We are born women, but moms, we may become.. How can we build this role, while keeping intact our other many identities? Career, love, friendship, sisterhood, sport, volunteering.. Women, can we find a balance? Does this balance even exist? Analysis of an apparent contradiction.
“You can’t have it all”
Growing up, we find ourselves all wearing new roles; sometimes we change them like snakes change their skin; at other times we accumulate them like the layers of an onion.
“You can’t have it all,” I was repeatedly told. “You’ll have to choose.” And I stubbornly insisted, out of contradictory spirit mostly.
I distinctly remember when I went to the office to show my newborn babies. I saw a golden aura around me, as if the stars were suddenly aligned.
And then, when I came back to work to work, the roles added up, and the first real challenges hit me.
Which of these moments have been more difficult in assuming your new role as a parent?
Discussing your working hours;
Juggling between day care centers and baby sitters;
Fumbling unlikely solutions to cover the summer closure, the strikes, the sicknesses..
Calling the doctor’s office months in advance so to have the vaccines’ appointment after 5 p.m.;
Counting your available days off to see if you can use one to go to the school party, because last year you got there too late;
The eternal never being there enough;
Getting dressed in the laundry, because you still haven’t had the time to put your dry clothes away..
“You can’t have it all.” And there I am, looking for counter-examples, for different possibilities; ’cause I don’t like to choose. I have a hard time when there are more than two dishes at the restaurant.
And when no one sees me, I caress the doubt: what should I give up? Is it really inevitable that if I’m a woman, and a mom, I can’t also be all the other identities I’m wearing? Because I feel more onion than snake.
Why is that mainly women are looking for balance?
Historical division of roles, gender characteristics are not a new thing.
The stereotype of the man as a little aggressive, spending more time outside the home (because he provides a living for his family); and of the docile woman, not very effective in business, but good at keeping well home and children is not yet completely gone away.
Many women who want to invest in their career are still told that they “will pay the price” later; while men rarely see their values put into question for this choice.
Besides the social pressure, other differences are added:
Men know how to express their needs better, with less sense of guilt, and with assertiveness;
They identify more in their job than in their role as a father.
The two roles follow each other naturally: the profession during the day, fatherhood in the evening; without conflicting overlays.
The inner conflict and its consequences
I don’t know about you, but I love to live my roles at the same time. And then I feel guilty.
Don’t you feel guilty too? On the one hand your needs, your ambitions; and on the other hand society’s expectations, or at least our perception of these expectations.
Not exhaustive list of expectations that we put on our shoulders: which one do you feel on you?
Being a good housewife, with the perfectly decorated, clean house;
Cooking well and possibly with seasonal, organic products;
Inviting friends over often, and not giving up your social life;
Raising educated children, dedicating them quality time (but also in quantity, because quality is not enough);
Possibly actively participating in school life;
Working up your career aspirations;
Keeping yourself beautiful and fit;
Maintaining a healthy, passionate relationship with your spouse;
Helping your parents out;
Devoting yourself to some hobby /passion / cause..
The risk is to be sucked into this conflict. You forget why you’re running, what you’re going after, until you crash and burn. Until the erosion of important relationships, and first of all, the one with yourself.
Women, how can we build our role as a mother, in balance with our other parts?
Often, when you hear about “finding the balance between family and professional life”, the first answer you find is:
Organize yourself better!
It is certainly a fundamental first step to keep alive those aspects of our life that we love.
The risk, however, is to accentuate even more the perennial race and the sense of guilt for when you can’t make it.
I remember how, after returning from my second maternity leave, I found myself talking about travel and holidays with colleagues. Most had already planned the holidays for the following year.
And I found me justifying myself, “You know, we haven’t had time to talk about it yet..” “We had a rather intense period.. We will surely find something “
Disastrous comparison. In a period of time when organization is more tiresome than improvisation.
You can’t have it all. Besides, are we sure we want that same “all”?
The different approaches of women in pursuit of balance
In the face of this multiplicity of roles, and the ensuing inner conflict, each one reacts in a different way.
The main approaches are:
Disown one of your roles, or postpone it to “in a few years”– Typically, raising your children until they are out of school, or making a career until your biological clock calls. Can you feel completely satisfied with only one of those roles?
You forget about yourself, because “you have no time”
Your husband (or partner) will have to wait – the couple is put “temporarily” on the sidelines
Your life as a woman is super important – every empty line in your agenda leaves you in panic.
Each of these attitudes has its own risks: whether we completely disregard one aspect of our lives, or whether we try to become jugglers of professional commitments.
What’s the right way? If focusing on only one thing isn’t good, but doing it all isn’t either, what’s the right way?
The achievable goals…
I would start with trying to make these 3 pillars our own :
Perfection doesn’t exist; imperfection, imbalance and vulnerability are NORMAL and INEVITABLE. Let’s accept it.
One thing at a time. If today you devote yourself to your work more than usual, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother. And vice versa. But stop wanting to be everything, all together in a controlled schizophrenia.
- Less guilt! (Perfection, I repeat, doesn’t exist. Mistakes are great ways to learn)
Choose, knowing that your choices may change over time. There is (almost) nothing immutable in life.
Connected : the power of choice
… And how to reach them
That’s the most important part. Because despite the great words, when they tell me to choose, I return the child who cries because she wanted everything.
It is great to think about “the long run”, and what we want to build. But in order to identify our priorities, the question is:
“What is more important to me / my family today, now?”
Contradictions exist. It is not all white or black; You can feel happy for one aspect of your life and at the same time sad for another. Be proud of your work, and eager to spend more time with your children. These contradictions are part of us and accepting it will give us great relief.
Often, when we identify a desire or a need, we wonder why. But the cause has always its origins in the past. So let’s try asking how. How do you want to spend more time with your girlfriends? Or how can you take better care to yourself? The perspective changes a lot, because it projects us into the future.
Observing others can give us important answers if we know how to look. What can I learn from this person? How can it inspire me? Three advantages: you suspend judgement and confrontation; you return to the present moment; and you learn new things.
The present is the key to everything.
Women: is a balance possible or is it really a utopia?
If balance means holding all your roles simultaneously, dedicating them equal weight and priority : then balance doesn’t exist.
You might become more efficient and better organized; you can optimize your schedule and build a dense network of mutual help.
But the race to perfection is a lost race from the start: there will always be something unexpected. Which is likely to leave us exhausted and depressed.
There will always be someone who’s better than us, with a cleaner house, better behaved children, the most attentive husband.
The answer, for me, is elsewhere.
Look at the moon. Think about the seasons. Watch your changes, month by month: You have to wait for a cycle to be finished, before you can review it.
To make balance exist, you have to accept that it is constantly changing; as in constant movement are your needs, those of your body, your family and your profession.
If for one day you:
Give up some time with your children to work a little more;
Take a day off to do something special with your partner;
Leave the children to your spouse to go out with your friends;
Postpone the cleaning to read a book and rest;
Does that mean you don’t have a good balance?
Every day, every week, every month has its priorities. The balance lies and defines itself in a set, after taking one step back (maybe even two or three).
Understanding this took away a huge weight from my shoulders. I kept feeling guilty about every choice, because I’d felt I needed to find the constant compromise. To be able to be all at once.
Now, every time I give up something, I know there’s a different priority I can devote myself to.
These priorities are like the waves of the sea: never equal, and constantly moving.
Note: these suggested readings either come from books I personally read and loved, or from books that inspire me/heard good things about and are on my wish-list. The links to Amazon.co.uk are affiliate links : it means that if you click and decide to make a purchase, I perceive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
“Empowering Women: A Guide to Loving Yourself, Breaking Rules, and Bringing Good into Your Life” by Louise Hay pushes women to gain awareness of their value – something we so often tend to underestimate.
“Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” is the result of long research on shame and vulnerability made by Brené Brown (whose Ted Talk has become a great hit)