Creating Balance

Having a Busy Life Isn’t the Goal

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

I don’t know the meaning of life necessarily, but I do know that the purpose of life is not to be busy. People brag about how little time they have; they overschedule and overextend themselves to the point where they have no time to breathe. We’re guilty of it, too – of putting so much on the calendar that we can’t squeeze in a simple date or time out with friends.

Our lives seem to get busier and busier as each day passes us by. Between running a household and planning meals for 8, running and growing a business, children and grandchildren, household chores, and more, who has time to just breathe? Having a three-generation family that includes four adults, two teens, and two young children at home and finding ways to balance the needs of the family with the needs of each individual can be exhausting.

There are some days where all we are doing is hanging on for dear life from the minute we wake up until the minute we head back to our bedroom, look at each other, and say, “WTF?!” But we do try to do things to minimize being busy for busy’s sake.

  • We say no. While we make it a rule to say yes to our kids if we have no reason not to, we do say no often.
  • We use the calendar to book time off – whether it’s a night away for Dave and I, a dinner out with friends, or a concert, we get it on the books.
  • We don’t fret in those moments where there is nothing to do. We rejoice. I don’t feel guilty for playing Candy Crush for 20 minutes because it resets my brain from the long, non-stop workday to the evening.
  • We stop and breathe in the moments – moments with our kids and grandkids, moments that we know are so fleeting.
  • We take advantage of every opportunity to travel, play, see concerts, play board games, and spend time with friends.

We aren’t getting it perfect right now – we’re a little overwhelmed with our household structure and the demands it has placed on us, our time, and our finances. But we know this is also fleeting, and that within a year, everything will be different. Louis and Kira will take our grandbabies and move to England, Anika will leave for college. So we grab on to each day and enjoy the ride, seeking balance wherever we can.

Parenting Raising Healthy Kids Toddlers

TV Can Be Educational

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

I was never the mom who said no screen time. Are you kidding? How do you ever get anything done if you can’t sit your kid in front of the TV for 30 minutes and start laundry or dinner?

Sure, too much screen time is considered a parenting fail, and even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours per day. While we spent far more time reading books, listening to music, talking walks, or playing outside, sometimes, TV helped educate my kids in ways I would never have considered. I simply can’t teach everything, and classic children’s shows touched on topics that I might never have discussed at all.


We celebrate Christmas, don’t attend church, and have not had a lot of exposure to other cultures and customs with regard to the holidays. I was delighted when Blues Clues, one of the favorites in our household, aired a special holiday episode that raised awareness of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. My knowledge of these holidays was very limited, and I learned along with my children. It was such a great episode that it stuck with all of us over the years.


Both Blues Clues and Dora taught my kids language. Blues Clues used sign language with every episode, which was pretty cool, given we have a son with Down’s Syndrome who uses sign language regularly. I may be fluent in French and know a handful of Spanish words, but the regular exposure to sign language in Blues Clues and Spanish during Dora the Explorer helped open their brains to learning.


I may not have been thrilled with the kids’ insistence on watching daily doses of the purple dinosaur, but we can’t forget about Barney. I may not have loved Barney as dearly as my children, but teaching love and acceptance is never a bad thing. To visualize a diverse group of children interacting and problem-solving is something I couldn’t have recreated myself.


Not only was TV teaching my children valuable lessons, it offered a bit of respite. I could engage with my son while watching children’s programming, while simultaneously attending to his newborn sister. We would connect while watching a favorite episode of Blues Clues, but I could still manage getting a bottle and arranging for nap time. As the two got older, they were able to watch together so I could step away and get some laundry done. Now, as our granddaughter reaches the age where TV can both delight and entertain, I find myself enjoying the occasional Teletubbies episode and the trip down nostalgia lane.

TV programming is not perfect, and there are certainly shows that are more educational than others. Although TV is not a substitute for parenting, there are undeniable benefits to sitting down with your kids and watching some TV to expand their learning.

Healthy Eating Let's Talk

Why Diets Fail

There are many fad diets out there, most targeted specifically at women. Lose 10 pounds in one week, shrink belly fat, and get toned by consuming strange mixtures of maple syrup and cayenne pepper and who knows what else. Fad diets all promise the same thing: they all offer quick fixes to a goal that takes long-term dedication.

The first problem with fad diets is that they don’t take into account individual differences. One type of diet, such as Paleo, might work for one person but it certainly isn’t going to work for everyone. The other problem is that many fad diets constrict your diet to an extreme extent. I don’t know about you, but the second I’m told I can’t have something it’s literally all I want. So cravings and binge eating tends to become a huge issue surrounding fad diets.

The other thing that fad diets fail to emphasize is exercise. You can cut all the calories in the world, but you aren’t going to reach a healthy place. And that goes both ways. Simply because you hit the gym that morning does not mean you can swing through McDonalds for dinner every night. Healthy eating and exercise go hand in hand.

Ultimately, you have to do some experimenting to decide what is right for your body and lifestyle. You may not have time for the gym, but maybe you can take a walk with your dog or partner. If lunch out is a huge draw, pack healthy snacks and meals that you can look forward to. Feel it out and choose what works for you, because if you don’t like it, you won’t stick with it.

Let's Talk Self-Improvement

Perfectionism and Motherhood

I have always been a perfectionist. It is both a gift and a curse. On one hand, my high ambitions and expectations for myself have led me to excel in many areas throughout my life. On the other hand, I can become overwhelmingly distressed and discouraged when I miss the mark. So the question is, can you be a perfectionist and a mother?

If I had things my way my husband would come home to a sparkling clean house, a delicious gourmet dinner coming out of the oven right as he walked through the door, and a beautifully in-shape wife wearing a cute outfit and a bright smile. When it was just the two of us, I got pretty close. But here is reality now: my husband comes home to a house with dirty dishes in the sink and baby things strewn all around the front room; dinner ends up being something quick and easy, and half the time he ends up making it; I greet him in my pajamas (unless I had to go out for some reason) and a tired smile. But the baby needs my attention all day, and her naps just aren’t sufficient time for me to do everything I would like. When she’s awake, she wants to cuddle, or at least have a silly face contest with Mommy. And she always wakes up if I try to move her after she has fallen asleep. So if I can’t get her to fall asleep without my holding her, my best option is a baby sling, which lets me do some things, but not everything I would like to get done.

It has been a struggle not to become discouraged by falling so short of my idea of a perfect wife and mother. But having lost our first son to SIDS, I want to make sure that I am always there for my daughter when she needs me. And most of the time, this means sacrificing a perfectly clean house and an expertly crafted meal. There will always be dishes to wash and laundry to fold; there will always be dinner to make and serve. But she is only going to grow up once, and I don’t want to miss out on any of it because I was too busy trying to take care of things that are ultimately less important.

But I am still a perfectionist at heart. So how do I balance that with motherhood? It’s very simple. Actually, I just had to realize that a perfect mother is not a maid or chef. A perfect mother is there for her child, no matter what. And as long as the house is tidy enough, and as long as I get dinner on the table soon enough, that’s all that matters. My children will always know that I love them and put them first in my life. And if they know this, I will have succeeded at becoming the perfect mother.


Sharing Kids’ Hearts

I do not remember whether or not I was one of those kids who had trouble sharing when I was younger, but I certainly have found something I do not enjoy sharing as an adult: my kids. My husband had full custody of his three children when we married. We raised our oldest son, Derek, with little (if any) intervention from his biological mother. She and the kids have maintained only minimal contact with one another over the past several years, as a result of the combination of choices made by all of us.

I was more than happy to fill the role of Mom and never gave a thought to how different it could be if I would have to share the mothering duties or if their mother had taken the opportunity to have a more active role in the kids’ lives. When the kids’ bio mom moved to Oregon and away from Boise, where we were all living, our family moved to New York (we stayed in Boise so that the kids would have those rare opportunities with their mom; when she left, we were free to be where we wanted to be).

Living in New York for nearly four years really spoiled me. Even though the custody arrangement would have required us to pay for travel for their bio mom to come visit, she chose not to do so. The distance made it more possible for all of us to live as though we were a complete family unit without any missing pieces. Circumstances brought us back to Boise to care for my mom a few years ago – it came about so quickly that little thought was given to how my illusion might be impacted. We knew that the kids’ biological mother had also returned to the area, but other than brief conversations regarding health care and child support, there had been infrequent contact.

Suddenly, though, the opportunity existed for my step kids to have a relationship with the woman who gave birth to them. After nearly eight years of being the main mother figure, I was not sure I knew how to share, and I knew I would prefer not to. I did not want Kira, then 15, to suddenly start having our mother-daughter experiences with another woman. I did not want our 15-year old son, Kyle, to suddenly want to spend a holiday with her instead of us. I certainly did not want our son, Derek, who had joined the Army, to spend his leave with her and not me.

In the end, I did what was best for the kids – they deserve to know their mother, to spend time with her, to develop a relationship with her if it is possible to do so. I hid my jealousy and insecurity at the suddenness of having to share our oldest children with someone who did not really know them yet had a right to them. Most of all, I remembered – and reminded myself regularly – that a heart has room enough to love everyone. The kids do not have to replace their feelings for me with feelings for her, just make room for one more.

Get  Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.


No Half Ways

Our mom’s parents divorced when she was 11 years old. Her mom remarried a few years later, and my mom and her three brothers were joined less than a year later by a new baby sister. Theirs was not always an easy adjustment, having a step dad and a new sister who seemed (by virtue of the fact that she was much younger than her siblings) to get a lot of attention.

Sometimes, if my mom’s brothers were angry with their baby sister or hurt by a perceived imbalance between the treatment she was getting from their mom and the treatment they were getting, they would rub it in to her that she was only a “half” sister. It was cruel and hurtful, and of course the boys knew that, but at the time, they were still feeling the effects of their lives being uprooted by the divorce and subsequent remarriage of their mom. My aunt was a natural target, albeit an unfair one.

My aunt and I are only five years apart in age, so I was around for most of her childhood. I remember the sadness she would feel whenever she felt only “half” connected to her siblings. Even though she was the one with both parents there, it was painful for her to be singled out the way she was, and I never forgot that.

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.