Motherhood is like a three-ring circus. You are the juggler, the lion tamer, and the clown. Some days you have to be a contortionist, and other days you feel like you’ve been shot from the cannon. But the one act mothers do over and over again is the tightrope walker.
When we talk about balance we often refer to time management, but that’s just the opening act. The more daring feats of balance, the more breathtaking lines that we walk are the emotional high wires we cross. They are the dizzy high-wire acts that leave us feeling unsure and insecure. It’s not easy to perch somewhere in the middle–not too far to one side or the other–but when we’ve found it we know the stillness of balance. And the only way to find that peaceful balance is to get up and try again and again to perform these feats of motherhood:
(1) The Amazing High-Wires of Motherhood
(2) The Death-Defying Act of Walking the Tightrope with a Spouse
(3) The Incredible Tightrope of Raising Children
Let’s go first to the Amazing High-Wires of Motherhood.
The First Act: Seeing the big picture, but surviving the day to day.
As a mother, you understand how both an assembly line worker and a mountaintop philosopher feel. You are concerned with broad, philosophical questions like “Will my kids be good people?” as well as, “How many times did my baby poop today?” The scope of your job is both so large as to seem uncontrollable and so small as to seem insignificant and boring.
It’s so easy to wallow in the minutia. Noses are wiped, a pile of laundry is washed, dishes are put away–we’ve all been there. It’s those days when you look around and say, “Well at least I did something,” but in the end you feel like you’re on a hamster wheel. Whoever found purpose and joy in deliberating cleaning a toilet?
The other side–the big picture–is the reason I’m here. I want to help my children become. I believe this is my purpose. But here, also, I need balance. Let me give you an example.
My daughter often comes home grumpy after school. She storms in the house and drops her backpack in the middle of the hall. She kicks off her shoes and flings them in the general direction of the shoe basket. Her little brother wants to play with her, but she says that every toy he touches is either too boring or not for sharing. I ask her to help me unload the dishwasher and she rolls her eyes and mutters.
Instead of being sympathetic to her bad mood, I start to doubt myself. Why is she so self-centered and inconsiderate? What am I doing wrong that causes her to be so incapable of showing kindness, patience, and helpfulness?
Because there are so few benchmarks and signposts to show me the way, I concentrate too much on the big picture and am left feeling overwhelmed, discouraged, and soulfully sapped. I am asking questions that don’t have an immediate answer.
You know what my daughter needs? An after school cookie! Not a daily progress report on her maturity. And so I perch on the fine line between immediate and eternal, body and soul.
The Second Act: Immersing yourself in motherhood, but not drowning.
Like so many things in life, the more you put into mothering the more you get out of it. The happiest moms I know are the ones who jump in and let themselves be transformed by motherhood. I don’t necessarily mean that they spend all day sitting in the sandbox, but these mothers have one thing in common–they let motherhood wash over them and become them.
But I’ve learned that they, too, walk a fine line. While they are immersed in motherhood, they aren’t drowning in it. A woman from my Learning Circle put it this way:
I’ve found myself thinking about who I was in college when I was ME, unattached, and I try to be that ME again. I try to listen more (because I used to be a good listener). Try to take time to dig in the garden and play the piano (because those are the things that are balm to my soul). Try to remember that once upon a time I liked “child-like” activities such as walking in the rain and taking walks in the dark and finding joy in blowing dandelion clocks (instead of worrying about getting wet, or that it’s past my bedtime, or that the weeds are an enemy to be conquered). It’s been nice to remember ME and to realize that I’m still here–just buried under layers of spit up and the responsibilities of motherhood.
We mothers are poised between giving our children our best and giving our children our all. But our resources are not limited in a way that we have to either give them all to our children or keep them all for ourselves. We shouldn’t feel we are in a competition for our resources, but rather that our needs and the needs of our children can complement each other. Just as we are surprised and delighted by our children in the process of mothering, we can discover things about ourselves through mothering that are equally surprising and delightful. It’s not about “me-time” as much as “me-ness”—an opportunity to uncover things about ourselves through an interaction with a child.
How does that happen? By simply recognizing the ways that motherhood expands us as women. Personally, I’ve seen a kinder, gentler version of myself emerge as I’ve immersed myself in motherhood. I’m stronger than I thought and more creative than I was before. As I lose myself in motherhood, I find more “me” coming back–if I’m willing to grab it.
And then I do grab it by spending some time doing the things that interest me. I don’t always need to structure our family time around baby lap classes and dinosaur museums. When I share and explore my personal interests with my children, I can keep my head above water. And believe me, that’s good for everyone’s balance.
Come back next week to read about the Third Act in the High-Wires of Motherhood: Listening to the good advice of others and following your own motherly intuition.
Question: How do you see the big picture while surviving the day to day? How do you immerse yourself in motherhood without drowning? In what ways has motherhood expanded your sense of self?
Challenge: Take a minute to answer one of these questions and see how it expands your perspective and sense of balance.