Mothers and Balance

If you complain about your life, your friends and your therapist and the health magazines will tell you to find a better balance. Balance is an appealing concept, but it is a fantasy in a culture that is structurally out of balance. Telling people they can improve their lives by finding balance is like telling a frog to spend a ‘balanced’ amount of time in the water and on dry land, when the pond has dried to a meagre puddle.

The forms of balance that are available to mothers do not acknowledge all the work we do, nor do they provide what is truly nourishing. (The leisure available to frazzled people with little time, in this culture, includes television, which is well known to spread discontent; drinking alcohol, with its ability to seduce one into addiction; adventure parks and other activities that wildly stimulate the senses. True leisure soothes the nervous system, creates breathing space and serenity, and is refreshing rather than merely escapist. Not that the occasional escape is a bad thing!!)

Theoretically, there is a healthy balance between paid work, unpaid work, and leisure that would not only make us productive, but also support us to thrive. In practice, paid and unpaid work fill virtually all the hours of most mothers’ days. Telling mothers it’s up to them to look after themselves or to have some fun is patronising and oppressive when the cost of doing so is neglecting a child or creating more work for oneself. By the time you organise childcare and plan meals and transport, and clean up after the babysitter and the kids, escaping for an hour or two is often just not worth it.

And so mothers live in a permanent state of overdoing, with little leisure to integrate the endless stream of mini events and major emotions that happen in a day. Over time, this lack of integration time leaves mothers’ brains over-full with both minutiae and big ideas and emotions that need processing.

This phenomenon is not unique to mothers, just more pronounced. Almost all of us in this consumerist culture are bombarded with input that we don’t have or take the time to integrate. The mindfulness movement is a positive step toward creating time to contemplate. However, what we don’t recognise enough is that the problem is not our (in)ability to take time to integrate all that is going on. The problem is that there is too much to process. So I ask myself, who does this benefit? And the answer comes quickly: if most of the population is not paying attention and thinking critically about the state of our culture, then the people with the power can carry on with what they’re doing, which is focusing on profit at the expense of caring for people.

The ways things are isn’t just the way things are. It’s not that we as individuals have to learn to adapt. Things are this way because human beings made them this way. If the status quo doesn’t suit us, and I don’t think it suits very many of us, we can change it. It may be tough, because the status quo suits some very powerful interests. It just takes some critical thinking, and the will to act collectively.