To all the moms who feel like they have a seat reserved at the Mad Hatter’s table, we GET You! 

To Every Thing, There is a Season

To Every Thing, There is a Season

Between the two of us, my best friend and I have seven children. Also, two full-time jobs, three part-time jobs, and two husbands (one each).

We’ve talked a lot over the years about how to achieve the elusive work-life balance. How many hours a day should we devote to childcare vs. paid work? What’s the right amount of time to spend nurturing a marriage vs. keeping the kids and the floors clean?

There was never a good answer, never enough hours in the day to fulfill all the tasks our lives seemed to demand. And considered in that light, we were both failures. When you’re spending time consoling a weepy 7th grader, the laundry piles up. When your home is spotless for guests, the kids are plugged into their devices for extra hours. There was a constant tension, whether we were taking time away from our kids to finish a work project, or taking time away from work to manage fevers or school May Day festivals.

For every one thing that was accomplished, two other things fell by the wayside. As a result, the sum total of accomplishments never crept very far into the black. Our balance sheets seemed forever in the red.

But because we are mothers, and mothers are resilient and creative, my friend and I kept working to figure out a solution to the problem.

Eventually, we realized that the trouble wasn’t in how we were balancing our lives. It was in how we were choosing to look at balance in the first place.

To everything there is a season
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew

Here’s what changed and made all the difference

Instead of looking at how to balance each day, each week, my friend and I began to look at our lives in terms of seasons. I don’t mean winter, summer, and fall, but in the sense that to everything, there is a season.

You can do everything you want to do—you just can’t do it all at the same time.

There was a seven-year period when I was a stay-at-home mother. During that time, making healthy meals for my family was a priority. The laundry was routinely folded and put away. I was present for all of my children’s poetry readings, Valentine’s Day parties, and kindergarten graduations (and 4th grade, 5th grade, and 8th-grade graduations). It was a season of serious, almost uninterrupted, motherhood.

Now, don’t let me give you the idea this was complete bliss. I love my children and I made a conscious choice to have each one of them when I did. But there were days I dreamed of escaping the monotony of motherhood. Laundry is the devil (and I don’t mean that metaphorically). I don’t enjoy cooking, so prepping all those healthy meals was a grind. I’m an introvert who had to force myself to join playgroups and spend time at the park.

For that entire season, despite the perfectly folded laundry and veggie-filled plates, there was a part of me that went completely unfulfilled. I’d left behind a satisfying and creative career in television to become a full-time parent. That part of me lay dormant for years. That part of me got zero time and no attention.

It wasn’t a perfect balance, is what I’m trying to say. To add insult to injury, I realized I wasn’t doing a good job with the balancing act, which felt like an additional burden.

Over time, as more of my kids spent more of their days at school, I slowly found my way back to work. I started small and part-time. Recently, I accepted my first full-time job since 2001.

I get coffee breaks now and people regularly thank me for a job well done. When I take a bathroom break, no one follows me in or tries to carry on a conversation through the door. I am using a part of my brain I wasn’t entirely sure was still functional after so much time off. And I still get a rush when a paycheck hits my bank account. SOMEONE PAYS ME TO WORK! It is silly how satisfying that is.

Making contributions to the world at large, providing for my family, and nurturing the part of myself that loves the work feels good. Having a job gives me something that full-time motherhood did not.

And still, it is not a perfect balance.

The mountains of laundry in my house right now are epic. I’m going to miss my youngest son’s school concert tomorrow because I have a shoot I can’t reschedule. We had pizza for dinner three times last week. (How do you know you’ve played the pizza card too often? When two of your kids turn up their nose at it, and opt to have a salad made from limp lettuce and baby carrots instead.)

When I was home with the kids, I was busy. Now that I’m back at work, I am busy.

But I no longer look at each day and try to craft an impossibly perfect combination of hours devoted to everything that is important in my life. Instead, I look at the season I spent giving myself fully to my family and I am grateful for it. Just as I am embracing this new season, where I will rediscover my work-brain and relish using my skills for something other than creating home movies with unusually high production value.

I will give myself permission to trade a clean house for a well-crafted episode of television. Because this is the season for doing work.

Identifying where you are in your life and your present season, is worthwhile. It affects not only your perspective—how you view success, how you consciously make room for your goals—it also affects your relationships. It’s been nearly nine years since my best friend and I lived within fifteen-hundred miles of each other. Our friendship has survived despite the distance because across the years our lives have tracked in parallel. We have moved together from season to season. We’ve found ourselves in the same place time and again, even though geographically we’ve been hundreds of miles apart.

So there are smaller seasons, too. Seasons for nurturing a friendship or a marriage. Seasons for taking particular care of an aging parent. Seasons for prioritizing your health or that of a loved one. Seasons for reinventing yourself, devoting time to reimagine what your future holds.

The balance lies in how you spend your life—your whole, entire life, not just each 24-hour chunk of it. The goal should be to devote yourself fully to all the things you love, for long enough and with enough passion for the fruits of your labor to come to full bloom. It doesn’t matter how long that takes. Your children will grow to have satisfying lives of their own. Your work will produce a net gain to the world (even if that gain is nothing more than an increase in the number of addictive episodes of House Hunters). Your relationships with friends and parents and siblings and neighbors will create a community that will outlast you.

To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. When you appreciate your life through that lens, achieving balance suddenly feels possible. Perhaps you’re even doing it already.

Take a listen to this lovely Judy Collins version of the Pete Seeger song, with a lyrical nod to the book of Ecclesiastes.

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