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