In my vain attempts to strike some sort of work-life balance, I am continually reading books, emails, blogposts, and magazine articles on the subject, written primarily by women. Two messages keep coming through loud and clear:
1. Self-care is important. You can't keep giving from an empty well.
2. Remember that when you say "yes" to something, you are saying "no" to something else.
I'm getting a lot better with the first directive, after almost two decades of practice born from necessity.
I hit rock bottom emotionally, physically, and spiritually in my early thirties, after losing my mother to ALS and having my second child. I had quit teaching five years earlier, had no plans on returning to the classroom, and was working a satisfying but non-advancing job in my daughter's former NICU as an assistant/ desk clerk on the weekends. My husband worked evening shift, which meant that I was the one who woke up with the kids, put them to bed, and answered any middle-of-the-night cries. Teacher that I was, I focused on providing my children with meaningful daytime activities, chauffeured the oldest to mothers' day out, and managed to launder cloth diapers for a time.
By the end of each day, I was worn out, and housework went undone, which added to the stress. My husband, working four twelve-hour shifts a week, was left to deal with dirty dishes and much of the cooking. It was all I could do just to take care of the kids, and without my best friend--my mother--to call and lean on, I was miserable. I had no visions for my own future. Exhaustion and depression were starting to take a toll on my relationship with my husband; we were housemates and not much more.
The breaking point came at Easter time, when my youngest was nearing a year old. We had gone out as a family to buy outfits for Easter Mass. Cute clothes were readily found for the children, and hubby got a nice shirt.
I could not find a single thing to wear at the mall. I wanted something to make me feel confident and beautiful, but every dress I tried on seemed to emphasize how dejected I was. I came home, sat on a chair in the living room, and cried. My husband lovingly, but plainly, said, "I'm worried about you. You need to do something. Get some help, change something, but just do it."
He was right. It didn't happen immediately, but I started taking better care of myself. I exercised more often, ate more healthfully, and didn't feel guilty about napping to make up for lost evening hours. I subscribed to Flylady's emails and started to maintain some housekeeping routines. (We still have a shiny sink at night.) I started reading books that fed my spirit, including Simple Abundance. And quite by coincidence, I ended up back in the education field as our oldest started kindergarten, doing a then-newish job of ARD facilitating--running special education IEP committee meetings. What started out as a way to get my foot in the door with our local school district ended up being an eleven-year half-time job that I loved. I became a learner again, working in a disciplinary environment and keeping up with special education law. Without that job, I wouldn't have met the librarians who nudged me into grad school to become a librarian myself.
I have not found work-life balance yet. And I'm as fickle with exercise programs as any non-athlete could be. Our house is still messy. But I have routines in place that sustain me--quiet time each morning, keeping up with good friends who cheer for me, prioritizing my relationship with my husband and my children. I still miss my mother terribly, but I am surrounded by strong, creative women who support me in her place.
Today is going to be a "me-day", to read, plan, think, relax. (There will be laundry, there is always laundry!) I've learned how to fill my well.