unforeseen clusterf*ck, like when you’re in a traffic jam or waiting on a particularly slow train. While it’s never perfect, I have seen what happens when I am not on top of things. I have to remember to schedule everything, including my own grown-up time. As my wonderful wife puts it playfully, “Honey don’t forget we are here while you are going on another trip to Mars.”
My job at that point is to not forget.
There are a few of you that will think it’s hypocritical or oxymoronic to mention how much I believe in “scheduled spontaneity,” that is, doing something on a whim that really isn’t on a whim. Sometimes you have to silently fit spontaneity into your er, schedule. I don’t think it is always important to announce the schedule for romance (ruins the perceived spontaneity for your spouse), but there should be a level of predictability in the household. And remember structure works so well for children, even when they hate it. Like enforcing bedtime, you do not want that battle with a grouchy child in the morning. It is much more pleasant to start the day off well-rested. It actually facilitates “spontaneity” when you think about it, because an unexpected hug or loving remark from a happy family member is more likely to happen when they’re not overly tired and can barely think.
You will be surprised if you allocate a task to every hour of the day, even if one of your goals is to relax. It frees your mind to not have to wonder what you’re supposed to be doing next. It sets boundaries in place between your work time and your off time. I had to adapt ways to create art both in the way it looks and the way it is made. Since I have less time to create, I made sure to evolve my work to fit my family lifestyle. I also made sure that family is in the equation. Whether they understand the wacky world of us creative types or not, they are on your team. Every individual in a family has a strength and weakness. It is important to talk about those and work together to figure out how the piece fit. If you can talk as a family, you can win as a family.