Finding the Balance

 “Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.” – Paulo Coelho

Balance in life is what I strive for, but struggle to attain. Sometimes I get close to just the right mix of work and play (those days feel great), but they’re rare. Most of the time I feel like my To-Do list is a deluge of things I’ve committed to, stuff I’ve promised someone, and laundry.

When I first arrived in Sweden, I knew no one, I had no phone, no one to call, no car, nowhere to go. It was a strange kind of silence, an isolation both freeing and frightening at the same time. Without commitments I designed my day from scratch. My mantra:

Wake up and eat something.

A few days of that and I promise, the excitement wears off. Not to worry, the unfettered life is not that of a mother’s. Little by little my life got busy again, not just busy but hectic. Between volunteering at school and church, working on writing projects, entertaining guests, scheduling lunches with girlfriends (because that’s what I do to stay sane), and all the stuff in between with kids, housework and activities, my days are now chock full to the brim.

Some people cope by under committing, I cope by saying “yes” to everything and complaining about it later. I like to think I can do it all, but the truth is I can’t and if I try, no one has clean underwear. The laundry needs me.

I’m lucky because I get to be home. But sometimes I’ll admit, that feels hard too, not Gwyneth Paltrow hard, mind you, but hard. Like I wonder if my brain cells aren’t suffering just a tad in the absence of a career challenging workplace? Yesterday my 11-year old son asked for my help with a word problem on the “co-efficient of friction” and tyre tread (spelled the British way) in Formula One race cars. When I googled the question he asked: “Don’t you know this stuff? Why do you have to Google EVERYTHING?” Yes, I still feed him dinner, but seriously???

I’m not in the baby stage anymore. Many women my age are looking to get back into a career or start a new one (and when I have to help my son with homework I start thinking about those options), but even though my youngest is five and can work the DVD player (her brother taught her), I still feel like there’s a lot for me to do at home.

Motherhood has become my career. It wasn’t what I planned, entirely; I intended to have a career and motherhood, the two things fitting together. The details were always fuzzy, but it went something like this…me in a corner office, wearing nice power suits, carrying a designer bag, a chef cooking all organic meals at home, my personal trainer coaching me through Pilates, while in between it all I could hug and kiss my angel children.

In reality, that’s not how it all went down. I’ve got four kids and a resume that might get me a job as a greeter at Wal-Mart, (I’m friendly). As it turned out though, what I’ve got is even better, not in a I-have-a-great-wardrobe-sort-of-better, but a I-have-something-that-will-last-from-now-and-through-eternity-an-awesome family better.

Motherhood pays dividends. I didn’t know this when I first invested, back when I couldn’t get a decent night sleep and by body felt overtaken by aliens. But later, years later, I’ve come to appreciate this vital truth: you can’t outsource motherhood. Maybe if I had, you could argue the kids would have had better nutrition (I’ve been known to serve cereal for dinner), or had their needs met in a more capable way (had there been several paid individuals on the job), but I would have missed out. Yes me. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be in the thick of it all, the day in and day out, learning, growing, reaching my fullest potential as a human being raising another human being. There’s nothing quite like it.

This past week my son came home from boarding school with an injured knee. His winning try on the rugby field, while being tackled from behind, left him with the glory and damaged cartilage. I was there to take him to the doctor and out to lunch. The next day, as he recovered on the couch watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I made his favorite lumberjack breakfast and baked snicker doodle cookies. He’s back at school now and his bed is made and his room is clean (it’s the only time it ever is), and I miss him. I was happy for the time we had together because I realize, as he’s about to leave home, it doesn’t last.

Home is a launch pad, not a landing dock. These years that feel like they’ll never end, eventually do.

This fall he’ll be submitting his paperwork to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Before long he’ll be in another part of the world, handing out Books of Mormon, wearing a name tag and riding a bicycle, experiencing rejection as he tries to tell people God loves them. It’s not a small thing. Thinking about it makes me consider long and hard the years that have gone by and how I’ve prepared him. Did I do enough? I don’t know, but I’m glad I was there.

I admit there are occasions when I wish I had a career. It would make conversations smoother, being able to pull out my list of accomplishments without relying on the fact that I make really good homemade tortillas. But if I’m honest with people, the best parts of me are because of my children and the years I’ve spent supporting my husband to fulfill his dreams. It’s not politically correct, but in my case, it’s the truth.

Life isn’t over yet. Yes, there’s still time for my career and Ph.D. and that book deal, but I no longer need it to feel okay. I’m enough as I am, even it if doesn’t say so on paper. My life isn’t what I dreamed it would be, but I’m confident now it’s turning out even better.


12 Comments on “Finding the Balance

  1. I love how ‘Gwyneth Paltrow’ can be used as a verb and we-all know exactly what you mean. Like ‘Snowdened’. I read somewhere 96 new words were invented every hour. How’s a girl to keep up while doing that long list of stuff you just went through!

  2. Finding balance is always a challenge. My sister is also a stay at home mum. Her youngest just turned three. On top of that, she just returned to school. I always tell her, in the midst of the chaos, take a me moment.

  3. Lana, As I face “empty-nestness” (new word?), I find how grateful I am that I have had the opportunity to stay home with my 4 children. Now, seeing them launch out on their own is marvelous. Figuring out how to launch out myself has been a scary journey, but, with prayer and planning, all is coming together and I know that my life will be just as purposeful as it was raising my children. By the way, you are never done raising (helping) them! Thanks for your thoughts!

    • It’s not something you really appreciate, or at least I didn’t, when the kids are young, but you’re right, as they get older you become more grateful those years together!

  4. Lana,
    I loved this ” Finding the balance” discussion. Like many mothers of my generation, I stayed at home when my five kids were little, then became a full time teacher. Teaching is hard work ( and low pay ) but we all wanted the time with our kids.
    Like many of us, I am a great admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt. She had six children, but one died as an infant. Her five grown children had sad lives ( 19 marriages and divorces ….) I read all three volumes of her auto-biography and the one line that sticks in my head is ” I think my children would not have had such unhappy childhoods if we had not left them in the care of servants so much.” Sometimes I think the pendulum is swinging and mothers are under pressure to have a career and a family. There is plenty of time to start a career after the kids get older. Don’t you just love the Sweden way of life, where every couple gets 15 months paid maternity/paternity leave? I love seeing more fathers than mothers on the streets of Stockholm pushing the baby strollers !

    Claire Driscoll

    • Claire, thank you for sharing that about Eleanor Roosevelt. And I agree, the maternity/paternity leave here is wonderful. It’s a gift to parents. The one drawback being that afterward, moms really do have to go to work. They don’t get a pension unless they work. They don’t get any benefits whatsoever from their husband’s pension. Consequently, at the pre-school/grade school level there are a lot of nannies on the job here in Sweden (after maternity leave ends). I visit with them when I take Maggie to dance or ice skating lessons. I’ve met a few moms that really DO want to stay home and can’t. That showed me another side of the coin. I guess no matter where you live or who you are, it’s tricky finding that balance.

  5. Just being there in our children’s “every day” is a gift… I realize that more and more each day.
    Love your insights Lana!

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