“How do you do it all?”
“Where ever do you find the time and energy?”
“I just don’t know how you balance everything.”
Apparently, I do some deep thinking at night while I nurse my littlest one to sleep. As we were rocking tonight, I thought of some of the comments I’ve heard lately, and I thought about how they give me pause.
They are meant well and in good spirits. My mom might question how I’m balancing work and raising a family, a friend will wonder how I have time for my projects, or a well-meaning cashier at the grocery store, while I’m wrangling my kids around, marvels aloud how I have the energy for the acrobatics of parenting small children.
Usually I smile and murmur a response, torn between feeling defensive, like I should explain myself, or worried that they might have the wrong impression of me.
You see, I don’t have it all together. In fact, I don’t know any mom who does. The truth is that there’s no “balancing” anything. This life is hectic and tiring, my house is messy, and my kids are loud and leave wakes of Lego landmines that we step on and swear about. There is no magic bullet to this parenting thing, no secret that you’re not in on. The plain, unsexy truth is that we are all just trying to get by, trying to raise our kids to not be jerks, trying to pay the bills and survive, while also searching for our bigger purpose in this world.
I don’t know any mom who has it all together, including (especially?) me. How can we with the loads we carry today? In the early 60s, Betty Friedan considered in her book, The Feminine Mystique, that there was something more to life than being a wife and mother. She wondered if women were truly satisfied staying home and devoting their time to their husbands and children, and she documented many women’s unhappiness who were looking for more.
Now, before any pearls are clutched about my musings, trust that I am a proud feminist. I will fight with every bit of red-headed vigor that I possess to have the same rights and privileges that men have. But what if, in our desire for the “more” that Betty Friedan explored, we have gotten ourselves into a situation of “too much?” What if wives and moms, including me, with a desire for an identity outside of the home, have set ourselves up for taking on too much? What if we, as women, are so adept at caring for others while balancing all of the roles that we take on, that we are now in danger of losing ourselves in the “more” we were once searching for?
Social media plays a tricky part in this generation of motherhood, too. I enjoy documenting my family and my life as much (or more?) as the next person in my selfie generation, but it comes with a price. It comes with an inference or a judgment about what life is like that pretty, one dimensional pictures simply cannot convey. When I take photos, I carefully crop out the laundry tower on my couch or the crusted dishes in the sink. The cute photo of my kids reading together this weekend doesn’t have audio that would have recorded them whispering “butt” and “poop” to each other every other word and the fist fight that ensued.
I’m not saying that I want these imperfections documented for years to come. It wouldn’t make sense to document all of the mundane happenings, just as it wouldn’t make sense to write letters to our family and friends that are not scattered with the highlight reel of our life. I am saying that this phenomenon of social media is creating a Norman Rockwell image of motherhood today that is just that: an image, one that adds to the already full plate of women today.
I realize that I’m generalizing feelings here, and that there will be a countering of how women can beautifully balance our competing roles. I’m sure there are some women who do. I’d like to meet them because I could learn from them. What I do know is that I’m tired and tomorrow comes soon enough. My sweet cherubs will be wiggling into our bed while it’s still dark out, with cold toes and snuggly little bodies pressed up close, and I will get back to the business of what it means to balance being a woman today.