x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A year into parenting and I’ve finally accepted that this illusion of 'balance' that I thought I had going on was just that: an illusion.

More so than being married, raising a child and the parenting choices you make while doing that are highly personal, as I’m learning. It’s the nexus of everything unique about your life: your goals, your relationship with your spouse, your child’s needs, your food choices, the way you decide to spend your money and on what – even your religious beliefs. No value or principle, small or large, is exempt.

And if you make the right choices, you’re told, you’ll be able to achieve that elusive work-life balance we’re all striving for – kids or no kids. A little nudge here, a little adjustment there, and hey, presto! Balance achieved and you’re on the way to “having it all”. The reality, however, is so much more convoluted.

There’s no set formula, because there’s no set rule to parenting, or to relationship building, or to finding whatever makes each of us, as unique individuals, happy and content.

A year into parenting Baby A, and I’ve finally accep­ted that this illusion of “balance” that I thought I had going on was just that: an illusion. On paper, and to the average observer, I’ve managed to “have it all”: an engaged husband, a thriving baby daughter, a full-time career I love, a growing community of friends who are also on the parenting roller coaster and time to travel when the fancy strikes. All while exclusively breastfeeding Baby A full-time, making all her food from scratch, keeping my home clean and organised and living with a two-in-one washing and drying machine that takes at least four hours to finish one load of laundry.

But, truth be told, I struggled to get out of bed in the morning. I went out of my way to avoid my reflection in the mirror because I couldn’t bear to look at the strain that’s lodged itself in the fine wrinkles around my eyes. I had to constantly remind myself to count my blessings and list everything I have to be happy about, rather than just be blessed and be happy.

And then one day, I woke up and decided, enough. I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand to be apart from Baby A – it was honestly easier when she was a newborn sleeping the day away compared to the inquisitive, active toddler with the sponge-like mind – and I couldn’t stand the idea of having others benefit from her presence more than me.

But more than that, I couldn’t continue making my entire life about her and work, to the exclusion of all else. There was no longer any time in the day to miss being with Mr T because I was too busy missing Baby A. There was no energy left to take care of myself or do the things that make me happy.

Every woman I know who feels as if she “has it all” – and there are many – has done it in her own way.

Right now, I need to figure out what that way is for me. Making the decision to leave my job and choosing to work as a part-time freelancer from home, so I can be involved in Baby A’s life, so I can get back into writing, so I can look forward to having a quiet evening with my husband that is not tinged with fatigue, and so that I can take a step back and slow down enough to enjoy the brevity of life, hopefully means I’m on the right track to “having it all”, for me, at least.

Hala Khalaf is a freelance writer living in Abu Dhabi