Voices From the Backlist: Finding the Balance
Recently one of our permabloggers emailed a question to our Exponent backlist on how to find balance between motherhood responsibilities and other pursuits. A lot of great responses followed. Here is a snapshot of some of our emails.
I don’t have to tell you all that the greatest response to why feminism isn’t need in the church is the trope of the glory of motherhood.
I have two beautiful children who capture my heart, bring me to tears, and also make me want to punch walls sometimes. I would never suggest that I don’t love being a mother.
But I must confess that this past year and a half as I have embarked on this faith transition/shift and feminist awakening, I realize that my family really HAS suffered. So much of my time is spent trying to sort through my own ghosts/dark places/questions/pain, that I haven’t devoted as much time to my children or my home.
This kills me because I really want to be both so badly. I want to be that stereotypical Mormon mother with the lovely home and well-tended children while also asserting my “role” is to be Amy–fierce, sensitive, unwavering in my convictions, and ever-faithful in forging a way for women in the future.
Balance. I have no idea how to find it.
I have a lot of different feelings about this, but my short answer is this: your kids are more likely to have dreams of their own if they see you pursuing yours.
I don’t have kids, but I do study them academically. I know it’s not the same AT ALL. But if it helps, research has shown that mothers who are involved in stuff outside the home (whether that is working or volunteering or something like The Exponent…as long as she finds it fulfilling or meaningful) tend to experience fewer mental health problems when their kids are at home but especially when their children grow up, are happier about being a mother, and have greater life satisfaction. Children of those mothers, in turn, are better adjusted, more successful, and happier across their life course. This pattern of findings has been replicated many times.
I think balance isn’t possible and that the pursuit of balance is just another way to feel inadequate. We look at people who we think have balance: they exercise, work, still make bread for their family, go out with their girlfriends, etc., and it becomes just another checklist to fall short of.
There is no balance. The cake is a lie.
I think of people who accomplished great things: did Michaelangelo make sure his work/life was in balance while he painted the Sistine Chapel? Or did he pretty much work and work and work? What about Marie Curie? I think it was hours upon hours in the lab. I recently asked a knitwear designer who has 2 kids and whom I admire for publishing 2 books of knitting patterns in the past 3 years and she said there was no balance: it was work, work, work. Work at 2am, work at 7am, work at 5pm. Work, work, work. She’s lucky to have a SAHD partner who also does help her.
I think if you want to schedule more time for your family, do it! That’s great. I have to make an effort to read to my kids and spend time with them, but I‘m definitely not balanced in it.
I think people who go for their dreams have to drop the things that aren’t their dreams. It just has to happen. Balance is a lie- no one has it. It’s ok to feel off kilter. Running is just catching yourself with your feet as you fall forward.
Balance is an illusion.
I worked part time when my kids were young, then full time when they entered school, with one pre-schooler at that time and it broke my heart to put her in day care. She was miserable with that. But I was divorced by then, so I had little choice. I hated it. I wanted to be home with my kids. I wanted to be there when they came home from school each day and to be more physically present at home all day long – which wasn’t possible. I was working to recover from childhood trauma during much of that time, so I was often emotionally distracted by my own crisis. In spite of that, I gave my heart and soul to my kids. Most moms do, regardless of whatever balance we try to maintain. No doubt, you’re doing it too. Hang in there.
And follow your gut. If it feels like you’re missing out because your passions take you away from home and hearth, pull back. Stay home. Stand down and feel good about it. It’s not just a stereotypical image of the mom at home. There is solid value and real meaning in that image. And I’m not saying other images are bad, just suggesting we sometimes trivialize (what has become a sort of cartoon caricature of) traditional motherhood. SAHMhood is a battle ground and it takes as much aplomb and intelligence as any career I know.
Throughout my career I was offered professional opportunities that would require me to travel or to otherwise be physically away from my kids more than I already was. Every time I prayed about it the answer was, “Take care of your family.” And I understood this to mean: be physically and emotionally present with my children. Stay home. I was a single parent and that had its challenges, but for me, this constant “calling back home” was a saving grace for our family. I was all they had. I needed to be present.
I really loved The 5 Love Languages of Children. That book healed my guilt because I have been able to identify and feed the love languages that really nourish my children individually and personally. Because of this, I am not trapped climbing yet another motherhood mountain (comprised of food-storage/healthy/trendy/tasty cooking, crafty religious home decorating, and endless tantrum patience, among other things) that mormondom tells me should be a primeval part of womanhood.
From the time I was 6 until I was 26, my SAHM mother served in the Tabernacle Choir. That was usually 15 hours a week, most Tuesday nights from 6:00 onward, every Thursday night, Sunday mornings from 5:30-12:30. That was the regular schedule. Throw in many 3-week international tours, several recording sessions a year, and about 6-8 concert weeks with their extra rehearsals and performances, and it was a lot. My parents were traditional, and my dad worked long hours. I absolutely benefited from my mom serving so many hours in the choir: it gave her confidence and freedom to be her own person; she developed another social and support network; she was proud of her talents; she received nourishment from providing this unique spiritual ministry. The biggest benefit to me is that as I’m the first full-time working mom in my family, a pioneer who has had no models to show me how to do it, I can look to my mom and her experiences with the choir and know it’s good to do things for yourself.
While my husband was a SAHD to our son for the first 2.5 years of his life (while he was in night graduate school), for the last two years, we’ve been full-time co-providers and co-parents. Because I see things through this lens of us *both* working in full-time jobs (and previously as I was the sole provider), one of my questions is, is the father pulling an equal weight to his partner? Is the father as much a parent and presence as the mother? I realize this is probably very different in a SAHM situation, but when I was the sole provider, I still was an equal parent, scheduling and researching for every dr. appt. and writing up the questions for our son with special medical needs. I expected as the only full-time worker to still be just as much a parent to our son as my husband was, and when I came home from work, I did the “second shift” so my husband could go do bishopric activities 2 nights a week, night classes 1 night a week, and job hunt and do school work the other nights. I was essentially the solo parent from 6:00-onward every weeknight. So I guess that’s the only perspective I can offer, is that of the provider, still putting in as many hours as I can to be an equal parent as I’m able. If there’s any room to grow in that so that full-time caregivers can have a break and feel less guilt, I advocate for that.
Other’s comments about there not being a balance reminded me of an old friend’s comments about how there is not a balance for the time we are in, but there can be a balance in our overall time of life. There are seasons that need to be work seasons, and there can be seasons that are rest seasons or play seasons or be the best darn typical Mormon mother seasons. But, it won’t ever be perfect.
I give a lot of weight to the idea that it is good for Cora for me to be doing something that I love, and I try to include her in it as much as possible, for example, she has been to three academic conferences in her nine months of life, and she is always my first listener.
What are your thoughts about finding the balance between parenthood and other pursuits? Or between other areas of your life? Please feel free to share your own insights.