Yes, no, and finding balance

I have a bad habit. The fact is – I have many, but this particular bad habit is quite literally detrimental to my health. No, it isn’t smoking or drinking. It isn’t substance abuse of any sort. It’s simpler than that, and so much more complicated. I don’t pay enough attention to me.

Too busy to look up?

Sometimes we don't want to see the obvious.Now you’re thinking, that’s just silly. Or possibly – oh – I have the same bad habit. You may also be thinking, that’s natural; any parent, especially a single parent, is likely to say that at one point or another.

But sometimes we don’t want to face the obvious. What if ignoring the self is a lifelong habit? What if you never feel deserving of paying attention to a “me” in ways that most people take for granted? A vacation, a weekend off. A good relationship.

I suspect the sentiment of being undeserving is not uncommon among women – at least women of my generation, a transitional generation. Though isn’t every generation of 20th century women transitional?


I know what it is to throw myself into a job, which becomes a career, and then a way of life that is all about go-go-go at 300% and 300mph, only to lift my head out of the mire of it, years later, realizing that when it comes to a personal life, there’s little to tell. Or, that I’ve lived twenty years of my life only half-aware, partially present; the priority went to my career.

I love to create, to build, to achieve. But I wasn’t accomplishing what I wanted to. I wasn’t living a life I’d set out to live. Not even close.

Working hard - perhaps too hard - is part of the American way.

Still, I was caught up in the game, building a reputation in my field, paying back school loans, traveling and learning. But after 10 years, 11 years, 12 years, the content of my days and nights had lost its luster; it was a means to an end, but no end I could recognize.


I was fortunate. Though I married later than most, I had two healthy children.

I was largely a full time mom and also a full time corporate employee, from a home office, for many years. “Balance at last,” I thought to myself. But when we have children, the world shifts irrevocably, and if we are nurturers by nature, we fall into the rhythms of their care rather than our own. The imbalance is necessary at times, but not all the time. It is a weed, taking root quickly, spreading stubbornly, and its pretty blooms – socially acceptable – may convince us that the weed is valuable.

But it is not. This weed, this perpetual imbalance, will ultimately take over the terrain. Tending to marriage, children, and career? No matter what I tried, it was never enough. The weed, strangling whatever else was planted in the garden.


Sometimes, it takes a hard reminder. A health scare, a personal loss. Sometimes, there is no drama in an epiphany. It drifts into our awareness, in a rare, quiet moment.

Balance must begin somewhere. It may be as simple as saying “no” on a day that is nothing special, but we need to say no. At this moment, a “me” must come before the play date, the drive to study group, dinner on the table, laundry.

Instead: find another ride or don’t go, wear a different shirt, microwave a bowl of soup. Not today, not now, no.

Me. Her return may be as simple as that no, or as simple – and difficult – as yes. Yes, to a soak in the tub. Yes, to an hour with a book. Yes, to a no.

Bad habits

Caffeine to fuel the daily grindI have a bad habit of forgetting to eat, and eventually I grab whatever is around. I have a bad habit of getting so engrossed in what I’m doing – a project, writing, something for my sons – hours and even days drop away.

I fuel myself on too little sleep and too much caffeine. I push myself beyond reasonable limits. Often, because I’ve had to. Sometimes, because it is habit. The habit of a lifetime.

I love coffee, and I have been unable to drink it for six days. Even a sip burned, and this frightened me, along with unrelenting fatigue. So it has been a week of Tums, milk, vitamins, Pepto-Bismol, and trying to eat better. I need more sleep, more exercise, less worry. I cannot control all of this, but I can control some of it. At the very least, coffee and eating.

This morning I woke early, and my gut burned less. I wanted coffee. It’s one of my small pleasures with no guilt and I’ve missed it.  So I brewed a tiny portion. I poured it into an espresso cup, not quite filled. I took my time, enjoyed its aroma, then sipped slowly and savored. It was wonderful. I genuinely appreciated those few minutes.


Moderation? I’m not good at it, but I need to change that. Especially when it comes to taking care of me. I need to learn that I deserve a me to take care of, that if I want to be here as my sons become men, and if I want a me for myself – for the work – writing – that fills me and nourishes me, then I have to change. Change my bad habits. Give myself a me when it comes to the body as well as the mind.

That’s part of the challenge; those of us who live in our heads often focus on our bodies insufficiently or in acts of disconnection that are remiss; the mind and body are not separate. The mind is part of the body.


There are challenges on my plate. Some more manageable than others. I stopped this morning, to appreciate what was manageable.  Getting back a "Me" may be as simple as an hour a day to read

It’s so easy to get lost in the hard work of each day – what is valued by society (via a paycheck) and if you’re lucky – valued by a family (parenting). It’s easy to forget what gives pleasure, or we only experience it dimly. We set impossible expectations, and are unkind to ourselves when we cannot meet them.

Maybe we’re already doing more than we realize. Maybe we could do better if we stopped just for a moment, and said “Yes, I need to do this for me” or “no, not today.” Maybe we deserve that.

Appreciation for ourselves is hard. We develop bad habits of pushing beyond reasonable limits in the service of everyone and everything except a small piece of “me.”  Women do this more than men; as a woman and a single parent, I know I am not alone in this struggle. But I also know I must change, and for all the challenges there is much to appreciate. Including, occasionally, a small coffee.

  • How do you find your balance when it is lost?
  • What do you appreciate – or need to – more often?
  • Do you know when to say yes, and when to say no?
  • Where can you take some control for a healthier self?

© D A Wolf



  1. says

    Judith Warner writes about this very question, about how people (especially women) are so used to saying yes that they have forgotten how to say no (or maybe never learned how to in the first place).

    I recently saw the advice (where, I’m sorry to say I can’t remember – was it at Bruce’s place?) to always think of what you’ll have to say no to when you say yes. I don’t think I have ever followed that advice personally, but I think it’s very wise and worthy of aspiration. Perhaps a New Year’s resolution?

  2. says

    Such a good and timely reminder, BLW. Thank you.
    I battle my own deep-rooted sense that taking care of myself is selfish, that prioritizing my own needs speaks of self absorption. But you’re right – then I get sick and fall apart for a week or something along those lines. So clearly an hour up front is better.
    Thank you.

  3. says

    It sounds like you’ve gotten a headstart on your New Year’s resolutions! I very rarely take time for me and it’s definitely detrimental to my health. Me time usually consists of a shower, a trip to the grocery store and the time between the kids going to bed and Tim coming home from work (20 minutes?). It’s not enough. It’s not what I should consider me time. So I’m working on improving it. I spent an hour alone by the fire last night reading and writing. It was ideal. I felt refreshed and happy. I need to “schedule” more time like this. If it’s the only way I can do it, penciling it into my calendar, then so be it.

    I will be adding much of this to my list on 1/1/2010!

  4. says

    I think in this post-industrial society and with other things going on, it is a little more difficult for women to find some time to themselves. Hard work is emphasized in a lot of other cultures, but I guess is the definition each culture puts on hard work that makes them the way they are for that culture.

    Right now, I’m balancing school, play, and sleep and will be having a full load next quarter because I’m doing fifteen credits. Since I’m single and don’t really have anyone to worry about, it’s mostly resisting the temptation to grab a beer and sometimes I do procrastinate with my schoolwork. But that’s ok, I’ve learned that don’t have to finish all of the work that day and to just do a little at a time and I end up completing the work right on the due date if not before.

  5. says

    After my divorce, and after I changed careers, I had a lot of “me” time. Talk about overwhelming! At first, I had so many options I was parlyzed by indecision. Then I took a more grounded approach and started doing things “I” wanted to do. Now I nurture “me” every day. And I’m able to do so while still pursuing a career, and putting my kids first. It takes a lot of courage to do things you want to do, rather than do things society tells you that you should do.

  6. says

    I’m really bad at this BLW. I find myself being pushed into things that are way beyond my level of comfort (like chairing something at my kids’ school when everyone should know by now I’m a worker drone not a queen bee!) and then I fester and fume, and, sorry to say, quit. Or I sign up for something that’s manageable and then, through others’ involvement it gets unmanageable quickly. Very difficult stuff. What I’ve found is that I have to allow that the life of a barely paid writer and an unpaid editor and a mom and a partner in our family-owned business is all I can handle.

  7. says

    OK first off I have that horrible acid problem here and there and gads its hard to give up the coffee. But there is a great over the counter med for this that will actually heal the acid damage – its called Prevacid normally but I buy the generic and take it for 30 days and roll back the sugar, booze and coffee. Works. You should consider taking care of yourself, especially during these wild eating times, and look the details up and see if thats a good thing for you.

    We have a lot in common. Except I never really forget to sleep… can’t ever seem to get enough and usually I get 8 hours a night.

    When my balance gets lost I call dear friends and ask for help. And meditate. I need to appreciate small moments with my children WAY more often. Having my twins has made saying no a LOT easier and I have gotten quite good at it. But, I could do better! My health would be done a world of good if I searched for something besides baked goods and chocolate to sooth my anxiety. I barely keep up with the baked goods and chocolate at the gym.

    I appreciate this post… in fact I am thinking this is a reminder to go put the laundry away and head to bed instead of heading to the TV and feeling guilty about it again. THANKS

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You’re welcome. :) Now if only I could take my own advice, as it unfolds in the “aware” part of my mind. Even take it now and then. That would help! Thanks, too, for the recommendation on the OTC item. Will check it out. Meanwhile, if we’re going to fit a tree in our house, there are 3 heaps of (clean) laundry in our little den, and several stacks of book and papers, and somehow, they have to disappear. Where is Samantha and her twitching nose at a time like this?

  8. says

    You were unable to drink coffee – something you love. I just let it all get to me until I spent yesterday – a day when the kids were doing other things so I could have been alone in the house doing things I wanted – in bed.

    Balance is elusive. I do not know that we ever find it. We can, though, find a way to make our lives ours and not everyone else’s.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      But you know the drill far better than I, when you’re doing it on your own. Someone always wants or needs something. And single parent guilt, even all these years later, still kicks in. Along with lack of money guilt. How do you combat that?

  9. says

    And this is why I call my blog It’s All About Balance – it’s not that I have it all the time, you understand. It’s a reminder to keep attempting that balancing act. And it is an act, something to strive for, but do we ever achieve it fully? I don’t think so. Still, the attempts are what make us a better person. and a better mother, better colleague, better friend…

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