Why Balance is an Unrealistic and Limiting Goal
The other weekend my kids spent about 12 hours playing with Lego.
They stopped to eat and that was about it. It was a mega Lego binge.
Some comments I had recently read about unschooling came to mind as I watched them. Comments about balance.
There was certainly no balance happening in our house that weekend. Actually, I think most days around here are pretty unbalanced.
But we are supposed to be striving for balance! Or so I am told…
‘Balance is what children need’. And I’m sure they don’t mean the scaling large rocks and climbing tall trees and doing an upside down arabesque on the top bunk type balance. We’ve got that covered.
No, the balance they mean is an everything in moderation, every day, kind of balance.
A little bit of reading.
A little bit of maths.
A little bit of screen time.
A little time with friends.
A little bit of science.
A little bit of outside time.
A little bit of free play.
A little bit of art.
And all I can think is how very dull and limiting that would be.
Kids don’t need balance. They need the freedom to follow their curiosity and motivation.
Balance is, I think, a schooled idea. School days are divided into subjects. A little bit of everything, every day. This is incredibly limiting, and not at all like real life.
As unschoolers, we don’t have to be restricted by schooled ideas about ‘balance’.
“We live without subjects, in a world where life is not separated into neat little pieces but instead swirls and flows together in ways we could never design.” – Rue Kream
Balance can be limiting
Imagine being super interested in something only to have someone dictate to you when you can and can not work on it. Frustrating much? If you have a restricted amount of time to practice/play/work then how deeply can you really delve into something? What if you’re just getting close to figuring something out and your time is up and you have to stop and do something else?
Would you want to invest in something if you knew you had to deal with the frustration of stopping at the whim of someone else?
Would it foster intrinsic motivation if you were not free to explore your interests whenever inspiration struck? What a way to kill passion. I know the fastest way for me to lose interest in something is to turn it into a job I have to do at set times.
Enforced ‘balance’ can limit learning, passion, motivation, curiosity, and enjoyment.
Balance is unrealistic
It’s just not how people typically learn! Unless forced to. If you watch a child who is free to learn naturally you will notice that they become interested in something and then they immerse themselves in that fully, until they are satisfied. They can go for weeks or months totally absorbed in learning as much as they can about one thing. The next minute, they’re onto something else! Often they come back to previous learning and build on it months later when curiosity strikes again.
This is what learning looks like when it is not controlled by schooling. It often does not look like linear progress at all. It does not look like balance.
Balance is not a realistic goal. It is working against our brains and the natural way we learn.
What do children need? Time to delve deeply into the things they care about. The things that light them up!
They need large amounts of unhindered time to pursue things they want to, for as long as they want to. Forcing them to stop when they’re in the middle of something in the name of ‘balance’ is not helpful. It’s unrealistic and limiting.
After the Lego binge weekend, the next weekend looked much the same, but this time it was electronics.
They were building circuits all weekend and Miss 6 even constructed a car with Spielgaben pieces and recycled materials.
Our day to day life is unbalanced. And that is ok.
Some weeks we stay home all week because we don’t feel like going out, or because the children are immersed in their own projects and play.
Some weeks we are out most days playing for hours upon hours with friends.
Some days all the children want to do is read books.
Some days they are absorbed with building something new in Minecraft.
Some weeks they paint every day.
Some weeks are all about imaginary play.
We don’t seek balance. We seek freedom, autonomy, authenticity, curiosity, passion, joy, and more.
If you looked at life over a year, things would naturally seem more ‘balanced’ anyway. But trying to force day to day balance? That’s just not necessary.
So, here’s to being unbalanced. In the best way!
The loose parts and blocks the girls are using to make the chameleon and habitat in the images within this post, as well as the frame for Miss 6’s car, are from our Spielgaben set. Spielgaben are currently offering a 10% off + 3-month layby payment program to Happiness is here blog readers. Simply send an email to email@example.com and mention Happiness is here.
I love this! It is so true.
Thank you so much for this article! I have been feeling guilty about not doing enough/making time for everything in the run of a day with the kids…and I really need to let that go and let them follow their own direction/interest as much as possible.
I was just wondering how one would learn another language, (the six year old here wants to learn Mandarin),, when I reached your paragraph on interests lasting for months at a time. That would do the trick.
Your observations jibe with my experience in grad school. I became interested in a sideline of my subject of study, and ‘stole’ time to study it for the better part of a year. I fought my ‘balanced’ public school conditioning tooth and nail to do it, but in the end, that stolen time was some of the most valuable I spent in grad school.
In public school, I had the luxury of pursuing my passions with a great, though not complete, freedom because I could finish my work well ahead of the allotted time for it. You’re right though, school would have been even nicer if my freedom wasn’t a luxury, but a basic right.
this was the best thing I have read in a long time. Such freedom in it. My kids, chose to go back to school, and that’s okay. Although, I will say, I see the stress in them and the desire to please, and the hunger for that grade.One son, who is super sensitive and being bullied and then other children video taping it. It makes my heart hurt.
I am not sure why we believe that balance is even possible or desirable.
Some days, I am vibrant and other days, just packing lunches and everyone out the door by the hour of 7: 30 am, is this hair raising rush.. My oldest son, my high schooler, is angry all the time, and tired as he is at school for 6 hours, where he is anxious most of day. He then would just like to come home and chill out, but there are demands of homework, which take hours and have my kid going to bed at 11:30 at night , getting 6 hours sleep and stressed out.
Then there is the stress of not having them eat, all organic, non gmo,balanced meals, made with love and tenderness and placed cutely in aneat little desin on a plate.
I detest being the food police.
I would prefer that they craved vegetables, heck I would prefer that I craved too, but at the age of 13 of 15, unless I want to fight all day, and loose I ight add, I give up.
The daily stress I feel about parenting and not getting it right, and the multitude of advice makes my head hurt , causes major anxiety, and lets face it, some days, I would rather Cheeto’s and some days, Iam just not hungry at all.
My imaginary self, is eating Kale and fruit and enjoying food that tastses like dirt.
Iam so nervous about everything I put in mouth , that I don’t want to eat at all.
Balance, feels like some island somewhere, as I am in the land perimenopause, or menopause or and now without a thyroid, and an autoimmune disease.. Sigh, Cheers to no balance, and to sometimes having cheeto.s as meal.
Thank you for this. We’ve just begun our unschooling journey. Our oldest is 4 and we’re already getting push back for pulling him out of preschool. I keep feeling pressured to at least get into more of a routine, but I feel we’re accomplishing what we need to by letting the kids follow their own interests. Thanks for giving my confidence a boost that we’re not alone and our reasoning is valid.
Brilliant article. This all makes perfect sense. Thank you so much for inspiring and changing our lives on the regular with these incredibly refreshing ways of thinking in parenting. Thank you thank you!
Thank you. I feel I’m only learning this now as an adult. It’s not necessarily selfish to immerse yourself in something and enjoy it. You have to learn to recognise what you like, how you feel and when you’ve had enough. Most adults struggle with this. It’s all about forcing yourself to do things rather than listening to your own body, mind and emotions. Charles Eisenstein talks about this a lot. If we could live more like this, ADHD and ADD might not be such “a problem.”
I totally agree with you about that when kids are interested in something they shouldn t be forced to do something else. But often I experience a dilemma.What about the situations where the children can not find anything interesting most of the time or they are not passionate about anything ? How do you balance unschooling and letting the kids know the alternatives around? Or another scenario: My daughter can sit for hours reading Harry Potter books. She had already read them twice and wants to read them for the third time. I am not able to be sure about whether this is healthy. I mean of course some books can be read for billion times but this is just an example…
This is probably the one thing that frustrates me the mist about being a parent!! That I Cant just dive into something Im passionate about and do it, do it, do it til Im done!! Cause Ive got little ones interupting etc. I know it will change when They get more independant but i really dont want them to have that feeling on a daily basis just because of an Idea of What balance Looks like I bet We all have great balance Looking over a year or ten or a life 😊❤️
I think the problem is that everyone needs balance, but balance comes in ebbs and flows. While 12 hours of Lego SEEMS unbalanced, it was exactly what your children needed in that moment and balanced them perfectly. Schools as they are can never, ever be balanced.