Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Happy Imbalance

Motherhood, for me, as a young mama of three kids seven and under, is a balancing act. Picture a tightrope walker in a cute pink tutu, gingerly navigating a rope. That's me!

Swaying, bending, righting myself....

Over-compensating...leaning too far in the opposite direction...

A step or two seem perfect, but then comes the near-fall...

Teetering, leaning, concentrating, with the sweat of my exertion wetting my brow...

A balancing act: My needs on one side and my children's needs on the other.

If you're anything like me, your pre-baby self imagined motherhood more like organizing the pantry than as a treacherous tightrope. The pantry in your mind had clean shelves on each side, prettily covered in pink and blue floral shelf paper. You (wearing a PRECIOUS retro apron, hair in a cute ponytail) would gracefully take each can or box or carton and put it on the appropriate shelf. Label side out. In alphabetical order.

The Pantry Shelf Mother shopped carefully before her baby showers, registering for items that would make this carefully-ordered life with her new baby simpler, cleaner, neater and more convenient.

Then Baby arrived. If you are a young mom I needn't spell out the fallacy of Pantry Shelf Motherhood. We know that we aren't dealing with cans of peas.

Tightrope-Walker Motherhood replaces neat and tidy visions of domesticity. Baby quickly teaches us that part of us must....well, DIE (you don't find that gem on a Hallmark card, now do you??). Our goals, plans, dreams and even needs take a back-seat to the ever-present, immediate needs of this tiny person we are responsible for keeping alive. Very soon we experience the "pull" between our own needs and those of our children. The tightrope walk begins. And we feel guilty that we are on it.

But Mom, here's the deal: the fact that you are ON that tightrope at all means YOU are a good mom. Read that again; let it soak in; believe it. You are striving for balance. You are wisely considering the needs of your precious children and your precious self. We all know moms, or perhaps are one ourselves, who have believed that a "good mom" means every bit of ourselves, our time and our energy must be spent on our children, or we are "bad" or "selfish" moms. We are afraid of becoming one of those moms and terrified we already are one.

But of course total selflessness is impossible; no one accomplishes it. So each and every one of us fails miserably, every day, at being the perfectly unselfish mother we are afraid we are supposed to be. To not fail, and often, is impossible. Deep in your "knowing place" you know this to be true; we all do.

And yet, it feels like "either/or" with our own needs on one side (impossible to ignore) and our children's on the other. This means that when we take care of ourselves, we feel we don't deserve it and that we've somehow taken something from our children's mouths to feed ourselves. It becomes an impossible, guilt-laced choice.

Who is taking care of you, though? Hopefully you have a true Partner that gives you a chance to get off the tightrope sometimes. But who knows what you need and takes care of your needs best, at the end of the day? Who makes sure you don't go "hungry"? You know, deep within you, that that role can only be filled

Choosing your children's needs above your own is something we moms DO. But since we can never give to ourselves without guilt, we often ignore our needs even when we don't have to. We think going without and the accompanying loss, is better somehow than the scary proposition of trying to meet both well.

Your children need you. But they need a mama who is healthy, whole and...happy. They need (desperately) for you to not need them to be happy for your own happiness. They need you to mother you, as well as them.

So hop up on that tightrope, Sweet Mama. Walk that tightrope with confidence...not that you will ever achieve that illusory perfect balance. But have confidence that that's o.k.! Perfect balance is a myth, after all. You will teeter, lean one way and then the other, always in motion, always striving for but never perfect achieving, balance. And in doing so you will find a happy imbalance in which a child and a mother can live messily and joyfully together. Most of the time...

***Photos by MissWhit a.k.a. Aunt Whitney


Elizabeth said...

Beautiful and soo true! Happy Mother's Day and welcome back!


Great post! Love the rose dresses you girls are rocking!

Holly said...

Thanks, Cheryl! Here's to living messily and joyfully ever after! ♥

Jules of Whimsicalnotions blog said...

Ahh so true so true i have often fallen off that tightrope,you may have sen me a very short fat lady with a fluffy sparkly pink tutu.I was the classic pantry shelf planner and believe me she died well probably about the birth of my second son (im a slow learner i still kept hoping i was getting it wrong)and by the fourth son i laughed at that woman,great post and gorgeous girls.

Cheryl said...

Thank you, Sweet Friends!

LillySue said...

It took me a LONG time to learn the mothering myself thing. I now have a strong urge to mother my own mother and grandma too. I guess that is the way it should be! Great post and lovely photo subjects!!

Elyse said...

such pretty dresses you all are wearing!

let's hear it for happy imbalances!


Anonymous said...

In my wanderings, I found you this morning. What a fun place to visit. I'm sure that I'll be back. Have a blessed day!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and wise post Cheryl!!!! There's so much truth in those words!! Thanks so much for sharing that!
You and your girls are BEAUTIES!!! :)


Sugar Bear said...

Wow. Perfectly said Cheryl. I've only been a mom for just under 9 weeks and definitely feel the tight rope walk has begun. Trying to figure out if I should continue to pursue my masters or just let it go and starting to feel guilty about my return to work in a few weeks. I know this is just the beginning!

Just Between Us Girls said...

Dear Cheryl,
This is a very lovely post. You and the girls look beautiful. You are a wonderful mother the girls reflect that. I hope this finds you well and happy. I think of you often.
Love and hugs,

Annette said...

What a beautiful post. The tightrope is an interesting place to be.

SherryRoseBella said...

You are wise beyond your years!! You have to take care of yourself & love yourself & who you are in order to be a good wife, mother, friend, etc. It just makes sense!
You and your girls are too pretty!!

Rosalyn-Sue said...

I finally had the opportunity to read your most touching post again. It was hard to hear on the other end of the ride to Savannah.

I feel so very blessed to have met you. Your joy -- compassionate spirit -- and sheer talent are an inspiration.

All the best to you --


Angela said...

Hey Girl,
I was just thinking of you and pray that all is well!

Saucy said...

Words well spoken! Happy Belated Mother's Day!

You forgot to mention the part about falling right off the tightrope, your dress falling above your head, revealing your newly acquired post-baby "granny panties" and hitting your head on the pantry door.

Oh, it happens.

Indigo Robe said...

I found your blog through another one (I read about Southern Belles since I am a wannabe)... but anyway... :-)

I sent this post to my daughter who has a 15 month old. She needs to hear your words of wisdom. I'll send her the link to your blog as well.

Thank you for taking the time to write that!


Cathy said...


From the looks on your children's faces, it seems as though you are doing an absolutely fine job. Just remember to take care of you too!

Beautiful photos by the way.

xo Cath

Anonymous said...

Great post! I often feel this way. I too am a mum to 3 girls under 7. I feel am always feeling guilty about spending time doing my fun little ME things (crafts ect). You can never find the perfect balance. Thanks!

BloominCrazy said...

Amazingly said, Cheryl. I know I have fallen off the shelves while climbing to fix the pink paper! To tumble is humbling but a great reminder that I can get "take-out" every now and then. Everyone will survive while I take a little time for myself! Love all your blogs - thanks, friend.