Balance and the Pendulum Rhythm

I get the question a lot, and I understand why. I really do. God knows, I’ve probably asked busy moms how they do it, too.

How do you find balance?

How do you balance your family and your job?

How do you balance your kids and your husband?

How do you balance cleaning the toilet and finding time to write?

How do you make room for God and for personal hygiene?

You guys, I’m not here to lie to you. And I want to personally apologize if you’re someone who’s asked me a balance question, because I undoubtedly laughed in your face. And I feel like it’s really important to let you know, I wasn’t laughing at YOU, I was laughing at BALANCE.

Because, of course, I don’t know Balance. I haven’t met Balance. And every time I think I sense her in my vicinity, sniffing around the periphery of, say, an organized room or an updated calendar or a load of laundry I actually managed to put away, Balance seems to find a way to fade back into the mist.

It appears that Balance is my mythical creature. She’s like a unicorn. As much as I’d like to meet her (and try desperately to believe in her), I suspect she’s skittish and nervous and that I move too fast. I scare her away as I bumble through the forest, breaking sticks under my feet and trying to coax her to me by shouting, “BALANCE! Where ARE YOU? I NEEEED YOU!”

My life is out of balance, and that’s the truth. And the only question up there at the top of this post that’s easy for me to answer is the one about the toilet. How do you balance cleaning the toilet and finding time to write? You guys, I don’t clean my toilet. That just doesn’t happen at my house so you might want to go potty before you come over because it’s not a pretty or probably even a mildly sanitary experience around here. (Thank you, toilet, for sacrificing yourself. You are The Giving Tree.)

But here’s the thing about balance.

I’ve been wondering for quite some time if I’m chasing the wrong unicorn in life’s forest and if balance maybe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

See, I see balance like this:

 

A set of loose scales and a precarious, fragile pin on which they’re perched.

And here’s the problem. If I use scales to measure my life, I have to weigh the pieces against each other, and I’m forever choosing sides. I spend time with my kids at the cost of time with my husband. I sweep my floor at the cost of writing a letter to a friend. The merest breath can cause the scales to shiver, not to mention the mini-hurricanes that are my children, and I live in fear of the see-saw, that I will either rocket off the top on a trajectory I can’t sustain or thud to the bottom when it all falls off the other end. No matter what I do with a balance system, I’m left feeling like a thief, stealing the pieces back and forth and always coming up wanting.

Have you ever watched a baby learn to walk? The stumbling, joyful, crazy mess of imperfectly learning to do something magical like lift oneself off the floor? We use babies as a metaphor for failing and falling and persistently trying again, and I like that metaphor because I think it’s true. But another truth is this: babies don’t spend their learning-to-walk time just failing and falling and trying again. Babies spend their learning-to-walk time finding their center. All of that flailing serves a purpose. Because when the baby finds his center, he finds his gravity — the thing that secures him firmly to the earth and allows him to make forward movement, swinging his body like a pendulum, always out of balance, and always coming back to the center.

 

I think about my life thirteen years ago as a new mama. And then my life nine years ago as a new mama again. And then my life five years ago as a new mama again.

Every time I became a mother, I was thrown off balance. And every time, I was embarrassed by my awkward attempts to woo a balance unicorn that may or may not exist. I longed to be like other mothers, nuzzling and petting their balance contentedly.

What I didn’t realize is that motherhood throws most of us off balance. Of course it does! When we become moms, our center of gravity shifts by an entire human being.

These days, I’m not interested in the scales. Instead, I’m trying to find my pendulum rhythm.

See, the pendulum rhythm is as loud as it is dependable. And it’s meant to move.

Rhythm reverberates through my heart. Its click-click beat chats up my soul. It teaches me how to dance with the pulse of life. And, if I listen closely, it whispers gentle reminders that its pace will slow over time to give me rest before I put it in motion again.

Rhythm doesn’t require me to hold my breath and or stay still as a statue to find my center. No. A pendulum rhythm – including the wild swings outward – still moves me ever closer to the middle, which is where all of my important things are found. My people, my God, my words – they’re all poised there, right at the center. My gravity.

These days, I see balance the same way I see the Loch Ness Monster. Gosh, it’ll be SO AWESOME someday if I find out that it’s real!

Until then, though, I’m living my life by the pendulum rhythm. Wildly swinging back and forth and always coming home to center.

……….

scales image courtesy of Kittisak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
pendulum image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
49 comments
  1. […] balance. Obviously, it’s easier to walk holding onto a rail. Frankly, the surprise here isn’t […]

  2. What a brilliant post to find when I’m newly pregnant with baby number six! Balance is a unicorn to me too–but I have found my “center” while moving before, and God willing, I will feel that way again, even in the midst of morning sickness. Thank you for making me smile tonight!

  3. I was just talking about the need for balance with a friend the other day. I’m a Libra and I always feel like I *need* to balance my scales in order to feel organized and “together” and moving in the right direction.
    But the fact is, I am a single mom to 5 kids who works F/T outside the home…there is no “balance” in sight. But the pendulum theory I can TOTALLY embrace and work with. I like it a lot…thanks for giving me an alternative and getting me off my impossible quest for balance. 🙂

  4. Wow.

    It’s swinging, returning to center, that’s important, isn’t it? That one will stick with me.

    Thank you

    (PS When your kids are a little older you can teach them to clean their own toilet. Call it a learning experience. It works for me.)

  5. This made me cry a little bit – thank you from a madly flailing mum.

    1. Sending love your way, from one mad flailer to another. xo

  6. […] up. And push them down. And lift them halfway up. It’s impossible, and through it all, to the rhythm of the music, she says, “Down and halfway up. Down and halfway up. Down and halfway […]

  7. Just found your blog today through the Crappy Pictures blog. Love your writing. You and your family are adorable and, as I’ve been reading through some older posts, you’ve made me laugh many times (and, a couple of times, tear up). In particular, I loved this post, as I am always striving for balance. And always failing. And always fighting the frustration of feeling exactly what you describe–when I spend time on one thing, I’m shortchanging somewhere else. I so love the idea of the moving pendulum and always returning to center. You have changed my whole outlook on what I am trying to achieve.

    Just wanted you to know the impact you have had on someone you’ve never met whose life is pretty different from yours (I’m older, have only two children–teens–and I have been raising them alone since my husband died several years ago, while working full-time outside the house) but who still has many of the same issues.

    THANK YOU!!

    1. Welcome, Kathi, and thanks for your very kind comments. I’m glad you’re here, mama.

      xoxo

  8. Thanks for this one…. I’ve been trying to balance for years, with all the bumps and bruises to show for it. I remember when I used to go to ballet (a hundred years ago) that my teacher used to say to us “you can’t stand on your toes, if you don’t use your core!” What a wonderful reminder that without The Core, the rest is just a mess.

    1. Beautiful analogy, Leah. Thank you.

  9. […] the thing I’m learning about this life. It’s not about making it perfect or even about balance. Not at all. This life with kids is too extreme — too full of rapid change — for […]

  10. my favorite one yet. And perfectly timed!

  11. I like this perspective. I’m going to mull it over a while. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I’m with Heidi – my favorite line was, “Thank you, toilet, for sacrificing yourself. You are The Giving Tree.” Thank you for making me laugh out loud on a Monday morning! (I found you through the link you posted recently at Pioneer Woman.)

  13. Thank you for posting this – it was shared on another website and I stumbled on it today, and it hit home when I needed it. With each day seeming fragile at best, this is a reminder that it is OK to not do it all!

    1. Such a kindness to leave this thought here, Em. Thank you. And welcome!

  14. […] a bicycle balances risk and accomplishment on the very fine edge of a blade, and to send our small children […]

  15. Excellent post, Beth. I’m trying to find my center yet again — after taking on a job with regular hours after more than 20 years (20 YEARS!) of mostly stay-at-home-mom-ness.

    1. Thanks, Paula. Sending you centering wishes. x

  16. You’re in good company, Beth. Jesus didn’t live a balanced life either, at least by the set of scales we try apply to ourselves. I loved this blog.

    1. HEY, YEAH! Thanks for the perspective, Nancy. Jesus is usually my favorite because his first miracle was turning water into wine… SO a guy I can follow. 😉 But I never thought about Jesus running all over the place all the time… a lot like a mama with a minivan full of 12 not-always-thrilled-to-be-there kids, huh? Food for thought.

  17. Beth, this is amazing. I love the idea of the pendulum and finding center. It really gives me hope!

    1. Aw! Thanks Laine! Hope-giving is one of my fondest wishes.

  18. LOVE this. Thank you. Every time I read your posts I just think “Yes!” And this one is beautiful (as are so many others). You have such a gift. Happy Valentine’s Day Beth!

    xxxooo

    1. Thanks, Fiona! I wish you knew how much your encouragement means to me. I’m grateful.

      xxxXoooO

  19. You totally nailed the balance question. LOVE it! You make me laugh every time. 🙂 I am adopting this, and ditching striving for balance. Pendulum. Yup. Way more real.

    1. Hooray for REAL! Isn’t reality a fun place to live??

  20. This speaks to my heart directly – I love how you framed Balance as an elusive being that lives on the outskirts of our lives. Reminds me of that joke about the death of Common Sense – except this isn’t a joke. It’s real. The pendulum is a great metaphor and a completely approachable one to live by. Some days it may swing more to one side than another – and it’s ok. We can still feel good about ourselves no matter which way it swings.

    1. Thanks so much, Kasia, for writing your thoughts. It really means a lot to me to hear your feedback.

  21. Wow! I LOVE this – what an awesome image of life! Loved – ‘its meant to move.’

  22. bravo.

    wait….I’m supposed to clean my toilet?

    1. Oh my gosh, Amanda! I am SO SORRY if I created a false impression that toilets should be cleaned.

  23. My favorite line was this one–“Thank you, toilet, for sacrificing yourself. You are The Giving Tree.” And also, my favorite was the whole post 🙂

  24. “…living my life by the pendulum rhythm. Wildly swinging back and forth and always coming home to center.”
    LOVE that!! What a perfect picture of life as a mom!
    Every time I THINK I am in a groove & doing well… WHAM! Life knocks me off balance… sometimes just a little, sometimes waaaayy off my envisioned course! But, it’s all good! Just gotta find the rythym to the new song and start swinging again!
    thank you! 🙂

    1. I just love this comment! Thank you.

  25. I like this post a lot. Nay, I downright LOVE this post!
    It seems like the days that I spend trying to balance everything in our tiny home are the days I feel the most down, the most hopeless, the most … well, the most depressed. On the days where I say, “screw it – what gets done, gets done. And what doesn’t just wasn’t important enough today,” I see that glimmer of hope and the blessings that I have seem to shine. It is REALLY hard (for me anyways) to not down myself because I’m just not the mom that can do it all without sacrificing something.

    1. I so get this, Kayla. This is one of my hardest lessons as a mama – and one of the reasons I’m glad I had 5 kids because they forced me to learn it faster – the power of letting go actually can lift us up. Who knew?

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