What does balance mean to you? We read a lot about work/life balance. We’ve always been taught to eat a balanced diet, in spite of all the diet fads out there. We absolutely know how important a balanced budget is. What about balance in other areas of our lives? There are several sacred cows when it comes to balancing family versus other things.
It seems to be a badge of honor these days to prioritize our children’s functions over all else. We still have to work, but everything else falls by the wayside. We sacrifice our time, money, marriages, self-care, and friendships at the altar of our kids’ extracurricular activities. Please don’t pillory me yet, I am a child advocate who believes that raising children is noble work and that they deserve endless amounts of love and support, just not to the exclusion of everything else. There has been a quote around for years that says “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother”. This obviously goes both ways, and it’s important for children to see it modeled so they can go on to form their own healthy adult relationships.
I’ve known parents, so many parents, who don’t have any personal or social life, except maybe in the circle of kid’s sports. The lucky ones form support and friendship groups with other sports parents but often these are friendships of convenience and not necessarily ones that feed their souls. Dr. Robin Dunbar, head of a study from the University of Oxford, has said that “having a large, well-integrated social network has a significant impact on both physical and emotional health. People with larger and/or more integrated networks suffer less illness, recover quicker from surgery, are less likely to die – and even their children are less likely to die.” The same study recommends that women should go out with friends twice a week to improve their health.
I think being out of balance with our needs is what makes later life and empty nest syndrome such hard things to come to terms with. I remember being invited to a cookie exchange with a group of women in my neighborhood when I was around 40. My mother had just died, my daughter was somewhat independent, and I hadn’t developed any real friendships since moving back because I was swept up in my Mom’s chemo and other treatment as soon as I arrived in the state. I invited two neighbors about my age to the exchange and they both accepted. When the day of the party arrived, both my neighbors had to cancel. I felt like I had been a nuisance even inviting them and rushed to let them off the hook, but they both said that I didn’t understand, that they were crushed because they really “needed” to be around other women.
We are inordinately busy when we are raising our children, but we can still take some time to nurture ourselves and our friendships. Maybe that doesn’t look like an episode of Sex and the City, maybe it looks like an hour long coffee date with an old friend every week or so. What’s important is that you respect yourself and your friends enough to keep the date. Whatever it looks like, just remember to balance your life as a parent with life as an individual and you will find yourself a more complete, healthy person, and that’s a win for everybody.
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