Balancing act: Mom's example, shared traits influence my quest for balance
In many ways, I am my mother's son.
I've written before about my mom, Marilyn Kratz, commenting on the example she has set through her long career as an elementary school teacher and, at the same time, a writer of children's stories for magazines and books.
She retired from teaching in 1998, but she didn't stop writing. In addition to stories for children, she has branched out in new directions, publishing nonfiction books and writing a newspaper column about growing up on a farm in South Dakota in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
Since I also chose a career that focuses on writing and editing, her influence on my life is clear.
I think the fact that I write a column about work-life balance is also thanks to her influence. She has always seemed to find a way to accomplish everything she wanted to do in the workplace and with her family, and I want to copy her successes.
But my similarities to my mother go far beyond that.
For example, my mom always seems to have her home and her life organized. The old saying about having "a place for everything, and everything in its place" must have been written for her.
I admire that trait, so I've tried to be an organized person, too. I think I've succeeded. My wife always says I'm the most organized person she's ever met — except for my mom.
Punctuality goes hand-in-hand with organization, and I've never known my mom to be late for anything. Maybe she was when she was a young mother, hauling me or my sister around, but I seriously doubt it. It's not in her nature.
I used to be the same way, but a changing attitude and busy family have ensured that I'm not always punctual these days. I've learned that, sometimes, it's OK to be a little late if it's because you were doing something more important than heading to your next appointment.
That particular lesson has been difficult for me to understand. I wanted to see if my mom has faced similar challenges, so while I was preparing this column, I decided to call her. We talked about punctuality and the other traits we share.
She commented that we're both fortunate to have spouses who are more laid-back than us and help us have healthier relationships with time. My dad, Bud Kratz, definitely fits that bill, as does my wife.
"(Your wife) has done wonders with you, and Bud has tried with me," my mom said. "I have learned from him about not letting small stuff bother me. I know I'm better at coping than I used to be because I learned it from him.
"(Your wife), too, lives her life and doesn't let the clock rule her. She gets everything done she wants to get done. She has a fantastic attitude."
That's definitely true. But, like my mom, I'm still trying to learn those good habits from my spouse. In this way, I'm a work in progress.
My mom is also a planner. She starts packing for vacations days (maybe weeks?) before she's due to leave. She checks and double-checks reservations. She generally knows where she's going to be and when she's going to be there.
I inherited that trait, too. Maybe not when it comes to trips, as I tend to pack for those the day before I leave. However, in general, I like to plan. I'm always trying to peer into the future, determine what might be coming my way and figure out how to resolve problems before they arise.
This drives my wife a bit crazy sometimes, and I'm pretty sure my mom's tendencies have led to a bit of exasperation for my dad during their almost 55 years of marriage.
That's because the penchant for planning is accompanied, in both my mom and me, by a tendency to worry.
We worry a lot.
About pretty much everything.
"I often worry about things that are not even important to worry about," my mom said. In particular, she'll spend hours chastising herself for something she has said. "I'll think, 'I wish I hadn't said that or done that.’ ”
But lately she has realized that she's probably the only one who worries about such things. That has helped her let go of some of her concerns.
She said she also has realized that most things she worries about will take care of themselves in time. For example, she wrote and self-published a book last year, and she said her worries surrounding that process just about drove both her and my dad crazy.
"But the things I worried about so much, no one has ever mentioned," she said.
In an effort to help her set her worries aside, she has taken up tai chi. As she finishes each session, she looks out the window and tells herself, "Everything will be all right."
I'm sure I can remember her telling me exactly that when I was a child, stressing out about some real or perceived problem in my life. My wife says the same thing to me all the time now.
If both my mom and my wife are saying it, I'm positive that it's true.
In many ways, it's not easy being like my mom. While these tendencies we share help us succeed in many ways, they also lead to stress and anxiety. I've reflected on this often during the last few weeks as I've contemplated a series of challenges at work and at home.
But my mom has kept learning and growing throughout her life. And, once again, I want to follow her example. I need to remember that I can soften some of these tendencies, as she has, and that doing so will help me build the balanced life I seek.
As our conversation on this topic drew to a close, my mom commented that one of the primary lessons she has learned is that making other people happy is the most important part of life.
"Those are the things people should think about more than the nitpicky things," she said.
I know my mom makes other people happy. She always focuses on serving and helping those around her. I also know I could do a better job in this area.
I don't mention this often enough, Mom, but I sincerely appreciate the example you've set for me, and I'm glad we share so many personality traits. If I can keep following your example, I'm confident that I'll be the best person I can be.
Because I know you are exactly that.
Thanks, mom. And happy Mother's Day!