I have a confession to make. Although I read a lot of books (29 so far this year) in a variety of formats (paperback, hardback, ebook, audiobook, etc), I'm pretty terrible at actually finishing a non-fiction book. I have at least three non-fiction books on my Currently Reading shelf on my Kindle that I've reached 25% on and then unintentionally abandoned when I got distracted by a novel. I think this may be a side-effect of studying at university for the last four years--I simply cannot read a non-fiction book without taking stopping to take notes, which makes my reading experience last a lot longer than it normally would, were I reading fiction.
Unless I change my non-fiction reading habits dramatically, I know I'm going to struggle even more when there's a baby in the house. Even so, I've aimed to read at least ten non-fiction books in 2014, and I've already managed to knock four books off that challenge. Balanced: Finding Center as a Work-at-Home Mom by Tricia Goyer will hopefully be book #5 in that list.
When Simon and I learned that I was pregnant in November, I will admit that I began to worry about how I was going to balance all my responsibilities--housework, writing, reviewing, editing, and now a baby. To make matters worse, I pretty much abandoned my writing altogether when my morning sickness kicked it up a notch in early December. We had only told a few people we were pregnant at this point, so whenever anyone asked me how my writing was doing, I lied and told them I was in the editing stages of my current novel. Editing is boring, so no one tends to ask much about it, but I felt guilty--should I really be managing to write and edit novels right now? Or is getting the dishes washed without puking enough of an achievement?
One of the non-fiction books that I've been dipping in and out of for the last few months is Opening the Door to Your God-Sized Dream, a 40-day devotional by Holley Gerth (see what I mean about procrastinating on non-fiction? This book should have been finished way back in 2013 if it only takes 40 days to read!) One of the devotions that I read in early January was about not having to pursue every opportunity that comes your way and not feeling guilty about saying "No" to certain things. The phrase "You don't have to do it all" popped out at me (one which also appears in the first chapter of Balanced!), and I decided that "Balance" should be my word for 2014. Shortly after reading this devotion, I saw Tricia's new book being advertised, and I had a feeling that now would be the right time to read it. I might not be a mum yet, but it's never too early to start thinking about how I'm going to balance all of my responsibilities.
Since I'm horrible at sticking with a non-fiction book, Tricia's 11-day challenge seemed like the perfect motivation to get me to read this book in a reasonable time-frame.
About the book:
Since Tricia is a stay-at-home mother and writer, I can relate to her journey a lot. (In fact, today I learned that she began her full-time writing career at twenty-two, just like me!) However, a lot of the skills required to balance housework, childcare and writing can be applied to other work-at-home careers. This isn't exclusively a book for writers, but it is a faith-based book, so non-Christians may struggle to relate to some of Tricia's experiences or advice.
In the first chapter of Balanced, Tricia talks about how deciding what we want to achieve as a family can help us to determine what steps to take, and avoid feeling overwhelmed or stressed out by unnecessary responsibilities. By determining principles, values or activities that particularly matter to our family, we can make better decisions by pin-pointing whether a certain opportunity would benefit our family, or stop us from being able to focus on what really matters.
Since we don't have children yet (still 4.5 months to go!), it's difficult to decide exactly what's going to matter to us the most when we have children, but there are some things that Simon and I have long felt are important to us. These might not be things that are important to your family, as every individual and family has different values they put specific emphasis on.
What do we want to achieve as a family? What will matter five years from now--ten years from now? What will mold our children into God-serving adults? What will bring peace--not stress--to our home?
- Although we don't yet know how we're going to educate our children, we want to be involved in their education. We want to encourage them in the skills and activities that they enjoy, to make learning fun for them, and take advantage of our own skills to help them learn.
- While we want to encourage our children in their natural talents, we don't want to force them to devote extra time to activities they don't enjoy, even if it is something they're good at. Sometimes it's better to focus on something we really enjoy, even if it's harder for us to grasp.
- We want to make sure our children have time to play, spend time with their family and friends, and generally enjoy being a kid, even if this means only taking one extracurricular activity at a time. We don't want to be a taxi service to our children's activities--and not having a car will probably help us achieve this!
- We want to have breakfast and dinner together as a family every day (excluding special occasions or date night), and encourage conversation and prayer at these meals.
- We want to encourage our children to try new foods, and even revisit ones they've previously thought they didn't like. We want them to be involved in cooking from a young age, to develop adventurous tastes, not be scared to try new foods, and learn that our tastes can change (especially since mum didn't used to like onions at all!)
- We want to involve our children in household tasks early on, providing that they are suitable for that age (no ironing for the three-year-old), and to make them see that this is part of being and serving your family, not a "chore".
- We want to be an active part of our church, although how we are active might change over the years. (Right now Simon and I both help to lead the children's church, and Simon plays guitar in the band while I serve on the hospitality team).
- We want to encourage a love of reading, as well as other methods of storytelling and art forms. We want to read together as a family each night, even when our children are babies.
- And most importantly: We want to be open to change and unexpected opportunities, and to not be too set in our plans for the future.A year ago, Simon was planning to study for his PhD while I worked as a teacher or a librarian, and we didn't think we'd be starting our family until we were at least 25. Now Simon is working full-time as a software engineer, we're expecting our first child just a month before my 23rd birthday, and I've been able to focus on my writing for the first year post-graduation. Sometimes life takes you on an entirely different route from the one you anticipated!
Since our post-graduation future ended up being so incredibly different from the one we imagined (but also so much better!) it's hard for me to answer questions like, "Where do we want to be ten years from now?" I try not to set too many concrete plans for the future, but I do know that ten years from now we'll both be around 33. We'd like to have two or three children by this time, and have bought a house. For me, I'd like to have published my first novel. I'm not sure if we'll still be living in Edinburgh, or if Simon will have embraced a different job opportunity that takes us away from this city. For now, we're happy here, but we're not scared of change.
The thing that struck me most about the first chapter of Balanced is that the values that matter to you should influence the direction your family takes; not what values others promote. Sometimes we find ourselves contemplating X or Y because someone in our family or church or workplace is doing X or Y. Will it make us a worse wife/mother/writer if we aren't doing that too? I know that I've missed some online writing pitches or competitions because the timing wasn't write--we were moving house, I had another project to work on, or I was simply too busy puking. But I've also taken advantage of other ones where the timing was better, and those worked out well for me.
I can't take part in every opportunity that comes my way, and the same goes for our family. Because our family is our top priority, this affects certain activities we take part in or choices we make. Sometimes we say "No" to an invitation to a party, because Simon and I want to have a date night together. Sometimes we say "No" to serving in a certain ministry at church because we already serve in other ways that are more relevant to our giftings. Simon has turned down job interviews for companies that might have a more popular name or better pay because his current job is flexible for someone with a young family, has a reasonable commute, and won't require us to move. While we could afford to buy a house right now, packing, moving and decorating would be too stressful with a baby on the way in a few short months.
We might have friends who are changing jobs, buying houses, attending writing conferences, starting new ministries, etc, and we wholeheartedly support them--while also being aware that we don't have to do all those things too. As Tricia says in Balanced, "Too often we compare our weaknesses with other people's strengths, only to find ourselves coming up short." A friend might be buying a house or a car, but they're not expecting a baby, or paying off their student loans. X works for them, while Y suits us right now.
Of course, there is no perfect balance. Today I've managed to tackle a lot of housework and editing responsibilities, but there have been days when I've been too sick to do more than wash the breakfast dishes and order groceries to be delivered. I'm learning more and more (thanks to my pregnancy) that flexibility is sometimes key to finding some sort of peace in my current situation. Balance doesn't necessarily mean making a colour-coded schedule for the day and following it to the letter to ensure that I've spent equal amounts of time on my writing, housework, editing and family. For me, balance means trusting that I'm doing what's right for me and my family at the moment.
This post is part of the Balanced challenge with Tricia Goyer—and you can join, too!