balance is the wrong metaphor

We all hear a lot about people having trouble balancing their work and family life. We especially worry about this in terms of gender, since the greater familial responsibilities that women, on average, have over men has been identified as an important factor in the gender wage gap. Further, the self-help industry produces buckets of advice to women who are stressed out to find a better balance. We have heard this before in the Supermom Myth: you can work, you can be a mom, you can do it all! Stressed out? Then take that on as yet another project you’re in charge of!

I am not complaining. I am not nearly as busy as I used to be (although perhaps it is now clear that I should spend more time on the Mario Kart Wii). But I am still irked by all the calls for balance. Because it’s not about balance; it’s about unloading the weight. You can have a 60-hour workweek perfectly balanced with another 60-hour week of kids and chores, but if you do, not only will you collapse under the weight of it all, some friend will suggest you take on more stuff to manage that. You should do yoga. Why don’t you get a massage? You’ve got to take some time for yourself.

We need a better metaphor–one that indicates that removal of responsibilities is the goal. Like, Work-Life Overload. Or Buried Under Responsiblities. Or Crushed by Demands of Work and Family. If this was the image, perhaps that friend would say, Why don’t I bring over a pot of stew on Tuesday? or I can pick up your Kid from school on Thursdays, or Hey, I know a great babysitter.

That would be helpful, indeed.

p.s. to the readers who saw a piece of this a few days ago when I accidentally hit publish instead of save draft, my apologies.

4 thoughts on “balance is the wrong metaphor”

  1. i knew i was feeling deja vu. i totally agree about needing a better metaphor along those lines, though! i don’t have a family to care for, but i’ve been very invested in my department and in building community among grad students in the past few years. now i’m especially feeling this need to unload activities as i delve into dissertation research. luckily for me i’m more and more interested in the research and actievly enjoying jettisoning all that other crap. but my rambling point is, there’s always going to be too many things we “need” to do and i agree that balance is less the problem than amount.


  2. Thanks for this – a very good description. I don’t want to take yoga, get a massage, have a spa day, or learn how to organize and prioritize. I want someone else to cook dinner.

    Feeding and walking the dog would also rock.


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