CANDY ALLAN: Teeter-tottering on the balance

Smarter people than I have written about work-life balance and how to achieve it, particularly for parents. I’ve read some of what’s out there, and while there are some good tips, I don’t think what’s written is entirely realistic.

In order to do a good job as either an employee or as a parent, you’ve got to focus on the task at hand. Achieving balance somehow sounds as though everything is even. In reality, I think success looks more like a seesaw.

You’re either all the way at work, focused on the job at hand, or you’re all the way at home, paying attention to what the kids need, whether it’s helping with homework or fixing dinner. It’s when you try and do both at the same time that things get muddy.

Don’t get me wrong – the shift from one end of the teeter-totter to the other happens in the blink of an eye. One minute you’re typing a story for the next day’s paper, and the next you’re on the phone with your child’s teacher discussing “The Incident” on the field trip today. You hang up, grab the story off the printer and switch back to work mode.

Of course, that’s on a good day.

Some days, naturally, are not good days. You’re worried about how to figure out how to get them to practice because you’ve got an afternoon meeting or you’re fixing dinner thinking about the problem at work that morning. Not to mention the days your children are sick.

Family support – grandparents, aunts, uncles and good friends – are key to having someplace for your child to be when you simply cannot be off work that day. I recognize I have the immense good fortune to have a job where I can be off if I need to be or adjust my work hours to bend around doctor’s appointments and such.

Still, those days you feel the seesaw swinging back and forth erratically. You’re trying to focus on something at work but the back of your mind is wondering if the fever broke yet. Or you’re at home tucking your baby in bed and worrying about the things that aren’t getting done at the office.

Days like that, it’s hard.

You find yourself in the break room asking the other moms if their kids have had this yet and how long it lasts. You hear all kinds of answers, and try to figure out which advice would work best for your kid. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

And next week, when the next parent is asking in the break room, you share the tweaks on the advice you received that coaxed your child to eat some soup, or quieted the troubling cough. It feels like we’re all in this together, and perhaps most when kids are sick.

As I slide back and forth from one end of the teeter-totter to the other, I try to listen to the other folks riding the same seesaw. Not everything I hear will work well for my family, and not everything I suggest to other parents will work in theirs. Still, keeping an open mind and looking at all the options helps.

Whether it’s coordinating with another mom to pick up her son and take both boys to the Boy Scout campout or getting kids to practice, having a village makes the seesaw a little easier to manage.

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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