Finding Balance – the Eternal Quest

(This article first appeared in Hope for Women September/October 2006)

When I sat down to write this piece about Balance I was initially focussing on the on-going struggle between work and family life. I was looking at the normal things about work obligations, family commitments; the amount of time in the car running around after children and the lack of peace and stillness in my life. But as I stepped away from the computer and considered my life I realised that my quest for Balance is better considered as the struggle between what I have to do and what I want to do.

This realisation came to me as I considered the conversations I’ve been having recently with my 15 year old daughter, who struggles with her life. It isn’t what she wants it to be but she’s optimistic that when she’s older all of these tiresome, boring calls on her time will evaporate and she will be able to do what she wants, when she wants. Part of me wants to leave her with her delusions but as a responsible parent I want her to take charge of her life, have a grip on reality and realise that the world is not as portrayed on so many TV shows. My darling girl just wants to be left alone to do her own thing – whatever that is.

I sympathise with her. I too am caught between what I want to do and what I have to do. What I have to do is concerned with earning an income, looking after my family, getting on with people and running my household. And we all know of the myriad wonderful things we have to do in order for our lives to run smoothly. What I want to do is different and varies depending on a range of matters. But simply, it’s doing things that nourish my spirit. For my husband it’s being in his garden (yes, it’s more his than mine) or fishing. For my little girl it’s playing her saxophone and drawing. For my troubled teenager it’s looking after her rabbits and taking photos. For my beloved son, now miles away at university, it’s exploring his new world and challenging his considerable intellect in a variety of novel pursuits.

Interestingly, and somewhat ironically given how I consider work at times, the realisation that I needed to nourish my spirit came through work. Until recently I had spent my teaching career in the government sector. Now I work in a Catholic College, where God is central to what we do. I find comfort in this. It helps me to see teaching as more than just a job, more than glorified baby-sitting. Here we are about nourishing and developing the whole person: academic, cultural, sporting, pastoral and spiritual.

A focus on the spiritual has shifted my emphasis in the classroom. I am more intent on students doing their best, giving everything they’ve got to a task, regardless of their ability level. I’m no longer interested in just having a go, some sort of second-rate attempt at life. I want them to be the best they can. I want them to read Shakespeare and understand why he is great. I want them to make connections with aspects of their world they would normally avoid. Yes, poetry can be magical and I’m often amazed by which kids in my classes connect with the imagery or ideas in Frost or Blake or Donne. I feel my obligation to show them what’s possible in the world, what they can do. I’ve shifted my emphasis from achievement, from the pursuit of the almighty “A” to enjoyment, to finding something that resonates with the students. Something they will take with them the rest of their life. Yes, I have embraced this idea of educating the whole person: it makes perfect sense to me.

So, now in my own life I am conscious of my own spiritual needs, to have the right balance in my day-to-day existence. I am aware of the importance of having time to myself. That I am allowed to sit and write in a space all of my own, that my family can cope without me for a few hours. It’s all right to read, to sew, go for a walk, have lunch with a girlfriend. It’s okay – I’m not being selfish or a bad mother because I don’t want to devote all my time to them, or keeping the house clean.

But I still want to spend time with my family. I loved going to the movies with my son. I miss that very much. I remember when my little girl was a baby and how happy I was being at home all day, just with her, while the others were at school. She always made me smile, made me serenely happy. She brought joy to my life and that joy remains. The best moments of life occur at the dinner table. Last Spring we had a power outage. Dinner was over, the youngest had gone for a bath and the rest of us sat and talked. We made up a new game: How much do you know about… each member of the family. What is my son’s favourite band? What does my daughter like most about school? What’s my favourite colour? What does Dad like to do best? It was one of those unexpected magical evenings with the people you love most.

And of course this is the bind for some of us. You wanted to have a family, but you wanted a career too, or in my case a creative life, that doesn’t quite work with family and financial obligations.  My personal struggle for years centred on the frustration of having willingly created a certain lifestyle with expectations and obligations that did not allow for a creative life. I was resentful and angry. I felt my life slipping away. My needs and desires sacrificed on the altar of family and financial imperatives. My life was unbalanced and I couldn’t see a way through the woods of obligation. Now I understand that it was my spirit that was depleted. That I had lost my connection with God and didn’t appreciate that looking after my own needs was essential to being a whole person, to connecting with the world in an honest and decent way.

I have made choices about my life and I know that much of what I have to do is because of things I wanted. But now I can allow myself to do the things I want to do as a matter of course in my life. In fact I am a better person for doing the things that I want as well as the things I have to do. Through nourishing my spirit I am calmer, less angry and better able to have the life I want and much nicer to be around. I have found Balance.

I am about to have this conversation with my daughter. I want her to understand this sooner than I did so she can have the life she yearns for and be a person at peace with herself. (Images from private collection)

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