Is balance a myth? Finding our footing in new times.

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Sarah Hoover attempts the perfect balance between her career in insurance with being a mom to a curious, enthusiastic and energetic 5-year-old. She owns/operates her own Etsy shop, loves blogging, cooking, running (slowly) and traveling.

Balance. It’s akin to a foreign word to most of us who spend our working lives attempting to be everything: a great parent, a great spouse, a great employee, a great volunteer, a great leader, a great athlete, etc. Are we able to achieve greatness at anything when we’re trying to excel at everything?

I believe that we all struggle together; no one ever feels like they achieve the right ratio of career success to family life. And (gasp!) that’s OK! Many of us come from a generation of parents who worked hard for 35 years or more (and often at only one company for their entire career). Our parents worked incredibly hard for someone else because they had to — either to get ahead or just to survive. Our generation is different.

A 2016 report by Spera found that more than one-third of millennials are independent workers, and researchers even predicted that more than half of all American workers will move into the gig economy within five years. Contrast that with 30 years ago, when it was more typical that parents fought morning traffic, punched a time clock, worked nine-hour days and then fought afternoon traffic before trying to get dinner on the table, homework done and kids to bed. And evenings were mostly “mom’s jobs,” with dad being more of a bystander than a participant in the daily routines.

We work hard too — but even harder now at the delicate balance that is co-parenting; mom and dad are both making a valiant effort to attend every school function, every practice, every recital, every event in our kids’ lives. We leave work early or come in late to be present at those events, and we’re back on our computers working late after we tuck our kids in to make up for that time lost at work. It’s just a different world we operate in.

Our kids are much busier than we ever were, and that makes ethereal balance even harder to achieve. I have several friends who have their kids in extra-curriculars literally every single weeknight. As a kid, I played one sport a season and did nothing outside of school-sponsored events. Finding balance with that kind of crazed schedule is arguably impossible. I believe we spend a lot of time beating ourselves up for not achieving our visions of our ideal balance, but we’re also potentially setting ourselves up for failure when we’re over-scheduling our kids (and ourselves) so much.

We need to realize that when we do have time with our kids, we can make the most of that balanced zen feeling by just plain unplugging and giving them our full attention. In our house, we have a “no phones at dinner or during family game time” rule. We have conversations about everyone’s day, both the good and bad that happened to all of us. We discuss upcoming family events, things we’re looking forward to (like weekend plans) and the important people in our lives. We try to see the world around us through the eyes of our child by taking the time to look closely at things, hear the sounds, notice colors and smell the proverbial roses, instead of instantly taking photos with our phones to the point that we miss things our child notices.

We also know we aren’t perfect parents and that no one else is either. Sometimes my husband can’t make an event I can attend, and other times we’re reversing roles. But we strive to make the most of the time we do have with our son. How many times have you been to the park and witnessed parents glued to their text messages instead of hearing their kids pleading for one more push on the swings? I know things come up, and work sometimes cannot wait; however, there will be a day when our homes will be empty, and we’ll have nothing but time to spend working. We won’t have little voices asking if we can shoot more Nerf hoops or ride our bikes to the ice cream store or read just one more story.

We all want career success. We strive to shine at work and climb our respective ladders while balancing our family life and not feel like we’re sacrificing too much. I believe balance can be achieved even if it doesn’t feel perfectly aligned every time. If we are truly valuing that precious time we are given with our families, we’re already more balanced than we give ourselves credit for.