When my children were younger, I stayed home to care for them. As they grew older, I began to study and work on a flexible basis, mostly from home. Nowadays, I take on more work commitments, arranging my day around their needs and schedules.
Inspirational messages on posters, fridge magnets and quotes around the Internet tell us about reaching for the stars; they urge us to stretch higher, embolden our hearts and bravely push on to get to our dreams. This motivated and passionate mindset resonated with me through my adolescent and pre-baby days.
After my first baby was born, there was a paradigm shift in my thinking; my drive to achieve took a backseat to being a mother. My days were filled with taking care of dirty dishes and sippy cups, a family laundry bin that seemed to replenish itself and a home of growing children with needs that had to be attended to “right now, mummy, right now!”
I have wanted to be fully present in every moment with my kids and cherish my mothering journey. My relationship with each of my children is tremendously important to me, and there is absolutely nothing I would change about this!
In being wife and mother, I have found the path that is undeniably mine.
Of course, many parents of older or grown-up kids keep reminding me that the days when the children are young will pass all too quickly, and I will miss the times when I hobble around the kitchen preparing dinner with a toddler clinging onto a leg.
I am told I will miss the wad of purple putty stuck up on the ceiling or the stones in the washing machine. And so I relish these days at home with the kids, even when they feel like they are never-ending.
I do feel frustrated at times. What had I been thinking, staying home to care for my kids? After all, I had wanted to accomplish more. I had wanted a seemingly bigger title than ‘mother’. But mothers are a respected lot, and that has helped me see my purpose.
As the kids get older, attend school and spend more time away from me, I feel like I am at a crossroads.
On one hand, mothers who are trailblazers, successful entrepreneurs or leaders in their field are admired; on the other hand, we are also told that it is all right to slow down, breathe deeply, and appreciate the moments that we have.
My struggle has been about finding that ever-elusive balance between being deeply content with a slower-paced lifestyle and a more achievement-driven outlook.
In her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World
Overwhelms You, clinical psychologist and researcher Elaine Aron discusses a similar sort of balance: the balance between being intensely involved in the activities of an over-stimulating, often competitive world and taking time out of the world’s busy-ness to be quiet, introspective or contemplative.
She says that each highly sensitive person needs to determine how much time spent ‘out there’ or ‘staying in’ is just right for him or her. Elsewhere in the book, she says that highly sensitive people often thrive as homemakers, if they are able to ignore society’s undervaluing of their role.
I am beginning to think it is not really about reaching a state of balance – many mothers will say they never get to this point anyway! Rather, it is the act of constantly seeking balance that matters.
On some days, this may be immersing myself completely in my kids’ needs and realising at the day’s end that I have forgotten to care for my own needs. On other days this may be committing to too much work and deciding at the end of the day that I need to cut back.
That curious phrase, ‘finding balance’, may simply mean taking stock, re-affirming my priorities, and redefining my life path, every day. However, this idea is complicated by the fact that we are all individuals and balance for one woman is not at all balance for someone else!
As author Kathleen Kendall-Tackett says in The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood – Coping With Mothering Stress, Depression, and Burnout, there will be advantages and disadvantages no matter what arrangements we make. Kendall-Tackett goes on to say that there will always be those who wonder about our choices. I might add, there will also be moments when we ourselves doubt our own choices!
The answer, for me, has been to stay mindful of my feelings and thoughts. Am I feeling content and deeply thankful or frustrated and unfulfilled? Negative feelings may mean that some of my needs have not been addressed or that I could do with a fresher perspective.
Weighing my inner state of affairs against my kids’ needs as well as my family circumstances has helped me make conscious choices while staying true to my aspirations.