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Finding Your Balance

Eileen Roach
Manilus, New York, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 35 No. 4, August-September 1999, p. 84

In high school I was known as "the girl most likely to fall off the balance beam." Although I'm still wary of gymnastics apparatus, I've learned something about balance from mothering three children and from my long involvement with La Leche League. Being a Leader requires a serious commitment of time and energy, a commitment that can enhance mothering or make it more difficult. These strategies may help you find your balance.

Meet Family Needs. We've heard the phrase, "family first," so often that it's easy to take the wisdom behind it for granted. When their needs are met, family members have little reason to feel slighted or pushed aside by a mother's outside interests. Although it can require an uncomfortable amount of self-discipline for me to put off an interesting project until my family members are tended to, doing so is an investment in their long-term support for my LLL involvement.

Imagine putting in a long, trying day at work and coming home to a dinner that hasn't been started, children who are whining for attention, LLL paperwork spread all over the kitchen table and a spouse involved in a complicated phone helping call. How would you feel about LLL if this happened regularly? By determining your family's specific needs (meals or bedtime rituals uninterrupted by phone calls, concentrated attention after arriving home from work or school, etc.), you won't exhaust your family's good will for LLL. If a mother calls during family time, for example, you can set a specific time to return her call or offer her another Leader's phone number.

State Your Own Needs Clearly and Unapologetically. Putting family first does not mean putting yourself last-although some husbands and children might grow pretty comfortable with that arrangement! Even mothers aren't obligated to spend every waking minute tending to the laundry, housework, cooking and entertainment requirements of their families. I remind my family that my LLL activities contribute as much to my happiness as their golfing, computer games and play dates do to theirs.

A newly accredited Leader recently told me that her husband became irritated when he saw her LLL paperwork and asked why she didn't look for a job if she wanted "something more." At least it would contribute extra income to their household he said. I wondered if this father had thought through the demands of an outside job. LLL is a uniquely family-friendly organization, giving us the flexibility to make a difference in the lives of others without sacrificing the needs of our own families.

Know Your Limitations...And Your Family’s. The LEADER'S HANDBOOK lists the five basic responsibilities of leadership. Although outreach, Area Council work or serving on a breastfeeding coalition are important and rewarding, these additional activities succeed best when your family can handle them. Do you have a new baby, a high-need toddler, a husband who often isn't home? Your Group situation also affects your ability to do additional LLL work. Do you have several co- Leaders to assist in managing your Group or are you a lone Leader? LLL will benefit more if you take on additional responsibilities only when you can do so comfortably.

Consider the Ages of Your Children. Even though children benefit greatly when their mothers are Leaders (playmates from other LLL families, support for natural weaning), it's difficult for them to be patient when their mother is busy on the phone or at her desk.

Special toys or craft activities are helpful when a mother’s attention is elsewhere. Homemade play dough made it possible for me to complete my monthly Group report when I was a lone Leader and my children were young. Many mothers limit their children's television viewing, but a well-chosen video or short TV program can provide the uninterrupted time necessary for a Leader to help a mother in a difficult situation.

Older children don't need their mothers any less, but they benefit from shorter bursts of concentrated attention which can often be "scheduled" before and after school, at mealtimes and bedtimes, etc. They'll often happily occupy themselves long enough for their mothers to make uninterrupted phone calls or complete LLL projects.

Educate Your Family on the Importance of Volunteer Work. LLL may be the first experience many new fathers have with the concept of volunteering time for a worthy cause. As children become involved in sports and school activities, fathers learn that many extraordinary people give their time to create a better world for children and that credible organizations require volunteer training and appropriate paperwork. Leaders' husbands become aware of this sooner than most! It was helpful for me to find an occasional receptive moment to share a brief success story or positive article about LLL with my husband.

Remember That You Need Not Pay LLL Expenses Yourself. Although many Leaders use personal funds for Group expenses, especially postage and copying costs, this is certainly not expected or required. The limitations imposed by a small treasury may frustrate a new Leader with lots of energy and ideas. Although involving all Group members in a fundraising project can be challenging, the long-term benefits of doing so outweigh the convenience of using your own stamps to mail meeting notices. If a Leader chooses to support LLL in this way, she should be sure that doing so does not strain her family's finances or her spouse's patience.

Seek Out Supportive People. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the demands of leadership and natural to look for a sympathetic ear. When frustrated by a difficult Group situation or a disagreement among co-Leaders, you may vent your feelings at home. You may then hear, "if you don't like it, why don't you quit?" Husbands who are unenthusiastic about their wives' roles as Leaders may see retirement as the solution to every problem. LLL offers support through Professional Liaison Leaders, the Leader Accreditation Department, Human Relations Enrichment (HRE), Funding Development, etc. District Advisors/ Coordinators are especially helpful in resolving difficulties encountered during Group meetings and with co-Leaders. An experienced Leader from another Group whom you've met at a Chapter Meeting or Area Conference can also be a wonderful source of understanding and inspiration.

Create Opportunities to Involve Your Husband and Children. Preschoolers can stamp envelopes or apply address labels; husbands and older children can provide computer assistance or help with fundraisers. Husbands can speak at an Area Conference or build a display case for LLL materials-and enjoy doing it. Even husbands and older children who resolutely distance themselves from your LLL work may be drawn to an interesting project if you show them how much you'll appreciate their help.

Choose Carefully How You'll Spend Your Time. It wasn't until I was writing my personal history as a Leader Applicant that I realized a sad fact of life: there's no such thing as finding time. It's only possible to make time for a new activity by eliminating an old one. LLL leadership certainly doesn't preclude hobbies or volunteering for other organizations but the time a Leader has to give often means sacrificing something. Nursing mothers everywhere are fortunate that so many Leaders find the sacrifice worthwhile!

Eileen Roach is afraid that as a busy Area Conference Supervisor for New York West, USA, this essay has become a classic case of “Do as I write and not as I do. I need to take my own advice,” she says. Eileen, a Leader of nine years, lives in Manilus, New York, USA, and is the mother of Lizzy, 15, Emily, 12 and Allyson, 8. Her article appeared in Harvest, Volume 1, 1998.

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