A transformative new way to look at life balance

by Parent Co. June 25, 2015

painting of paper boats on an orange yellow white background

Multiple consecutive days away from my kids isn’t typical for me, but over the last few weeks, I’ve spent three days in Chicago for work, enjoyed two weekend girls’ retreats (one, I hosted; the other was at Wanderlust) and flew to Pennsylvania unexpectedly for a funeral. All of this time away normally would leave me feeling guilty (particularly because I also work full time) but I’ve returned from my trips inspired and focused. On my commutes, I’ve been consuming books, including Laura Vanderkam’s I Know How She Does It, which generally posits that we can enjoy richer lives at work and at home by thinking of our time in terms of 168 hours a week, versus 24 hours a day. Considering my time in this way (and simply being away) has helped transform my perspective in positive ways. Lately, I am more likely to… Blow off errands for fun. Typically, I would spend a Sunday afternoon/evening running around to get ready for the work week: grocery shopping, food-prepping, laundry-folding, crazy-making. But after a couple of days away last week, I wanted time with the kids to feel fun. So I suggested that we pack up whatever food we had in the fridge and head to the beach. We waded, collected rocks, had dinner, then played two-on-two volleyball just before sunset. On the way home, we stopped for ice cream. I went to work on Monday feeling more ready for the week than I normally do. Squeeze special stuff into weekdays. I usually relegate (the making of) chocolate-chip pancakes to weekend mornings. But having been away for a weekend, I suggested them on a Monday—which made me a hero. A happy hero. Say yes to big things. In her book, Vanderkam points out that “saying yes to big things, like a new job, is sometimes wise. It’s saying yes to too many little things that forces one’s hand.” I just accepted a bigger role at work—exciting!—which made me question saying yes to another big thing: pursuing yoga teacher certification (just to deepen my practice). But after considering the pros/cons of doing the program and the logistics of fitting it in, I realized that yoga makes me a better person, a better partner and a better parent, and there are loads of “little ways” I take time for myself that I can say no to in order to make room for the training. Simplify. With frequent travel over a short period, I’ve developed efficiencies. I’ve realized that with black pants, a few shirts, a scarf, clean underwear, contact solution, a water bottle and some almonds (perhaps a computer), I’m pretty much good to go for a few days. Now, I spend less time packing—and also less time unpacking and thinking about packing. I’ve started to standardize in other areas, too: having a smoothie and date/nut bar every day for lunch, rotating through simple meals for dinner. Eliminating these less-important decisions about, say, what to pack and what to have for dinner leaves more time for things like drawing or playing ball with the boys. Plan more adventures. Vanderkam calls for setting up for more adventures, pointing out that these are the stuff that make happy childhood memories. Initiating outdoor excursions, like canoeing or camping—my husband’s got that covered. But our entire family also loves taking road trips, stopping in new cities and towns. During my solo drive to Southern Vermont last week (during which I saw hundreds of cows, two porcupines, a fox and a moose, and in just two-and-a-half hours) it occurred to me that, as a family, we should be exploring more of Vermont. To that end, I’ve start plotting some small-town visits. During my Chicago trip, I decided, at some point, I’d like take to each of my boys on an one-on-one urban adventure. And my time this week with family has underscored the importance of getting more visits on the books. Because regularly escaping routine is refreshing and invigorating, and showing up to seize whatever time you have with your people is important. And I want my kids to get this.
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