Great Balancing Act

“So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

and remember that Life’s

a Great Balancing Act.

Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I love reading this book to my son. I received it as a high school graduation present, and to be honest, I don’t think I read a word of it until one night searching through our bookshelf for something new to read to little guy. The book itself is beautifully written, and when I reached the page with this passage, I got goose bumps. It is a stirringly simple observation about life, and has become somewhat of a mantra me.

Balance in life means something different than I thought it would. I thought balance would mean keeping as many balls in the air as effortlessly as possible. Making it all work–home, family, community, career, health–without feeling the stress of near-certain failure, or the strain of never-ending commitments.

I am beginning to understand that balance may mean something entirely different. I am learning that balance means making choices and living with the consequences. I may want to do and be many things to many people, but balance can’t be achieved with all those things on my scale. They don’t fit. In order to find balance, I have to choose what is most important to keep in the equation.

Choices are tough because when something wins, something else loses out. But then again, that’s the point. I can’t do everything and do anything well. I have to make choices. I have to accept that there are consequences to those choices. There is simply no way to make all the choices at the same time. If this is such a simple concept, why do so many women like me struggle with the guilt in their choices?

My desires for how my life would unfold would be forever changed by the new outlook that was born right alongside my first child. Priorities changed for me, and I never saw it coming. Instead of doing everything as I used to, I would have to make some choices about where I would focus my energies, or else spend a good bit of my life fighting a losing battle to balance more than what fits on my scale.

Then came the guilt.

If I continue working, between the commute and my 9 hours, plus weekend events, I would barely see little guy. I’ll miss so much. Guilt.

If I quit, I will no longer contribute to my family financially. I will push us off the edge of “comfortable” and into the realm of “cutting it kind of close” every month. Guilt.

If I work, I won’t give it 100% because I’ll be thinking about what I’m not doing at home. Guilt, once again.

If I quit, am I derailing my career as I know it? Am I giving up on my potential as an independent and driven individual contributor? Oh, make it stop.

I am still trying to come to terms with my decision to stay home with my son. I am not torn as much because it feels right for me at this point in my life.

That’s the great thing about balance. The choices, though they guide the direction of my life, don’t need to forever define it. When my condition or needs change, I can re-calibrate as necessary. And I think with experience I will learn to fit more on to my scale.

I have also discovered that balance is an intensely personal in definition. What constitute balance for one person is torture for the next. I’ve had several people comment on my decision, saying things like “you’re staying at home? trust me, you’ll be b-o-r-e-d,” or “As much as I love my kid(s), I could never stay home. I need my time away to stay sane.” These are valid points for these women. And there is nothing saying I won’t change my tune at some point and find that being at home actually starts to disrupt my ever-changing definition of balance.

I have to highlight that because in addition to guilt, many women (especially moms) I know endure another stressful and persistent state: the feeling of being judged.

I don’t judge what other moms do–honest. I know the mental and emotional gymnastics that can take place for moms to make the right decisions for their families. I also know many women are not afforded the choice I have–circumstances dictate what they must do for work, and my guilt-ridden tug-of-war must seem somewhat trivial to them. This is not a judgment on what I think is the best decision, just the best for my family at this particular junction in our lives. I commend women who successfully balance more than I do, and hope to learn from them.

I haven’t mastered the balancing act yet. But I know I’m on the way to understanding a lot more about my priorities and how to make the right things fit into my life.

I have not abandoned my ambition and pursuit of my own career, simply made the choice to change course for a while and focus on raising my son and growing our family. That’s a choice I’ve made, complete with consequences. My goal now is to see where it leads me and try to let go of the guilt. After all, I have places to go.

“…you’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way!”

-Dr. Seuss. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

–Side note, I’d like to thank Leoarna, whose post “Career Mum or Career Woman? Let’s just let each other get on!” inspired this post. I’m not quite sure of the proper blogging protocol for such a shout-out, but I wanted to make sure it was noted!

When a child is born, so is a mom

When I was pregnant, Carter’s baby clothes was running a commercial on TV. I’m not sure if it was the hormones or my generally over-sentimental nature (probably both), but it definitely got me teary-eyed. The spot is narrated by a small child and details life over the first years of life as mother and child learn and grow together, and ends with the closing “when a child is born, so is a mother.”  See the spot here.

(as a side note, the video now ends with the phrase “when I became yours, you became mine.” Not sure why, or if I have the wrong video, but I’m pretty sure this is it!)

Now, a mere 6 months into motherhood, I have taken some time to reflect why that idea resonated so strongly with me. It comes to no surprise to mothers who have gone before me that having a baby changes your life in ways you can only begin to understand through experience. Becoming a parent has profoundly changed my perspective (surprise, surprise), and I think I’ve seen the biggest changes in my life occur in my relationships. As a mom, I have begun to see the other people in my life in a new light, both good and bad, in ways I never expected.

My relationship with my husband is different, and not just because of our shared sleep deprivation and lack of date nights. Parenthood, for me, has made the previously-defined “hard stuff” in marriage seem silly and the really hard stuff seem surmountable. Plus, I get a kick out of the subtle hints of my husband’s personality emerging in our son, even though I know it means he will be a handful!

My husband is no longer just the guy I married; he is the father of our kid. Not that marriage vows are anything to sneeze at, it’s just that now we have our vows and the well being of our little family to uphold. Kind of changes what I see when I look at him, but in a good way.

As I get older, I enjoy how I see my parents more and more as human beings and not just mom and dad. I see myself stumbling through some of the growing pains of motherhood and think of how my mom handled the same situations. I always thought of her as supermom who just knew how to make things work for our family, but I now think she must have once been awkward and inexperienced like me, which makes me feel better. Plus, I can make sense of the things my parents did and sacrificed in ways I never understood before. I may be uneasy about parenthood, but I am never lost because I had excellent roles models.

My relationship with my friends (and the list of those I still consider a friend has changed in itself) is also different from what I was expecting. I have friends who still call and visit and have stuck through everything with me, regardless of where they are in their own lives. I feel so fortunate for that. Now that I have a little life to care for, I have gained a much deeper appreciation for the friends that actually care when they ask “how are you?”

Many of my closest friends don’t have children, and though I need to make more “mama” friends for the shared experiences, I secretly love having less attached friends to let loose with (or at least lead a vicarious life from time to time). They still go out on Friday nights. They still do weekend getaways. And even if I can’t go along, I enjoy hearing all about it. That might seem strange–enjoying friends who have less and less in common with me as far as family goes–but I think it does wonders for my perspective, and reminds me that “fun” does not always have to include a diaper bag. Plus, these girls are amazing people no matter how different our lives have become, and I’m in it for the long run with them.

All in all, being a mom seems to have changed my perspectives about my relationships more than the relationships themselves. One exception to that is the relationship I have with myself.

As a mom, I want to be a better person. No just in a new-years-resolution-guilt kind of way, but in the most authentic, motivating way I have ever experienced. I am living more healthfully. I am following my passion. I am going back to church. I am on a mission to be a better wife, daughter, and friend. I’m far (far!) from perfect at these things, but I am more inspired than I have ever been before–all because I have big shoes to fill, and because I really want my son to be proud of his mom.

Those are the biggies I’ve learned in my first six months— I’ve learned that when my baby was born, I was “born again” as a mom. And although I am well aware it won’t always be rainbows and sunshine, I am sure it was what I was always meant to be.