Balance vs. Equilibrium

After a passing comment in my last post, I’ve been reflecting a little on my dislike of the word “balance.” The context in which I dislike it is the way it is used to describe the overwhelmed life of the parent. As in, finding the balance between work, home, activities, self-care, etc.

Parents I admire and respect speak this way. I have nothing against them. What I personally dislike – what invokes a visceral response of supressed resentment in my soul – is the image that pops up in my mind from the phrase.

I picture a mom, on a tightrope, over Niagara Falls. She is holding a pole, which is supposed to help her balance, but instead it’s a carrying device. Somehow, between loads situated on either end of the pole, and perhaps another pack on her back and another on her head, she is able to bear everything across the rope. To do so, she must maintain a zen-like composure and concentration. This is possible because of her confidence that she can, indeed, make this crossing, because otherwise why would she be stupid enough to try?

The idea of balance rubs me the wrong way because it perpetuates a well-worn fiction in my mind that if I adjust my boundaries just right, I could do it all. It’s all my responsibility. I could do it all with composure, and without assistance. I know this is dumb, but I do it anyway.

When I was writing that last post, it occurred to me to use the word “equilibrium.” I learned this word in chemistry class. The idea is, whenever chemically reactive substances are put in the same container, they will react together in whatever way they do until they expend each other, reaching equilibrium. No matter what you add, the solution will seek equilibrium. It’s inevitable.

My life feels more like that: a closed container with a whole lot of reactive ingredients thrown in. The best thing I can do is keep the lid open so the pressure doesn’t build up too much. Every now and then something rises to the top and I can pour it off, or something else gets added to change the equation. It’s always bubbling away, with a greater or lesser amount of chaos, but it’s always seeking equilibrium, no matter how good a job I am doing at positioning things. I just don’t have that much control over how things slosh around in there.

Another way of describing the chemical state of equilibrium is peace. That’s what I’m actually looking for. It doesn’t actually matter if I carry all the things from A to B. What matters in both the short and long term is how I carry myself through the chaos. And with that goal in mind, a posture of perfect poise is not that practical. A more effective posture is on my knees.

A peaceful moment this morning. We are so blessed with girls who love books and love reading to each other. Will this be the year of books?

I don’t know if changing a metaphor will change my heart, or let me live closer to what I know to be true. But writing it out at least lets me explain what I’m trying to do. Please speak however is most useful and true to you, without worrying about triggering a spew of vitriol from me. If I make a face, I promise I’m not judging you. It’s me, trying to keep an eye on my expectations of myself, to make try to be kinder to myself – so hopefully I can be kinder to you, too.


5 thoughts on “Balance vs. Equilibrium

  1. Sometimes things explode to reach equilibrium and there is no control. When I talk about balance I am often shedding responsibilities to lighten the load and find balance. There is no chasm in my metaphor: stumbling just isn’t catastrophic in my world view.

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    1. Well put! Yeah I don’t know why there’s a chasm in my mental picture. Didn’t even occur to me to question. That’s a pretty clear manifestation of my personal crazy.

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  2. I like your equilibrium metaphor much better as well. While I’m not often a thinker as you are, I’d say your description is much more frlective of a mom’s state of life. And understanding the equilibrium is much healthier than trying to balance that load.

    You didn’t happen to be at WEBS in July, were you? I saw someone there who looked like I thought you would look in person. We were on a college visiting trip.

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