By Sunshine Burgess
The entire time I was growing up, I planned on a big career. I was going to rule the world. I went back and forth on whether there was room for a husband and kids in that picture and I even thought about how I would balance both a career and family if I chose that route. What I never anticipated or remotely considered was becoming a military spouse and full-time mother. Now, I am sure you are thinking that by taking the career portion out of the equation that all things should balance…that is not so.
Being a military spouse, you often find yourself replacing paid employment with volunteering. I don’t think this is something that you really decide is going to happen and the way it happens is kind of sneaky. It starts harmless enough with potlucks and bake sales and snowballs from there. Once you add in kids and their school and activities, it seems to never stop. Apparently, saying that you don’t have a job is the signal for people to find something to keep you busy!
Volunteering is not bad. I am in no way saying that because I pretty much classify myself as a professional volunteer. However, I do want to share a bit of advice……don’t sacrifice yourself and your family for the sake of volunteering. I think people are much quicker to realize when they are “working” too many hours and they take a vacation, but do you ever sit down and look at how many hours you are working in volunteer positions?
I started keeping track of my volunteer time off and on, mostly so I could see in black and white where my time was being spent (especially when I felt overwhelmed), but a little bit of me did it to somehow have proof to people that I did, in fact, work! What I found was that there were slow weeks where I may only do 20-24 hours a week, but on a busy week, I have done way over 40 hours (once I saw over 60 and I decided I must have a death wish). That is sometimes a full-time job with occasional overtime. So how do you stop or at least slow down?
Once, when I felt at the end of my rope, a friend gave me some advice and that is what I want you to take away from this if you don’t remember another word I have written. My friend said, “If you can’t say hell yeah, then you have to say no.” That may not sound like a revelation, but when said at the right time, it was life changing for me! Her point was that I only needed to do the things I cared about deeply; the things I had a deep passion for and that would put a smile on my face. Anything that seemed like actual work should be a NO because if it is going to feel like work then I may as well get paid. I made a choice then to pick and choose better.
So, how does any of this affect balance? Personally, I remember vividly once making a dinner (a nice hot dinner) for a family who had had a baby and as I walked out the door to deliver it, I told my kids that there was stuff in there to make sandwiches. My kids ate cold sandwiches because I spent my time and effort cooking for others. On one of those busy weeks, I realized that my husband and I had not had an actual conversation in the week. We texted (usually instructions for kids) and we passed in the doorway as we passed the baton of childcare. Is that balance?
No. That is the word to learn. No, it isn’t balance and it is okay to say NO. No…no excuse, no explanation, just plain and simple NO. You don’t have to contribute to every bake sale. You don’t have to be at every potluck and social. You can even tell the teachers no. Volunteering at school in a way to benefit your children is a yes. Volunteering to grade papers and make photocopies doesn’t have to be. Choose wisely. Always ensure that who you want to benefit and what you want to get from it is actually happening.
The struggle is real, y’all! After all these years, I still have a hard time saying no. I know what I am passionate about and I choose it, but then other things overlap and I can’t not do that too. I struggle with whether the thing that made me happy three months ago is still worth choosing. Constant reevaluation is key. Set your own limits and make your own choices. You are your own boss and that means no one can force you to do what you don’t enjoy or don’t believe in. Stand firm with your no and don’t be bullied into turning a no into a yes. By saying no to the world, you can say yes to yourself and your family. That is balance.