If pressed to name only one thing for which modern moms are not given enough credit, I’d say it’s their circus skills. At a minimum, mothers regularly find themselves juggling the emotional and physical well-being of one or more children; ringleading a household and all activities occurring within and without; playing the clown for an audience with a tiny attention span, the magician when broken items need fixing or lost items need “unvanishing,” the lion tamer when tempers are running high… I could go on. And that’s not to mention any career these women have chosen or are, for financial reasons, obliged to pursue outside the home.
Let’s be real, though: We know it’s all smoke and mirrors. And yet many of us would do anything to keep up appearances — to convince our families, our peers, our employers, and the world at large that we got this, whatever “this” may be at any given time. It’s hard work, but somebody has to do it.
Or do we? What are we sacrificing when we spread ourselves so thin that we can’t remember where our painstakingly produced personal reality show ends and we begin?
It wasn’t until I lost my son, Logan, that the answer hit me — hard. In the long hours, days, and months following his passing, I realized that the perfection I had been seeking as a mother, an entrepreneur, a friend, a public figure, a romantic partner, and goodness knows what else was worth next to nothing when a part of my very being had been permanently carved away. And not until years after that did I start to grasp the concept of balance. Though I still grapple to achieve balance every day, I’m far better at it now than I was a decade ago, and I’m glad that I have the chance to share some of the techniques I’ve learned with you.
Embrace Your Identity
From the get-go, I want to dispel a major myth: Slicing your life into convenient pieces and arranging them as you like just isn’t possible. The idea that you can be one person when you wake up in the morning and, depending on how many things you have to accomplish throughout the day, two or three others by the time you go to bed is wishful thinking. You do yourself a disservice in attempting to chop your being up in this way. So here’s your first step toward achieving balance: Embrace your whole self, every moment of every day.
If you have an occupation outside the home, don’t try to check your motherhood at the office door. I attempted to do this during my 25-year run as a small business owner and politician, and only after my family life came crashing down did I realize that I had been shortchanging both my personal and professional selves.
I can almost guarantee that whatever killer qualifications landed you your career in the first place have only been enhanced by your identity as a mother. And the reverse is true, too. Whether you’re a teacher, a lawyer, a barista, or a CEO, the skills you’ve honed while on the job — from supervising study sessions to tackling customer complaints to closing billion-dollar deals without misplacing a penny — have as much of a place in the living room as they do in the classroom, courtroom, coffee house, or boardroom. You are a multidimensional human being. You deserve to enjoy that distinction.
Make Space Within
Another solid step in a healthy direction is to build balance within your own mind and body. If you expect to establish a sense of stability in the world around you, you must also cultivate equilibrium on the inside. To someone who feels, as most parents do, perpetually pressed for time, this may seem counterintuitive because self-care does require more of that precious commodity. Attending to the needs of others, however, is far more easily done once you’ve attended to your own. If you haven’t eaten in hours or you’ve been trapped inside working or doing chores all day, the chances of your being able to provide creative input on your child’s science project or to get everyone bathed and in bed at a reasonable hour without blowing your lid will be seriously reduced.
For me, building internal balance starts with a consistent morning ritual. On any given day, I know I’ll encounter many things over which I have no control, but one thing over which I do have some power is what I accomplish for my own well-being before I interact with anyone else — even if that means that I have to get up very early. I kick off every morning with a quiet, reflective activity, like writing a gratitude list, journaling, meditating, or even a simple breathing exercise; some form of movement, such as yoga or a run; and a nourishing breakfast of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or other unprocessed foods. The exact details of what I do depend on where I am physically and mentally when I wake up. Regardless, the result remains the same: As I move into my day, I feel grounded, relaxed, and ready to receive whatever the universe has in store for me.
Whether you have an hour to yourself in the morning or less than ten minutes, invest in your own mental and physical health so that you can effectively care for those who rely on you. If you feel that you have time for only one of the practices I mentioned above — or if attempting more than one seems too daunting as you begin your journey of self-care — I highly recommend the gratitude list. When you get out of bed, before you do anything else, write down five to ten things for which you’re grateful so that you can step into your undoubtedly packed schedule with a sense of appreciation for the life you’ve created and the people in it.
Make Space Without
Finally, once you’ve defined your inner expansiveness, set your sights without, creating space for your most important relationships. These are what will sustain you through dark moments and help to get you back on track when you feel that you’re flying off the rails.
In the immediate aftermath of Logan’s passing — and even, on occasion, years later — I found myself regretting the time I had spent doing anything other than hanging out with him. What amazing moments had I missed? How many happy memories had I prevented by placing my focus so intently on the appearance of having it all together?
In moving through my grief, I learned that this was an unhealthy, unproductive line of thought. Nonetheless, the notion of leveling out my personal and professional spheres so that they could complement each other rather than compete was a good one. With this idea in mind, I began to give more weight to the relationships that mattered most to me — first and foremost, that with my daughter, Ashley. We had always been close, and she had given me a reason to live from the moment Logan left us, but our bond strengthened as we healed both together and separately. Even now, we still talk or text nearly every day, and we’ve established new traditions that have allowed us to rediscover joy in the empty spaces created by the physical loss of someone who remains with us in spirit.
My circle of friends has also developed in strength and scope. No matter how busy I am, I save room in my schedule and in my mind for the people who have been with me through thick and thin. You can do this, too! It takes flexibility, the ability to focus, and a willingness to place faith in other human beings — assets that I believe we all possess, whether or not we’re aware of it.
Again, if you feel that you have minimal time to spare, start small. Choose one family member or friend with whom you already have a decent relationship, and nurture the connection. Pick a “buddy breakfast” day, turn your solo workout into a team activity, or even just set aside fifteen minutes for a weekly phone call. Eventually, this type of date will become something you look forward to rather than a task that you have to consciously plan — and you will likely be improving your companion’s quality of life as much as you’re improving your own.
In sum, balance is not something you find; it is something you create — and your life will be far richer once you begin to do so.