One of the most common questions I see on parenting forums is ‘how do you balance it all?’. Between parenting, school, extracurricular (volunteer) work and life’s everyday necessities I often find myself struggling to answer the question. Because while it’s true that somehow or another my partner and I have managed to make it through the last 3 years of parenting, if I actually stop to think about it I can’t explain how we balance it all.
Our current situation is a perfect example of how precariously our lives are set up. My partner works 3 1/2 days a week, while I’m home with the kids and then he stays home for 1 1/2 days while I’m in class. Technically we’re both “off” on the weekend, but that’s also the only time I have set aside to study. Since I’m currently taking 3 courses and a teaching assistant for another course, I’m supposed to find 27 hours a week to study and another 5-10 hours a week to grade assignments or plan lessons. Our youngest is still breastfeeding on demand, including throughout the night, and our toddler also needs help falling asleep. This means we both spend 5pm-8pm(ish) every evening doing our usual bedtime routine (dinner, bath, reading and/or nursing). So in reality, the only time left for studying is on the weekends, also the only time left for housework, groceries, laundry, meal prep, cooking etc. So I sneak my school studies in between all of these other things, and work around my infant’s nap schedule (ideally 2 naps a day).
And all of this was working for the first 5 weeks of the semester…until my infant and I both came down with some as-of-yet undetermined illness with symptoms including ear infections (both of us), a fever (baby, not me) and general fatigue. The fact that the baby is also getting molars and in constant pain from that has also meant very little sleep. In fact the baby that has been sleeping 6 hours a night since 4 months old, has been unable to sleep without being propped up on me and one of my nipples in their mouth. Did I mention the high fever? So I’ve felt like I’m in bed with a hot water bottle that bites!
Well, thankfully the worst has passed and we are now recovering. Which means I can turn my attention back to the dozens of emails waiting in my inbox, as well as the THREE assignments that are now due in the next 10 days (one of which is overdue and another which I have to redo because I wrote it while fighting this illness and obviously was not completely coherent at the time). So as I sit here looking at a calendar with not enough hours in the day, completely overwhelmed and a bit bitter (why, oh why, did I CHOOSE to be in school again?!?!) I keep coming back to that question. How do you balance it? How do you balance a full-time job (parenting) with a full-time job (school for me, work for my partner), while also finding time to care for yourself?
The answer seems to be that you don’t. You find a way to set short-term goals and get through one day at a time. You ask for help (in my case from my partner, my family, my classmates even). You forget anything unessential, and redefine the word essential. You focus on the big picture and remind yourself that this is a short-term situation (school will be finished soon, little ones will be independent and won’t need us so much). You try to be grateful for what you have (again, my partner, my family, my classmates). You learn to do without (money, time, energy). And you hope, pray, beg, manifest, envision it all to work out, knowing that there are many, many others going through the same, or more. You remember that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And most of all you keep going. One day at a time. Because sooner or later, something’s got to give.