I spent a lot of time in the first months of both of my son’s lives trying to figure out how to find the unicorn that is balance in motherhood. Sound familiar?
I read articles and blogs on how to achieve it. All of these people were telling me to make self-care a priority, which led me to think, “Was this written by a young woman with no children? Or a man? Or a cartoon squirrel wearing glasses??”
Thank you all for your good intentions, but the sentiment that Motherhood can be a made-up bed with perfect hospital corners, freshly pressed pillowcases, and a mint on the nightstand is total B.S.
If you are desperately searching for balance, you’ll drive yourself insane when you can’t find it. I suggest instead that you change your expectations. Adjust your perspective on what your life is supposed to be and make peace with imbalance.
Why do we want balance anyway?
Balance implies equal weight distribution and symmetry. Yet nothing in the definition of balance implies happiness or peace. So why do we drive ourselves crazy trying to get it?
It all starts with society and media telling us that balance in ourselves is essential. That becomes us telling ourselves that achieving balance will make us suddenly happier. Or that balance is indeed that one missing puzzle piece. I am soooooo guilty of this.
I firmly believe that crossing over into the wild forest of Motherhood sends us into an alternate universe of sorts where the same rules no longer apply. Don’t try to reason with anyone from the other side. It’s no use.
And this is not a man-hating post by any means. In fact, it’s the opposite end of the spectrum that my husband lives on that keeps me from going full cuckoo a lot of the time. However, he will never have the same challenges as I do. He will never experience parenthood (or life) the same way, and it’s no one’s fault. My body can make babies. His cannot.
We seek balance (especially in motherhood) because:
- We feel the pressure from the outside world to be all things to everyone, to do all the things in the best possible way.
- There is pressure from ourselves to live up to those outside standards.
- It’s not just pressure, but a true desire to be a superhero.
- We think all the other moms are doing it (and doing it with ease). (Social media often makes us feel this way.)
- We think we need it. (But it turns out its not balance we are seeking but contentment, peace, predictability or fulfillment)
When is balance a good thing?
- When you are a tight rope walker
- When you are the waiter carrying my table’s wine glasses
- When you are a checkbook
- When you are a pair of tires on a car
- When it’s time to eat and there are vegetables but also cake
Balance isn’t the bad guy.
The concept of balance is not an evil thing. In fact, I am “Team Balance” quite often. I firmly believe that my husband and I being opposite personalities (balanced!) is what has kept us together for so many years. It’s the harmony between us that makes it work.
And in addition to that, there may very well have been a time in my life when I had some level of balance and that it DID make me happy. Whaaaa?! (Yes, I am squishing up my nose and giving a look of total disgust to that past version of me.)
But it’s true. It can very well be achievable, but I would like to state again that it alone does not have to equal happiness or peace. Nor does it have to be present throughout an entire lifetime. I love this post from Ruth Soukup’s blog Living Well Spending Less, where she talks about her interview with Shonda Rimes. When asked how she does it all, she says she doesn’t. “When our sun is shining in one area, there will be a shadow somewhere else.”
The degree of balance or imbalance comes and goes. It changes year to year and even week to week.
What are we REALLY looking for — balance or contentment?
So calling back to those reasons we seek balance. We first have to identify what we’re really looking for. Is it actually balance? Or is it something else?
As human beings, we often fall into the trap of “When I get X, then I will be Y.” If I just work 80 hour weeks for a while, then I can finally relax and go on that vacation. When I find a man to marry, then I will like myself.
The one I have been telling myself for years is that when I finally get down to a zeroed out to-do list, I will feel less overwhelmed. I haven’t had a zeroed out to-do list, but I did realize that the to-do list wasn’t what was causing my overwhelm. It was the organization of the action items and my expectations for them.
Is the end goal really to spend equal time on all the areas of your life? Or is to feel contentment, gratification, joy, or adventure? ….Or something else?
Where is your time actually going?
Sometimes we actually do have balance in our lives and we don’t even realize it. If you aren’t sure what you are seeking or what is missing from your life, a good way to find out is to dissect where your time is going every day. I did this recently and it was quite an eye-opener to see where my time was going.
I created this Time Tracker spreadsheet to log the activities and the time spent on each. If you are super committed to figuring out what’s missing, I recommend logging your activities for a full 7 days. Download the Time Tracker spreadsheet, and customize the column headings as needed, specific to the major areas of your life. You can add or delete rows as you need. Log your activities every day and how much time you spend on each. Yes, it takes a little bit of effort to log each activity, but yes, you see a more accurate (and sometimes surprising) picture of where your time goes. As you start to view your day from that outside perspective, you can identify any changes you want to make with where your time goes.
How do we make peace with imbalance?
Learn to let go.
Okay, we can’t let go of any and everything. That’s not entirely realistic. But the world won’t stop spinning if you decide not to mop the kitchen this week (or month) or if you RSVP “no” to a social opportunity.
The rule here is that you drop the things that aren’t necessary for you to do. I love a clean house. I embrace cleared kitchen counters, and I adore dirty laundry inside of a hamper as opposed to everywhere BUT. Unfortunately, it’s not something we have the funds to outsource either.
So I’ve had to learn let things slide. It’s a constant effort, but I also remind myself that taking care of my kids’ basic needs wins the priority race. Sometimes I neglect to shower because I was inspired to write a new song instead. Sometimes I order pizza again instead of making it to the grocery store because we had a fun family outing all day and there just wasn’t time.
There are times that I decide to kick something off my to-do list entirely. For instance, I’ve completely given up on vacuuming out the minivan. And no one in my family cares. What do keep on your plate that doesn’t need to be there?
Embrace the chaos.
When I was only a few weeks pregnant with my 2nd son, I ran into a friend who had recently had her 2nd. I asked her how it was having 2. I loved what she said.
She said the first couple months were really tough, but once she learned to accept and embrace the chaos, it got easier.
This was my full-on motto, really for the whole first year of my 2nd son’s life. It was still really hard, but I found myself jumping in and going with the flow of the kids, instead of trying to wade against the tide. I let go (yep, there’s that theme again) of the need for control. It’s a mindset shift. Instead of ducking for cover, put on a helmet and join the hurricane until it passes.
Instead of balancing your priorities, let them take turns.
Writing songs is a piece of me that I consider elemental to who I am as a human. However, after having my first son, that piece of me moved to the backburner. My first son, Elijah, came along and he took priority. It was tough for me, but it was a sacrifice I chose to make.
My second son, Niko, came along and I was too busy embracing the chaos to even notice that songwriting fell off the plate. But now, as I write this, he is nearly 19 months, and finally there is space again for music.
Music never stopped being important to me, but I recognized my own need to be fully present as “Mommy” for those early years.
I don’t love the idea of telling people to put their dreams on hold. But as human beings, we have a fixed bandwidth. If our energy for all of the things in our life totals 100%, then each thing we do lowers the number. When we reach 0%, there is no more to give. If we try anyway, we do ourselves and those around us real harm.
Additionally, if we have so many things on our plate that each one only receives 2% of us, then none of them will thrive.
Your turn: Make your own life pie.
If you want to create a visual representation of this for yourself, draw a circle. Identify all the categories in your life that you are currently trying to fit in. (Some possibilities are: job / family / marriage / friends / social life / your hobby or passion / religion / health / house maintenance / kids activities, etc.)
Remember that your energy totals 100%. Then assign a percentage to each category of how much of yourself you feel like you give to that.
If you end up with a number over 100%, perhaps you should rethink where your time is going.
If you don’t go over 100%, but you have so many categories that none gets the time it deserves, you may also want to rethink your priorities and consider how you might let go of some things on your plate. 2% of a pecan pie does me no good. I’d rather just eat a carrot.
Part 2 of this exercise would be to draw a 2nd life pie. In this one, you create the categories and percentages that you would like to have. What really matters to you and where do you WANT your energy to go.
Now its just about creating a bridge from Pie #1 to Pie #2. What can you move around in your life to make this happen?
What I miss out on when there’s too much balance:
To me, perfect balance in motherhood means I can’t read those extra books to my preschooler when it’s way past bedtime — even though we’re having the most amazing connection. It means I can’t put off cleaning the kitchen to keep my flow of writing when I’m really on a roll. It means I can never give myself a break and just order takeout.
In other words, balance interferes with the natural ebb and flow of life. It crushes flexibility and stifles creativity.
You may have had balance before, and there may be a time in your life when you feel balance once again. The problem comes when we’re waiting on it to make us happy.
Give yourself a break and seek out moments of joy instead of searching for a perfect mathematic equation of time, energy, and life (i.e. balance in motherhood).
Leave the cracks and let wildflowers grow through them.
I’d love to hear your experience with a search for balance in your life. (Or is it even an issue for you?) My perspective is but one! Please share yours in the comments below. 🙂 And be sure to check out The Ultimate Guide to Motherhood for more inspiration, more support, and more tips.