“We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking.” –Richard Rohr (quoted in More or Less)
Resting and reading and nursing the child, trying to figure out enoughness. This sentence was the tagline on my long-ago first blog. I’ve been dancing with enoughness since I was a child. I was raised in a family that embraced voluntary simplicity and being “downwardly mobile,” a long time before there were organized groups promoting these types of intentional living experiments. When I finished graduate school and started my first “real” job, I found myself frustrated, confused, and angry about the pointlessness of much of my work and the work I saw others doing (or not doing as the case may be). It made no sense to me to spend 40 hours per week at a job that had questionable value and doing work that I could have completed in less the half the time—and yet, I couldn’t leave when finished, because I was obligated to be there for a full “work day.” I felt like I was being suffocated, squelched, and that my soul was dying. I figured out how much money I was making every five minutes and wondered if it would make a difference if someone walked by and threw that amount of change on my desk every five minutes. No, it wouldn’t. I began to read voraciously about simple living and voluntary simplicity. I read about unjobbing and “how to survive without a salary.” I drafted a life purpose statement that remains remarkably exact, accurate, and fulfilling even though it has been thirteen years now since I wrote it. I calculated out how much money we’d need to save in order to both quit our jobs and live on interest income. I started keep meticulous records of income and expenses ala Robin and Dominguez’s classic book, Your Money or Your Life. I started volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, a purpose-transforming job I would maintain with increasing levels of commitment and responsibility for the next four years. I developed a chronic pain disorder and woke one morning from a dream in which I’d had a heart attack and thought with relief (in the dream), “NOW it is okay to quit my job!” After that, I really did quit, no real heart attack required.
What does this have to do with anything, particularly with Pagan Families? I recently finished reading the book More or Less for the Patheos Book Club. Centered around “choosing a lifestyle of excessive generosity,” this book brought old issues of enoughness back to the forefront of my mind, particularly with how we are raising our children. The book takes us through a look at mainstream culture’s obsession with more and begins to look at the many different permutations of enough, from enough clothing, to enough “access.” More or Less also challenges you to take on your own enough experiment. While I do maintain an ongoing struggle with clutter and keeping things “just in case,” the practical information in the book about clothing, food, etc. felt very familiar and basic to me and I primarily connected with the book’s more esoteric musings about time, priorities, and family. I often lament having a “crisis of abundance”—TOO MANY GOOD THINGS TO DO. No one ever asks me for less, to do less, to be less, the pace of life feels instead of always be accelerating, to be asking for more, and that more is often so good. Good opportunities, good work, important causes. It is hard to stop, to rest, to say enough to requests for my time and attention. To explore the questions of what to quit and how much to continue doing, More or Less author Jeff Shinabarger and his wife Andre actually quit everything and headed to Nicaragua to re-evaluate their priorities and their use of time. They decided to add back in those things they missed and to not back in those they didn’t. Sounds pretty simple, right? These are the questions they processed and that I also want a “sabbatical” to explore in my own life:
- Our family matters—how do we prioritize this in our lives first?
- What are our personal callings and dreams? How do we make those important?
- What brings us life, and how do we proactively plan that into our schedules?
- After quitting everything, what do we miss? Let’s do those things.
- After quitting everything, what do we not miss? Let’s not do those things.
- What is important to us but sucks away our energy? How can we create boundaries for healthy lives?
The birth of each of our children has been a catalyst for change in the lives of my husband and me and our work-life relationship. When our first son was born and I first tried to integrate working with mothering, I ended up quitting work that I loved deeply to be home with him. While it felt like the right choice, it also felt like a soul-extinguishing choice and I struggled with it for quite some time. At the same time, my husband was expected to go back to work after only a short week off followed by a week of half days. He mourned the loss of time with his family, saying it felt like leaving his “wolf pack” to go back to work and it felt wrong. When our second son was born almost three years later, he took four weeks of work, but the same sense of wrongful separation persisted with his return. After continuing to wrestle with what in hindsight seems like a postpartum mood disorder, it was after this son’s birth that I finally re-invented myself in a way that felt like a more healthy work-life balance for myself. I took on several volunteer positions and became certified as a childbirth educator—jobs that were capable of being “folded” into a maternal identity, rather than trying to exist separate from it, and yet also providing me with an outlet desperately needed, rather than the “total reality motherhood” model I felt pressured to live up to. After our daughter’s birth in 2011, my husband again took four weeks off and again felt the “call” to stay home with his wolf pack. During this year, I increased my paid-out-of-the-home work as a professor further, while still managing to spend 90% of my time with my kids (teaching online is awesome for parents!) and my husband and I started to feel more ready to take the leap into him quitting his job. It has been two years now and we still haven’t quite leapt, but the plan is to do so this June. We’re figuring out what is enough in terms of money, because we already know that the extreme split between family and work represented by full-time employment for even one parent is too much. So, our More or Less style enough experiment is rapidly approaching. We plan to take the summer off as a family to renegotiate our priorities, our responsibilities, our boundaries, and our relationships with what we do and how we spend our time. It is going to be a schedule “detox,” in which we decide what to add back in and what to leave behind.
This dance of enoughness may be a lifelong process, but it is a dance worth embracing.
From my blog two relevant past posts about parenting and working: