The Myths of Motherhood are numerous, and I imagine we know them all. Myths like:Mothers are always patient, Mothers are always selfless, there is a right and a wrong way to parent, and you should be enjoying every momentmake us feel like we are doing it all wrong when our babies refuse to sleep, our toddlers throw tantrums, or when we take time away from the home to pursue our own interests. Ultimately, buying into myths can leave us depleted and discouraged.
The ultimate motherhood myth, in my opinion? It’s the myth of an elusive state of balance. A way of being that is both effortless and impressive. The balanced woman has it all, but moreover, she has it all together...
At this month’s FIT4MOM Philadelphia Regional Summit, I attended a session on Managing Self with FIT4MOM Founder Lisa Druxman. Almost as an add-on to a powerful and inspirational hour about new ways to look at decision making, time, and productivity, Druxman said: “There is no such thing as balance - only counterbalance”and, ladies, my “a-ha” meter went through the roof.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do believe we mothers can “have it all”, and I do believe that we can even have it during this stage of life while mothering littles. But what I do not believe is that it will all be had, each day, every day.
Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one of the pioneers of the scientific study of happiness. He is responsible for coining the term “flow” as it relates to happiness. Cziksentmihalyi defines flowas “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.” Flow can happen at work, during sports or exercise, or during creative activities. Hitting flow, or being “in the zone” is enormously satisfying for us humans, as it ultimately helps us to pursue our goals and feel happy.
Do you know what is hard? Staying “in the zone” when the needs and attention span of a baby or toddler ask me to change activities every five to ten minutes. It is hard for me to feel like I am achieving any sort of personal goal when I am making meals, cleaning up, squishing play-dough, or tackling tantrums.
Here is what I believe to be true. If I am lucky, I am going to hit flow once or twice per day. I might be in the zone with work, or with exercise, or with mothering, or in my marriage, or in my friendships… but probably not in all of those. And I will likely feel embarrassingly inadequate later when I look into my pantry and discover that I we are down to chemical-laden mac and cheesefor dinner.
In short, we can have it all. But maybe not at the same time, each and every day. I think that is ultimately okay.
The image that comes to mind when I think of “The Balanced Mother” is from The Cat In The Hat, when the well-meaning titular character juggles a cake and a rake and a very annoyed fish and some milk in a dish while balancing on an exercise ball. Ultimately, I relate most closely to the fish in this scenario - “Oh I do not like it it. Not one little bit”.
So, rather than balance all of the things, I am going to focus on one thing at a time. I am going to try to counterbalance. I will attempt to set and reset my intentions in order to to manage my expectations and reactions to the things that pull me from my flow. As a busy mom, I know that my attention will always be called to something new, but I control the level of my engagement. Most importantly, I am going to give myself some grace when I do not achieve everything on a to-do list that was too long in the first place. I hope you will join me.