A dear friend called the other day. Many of our childhood days were spent side-by-side running through county fields collecting caterpillars, sprawled out on the floor creating, and fully engrossed in silly. Years separated our correspondence and we’d somewhat recently reconnected. Our lives need each other. Life works that way.
She was wrestling a question that day: How do you find balance between being mama and self?
It’s the kind of question so heavy with contradiction and layers that you are left with flooding thoughts and few conclusions. I imagine women have struggled to give it shape since the beginning of time. I tried, as I do, to explain my feels, while juggling the after-school needs of two babes, which led to an exhaustive and inconclusive mind dump—likely leaving her more confused than before. The scenario itself defines the very struggle.
I thought about it that night in bed. How do we find the balance between ‘self’ (interest, hobby, relationships, health, career, space, toileting alone) and ‘mama’ (on-the-floor player, great meal maker, classroom volunteer, milestone catcher, memory maker, character builder, bleacher cheerer)?
How do we paint more gray in a world that pulls us black and white?
If you’re holding your breath, relax. I don’t have the answer. None of us do. Just when we think we’ve figured it out our collective needs—theirs and ours—change and we’re feeling the tug.
I have a defined amount of time left that I’m able to raise my children this close to home. The near future holds great change for us, and the inevitable casts our remaining days this close together as pure gold. I also have a defined amount of time in which I’m to start over, building a career substantial enough to support the three of us. I am in constant tug-of-war between soaking up these precious remaining moments with them in this capacity and throwing all I have in me at building a solid future.
When I brought children into the world I voluntarily walked away from a bountiful career to be their primary caregiver. I saw it as privilege and took the role seriously. I felt more comfortable and in that role than in any other I’d filled.
I also neglected my needs and interests to meet the demands of our newly stretched lifestyle. In the extremely rare free moments that surfaced during their younger years, I found myself a bit paralyzed not really knowing whom I was or what I used to enjoy outside of the cherished role of mama. It took the unexpected cracking my whole life open and sending me back to scratch to teach me the importance of loving and caring for myself.
I believe in existing. I believe in women in care-taking roles including themselves in the list of the cared for. I’ve had the great fortune of a handful of friendships with women that believe in this, who confidently identify what it is that they need to feel whole and sometimes that comes before others’ needs. I’ve watched them closely, shaping my own comfort level from their example. It’s fluid and changing as my children grow. The important part is that I believe in its presence. I believe in its worth.
So, I think my answer, dear friend, would be: Trust Yourself.
Try things on for size. You will find your own balance along the way and it won’t look exactly like the mama next to you. Some days you will feel guilty that you placed your needs or desires in front of another’s, and other days you’ll feel depleted, wishing you had taken just 10 more minutes for yourself to prevent feeling all used up, or wondering what you could have made of _____insert passion here_______ if you’d only given it a bit of attention. And somewhere in between you will find days that just work. Let’s be honest, they feel less frequent, but they’re there. On those days you’ll catch your breath and be.
The danger for myself is rooting in the black or white. When I’ve given too much for too long in one area, I feel defeated in ALL areas.
I want to trust the flow and allow myself to be guided by it more often. I want to watch the mamas around me do the same. I want to relieve the pressure of falling short by scaling back overshot expectation. I want to believe that ‘having it all’ is likely 10 content steps back from where I’m projecting it.
I hope in the end my kids feel the gray I painted—I hope they feel full and loved and connected while watching their mama thrive; personally fulfilled and successfully supporting a family. I want to help them appreciate limits and cultivate a healthy understanding of co-existence.
I want them to want LIFE for themselves and for those around them.