Here are some things I didn’t know before having children—that personal space is something I’d taken for granted my whole life, that joining my local mother’s group despite my misgivings would be a lifesaver and how I could never have predicted how it would feel to have a part of my heart outside of my body, every single day. Another thing I could never have understood: that ‘the juggle’ is something I may never master. Despite all of my very best efforts.
Before I actually had children I had plenty of ideas about how I’d manage it. It involved a lot of colour coded white boards and Leaning In and meal prep Sundays. All of this did not take into account that I have never been strong in the organisation department (an understatement!). I also hadn’t realised that becoming a mother might change the shape of my ambitions. And I was clueless to the battles of sheer will and toast crusts the mothers I’d worked with before I had children had gone through before the work day even started. I had no idea how stretched they must have felt.
Now I am part of this club of stretched women. It’s a really super one full of women with a lot on their plate and an inventive solution to almost any problem. If you want something done I think you should give it to a working mother. I have a whole lot more empathy for a whole lot more people.
But that’s not to say that I’ve truly found balance. As a mother torn between wanting to be home and wanting to wear a blazer in a meeting, in pursuit of balance I’ve worked full time, part time and freelance. I’m patching it together and bobbing along. I’ve stepped back and sideways. Like all mothers I can multitask like nobody’s business, but I suspect like many, I’m happier in the rare times I can focus on just one task. Be that sniffing my baby’s head or writing an email. Balance, to me, seems a bit more like more time to focus on separate things. It’s compromise and acceptance and being a whole lot kinder on myself and to others.
That said, I’m not sure balance is something you can ever truly nail. Life with a preschooler and a baby means that something tends to always feel out of whack at some point. Maybe it’s just that you can only have a few things boiling on the hob at one point. Or when you do have everything lined up someone will get sick (or a pandemic might strike!), or the babysitter cancels and an extra gig comes through and it’s a scramble. Sometimes it feels you’re topsy turvy - longing to be kicking major career goals and also to be at home dancing to the Wiggles and pushing your four year-old, endlessly, in the swing.
Instead I am learning to think about life more as seasons. For it is true what everybody tells you, the days with babies and small children can be long but the years are fast. It may feel like you will never sleep again or that your life will be an endless cycle of scraping playdough off the carpet and doling out snacks. Yet blink and they’re gone. And how I’ll miss that chubby little hand reassuringly patting my leg and the prattle of the oldest in one of her very complicated games, her brother trotting behind her. How quickly you forget about breastfeeding in very unexpected places. Nothing is permanent. It’s all worth it.
Career ambitions can have seasons too. Maybe you will be focused on work for a time and have less time at home but the time you have is so precious. Or you take a step back and worry you’ll be left behind. Or find you don’t want the same things, or to work in the way you used to. But I think there’s always time to pick back up or to reinvent yourself. If we’ve all learnt anything these past few strange years it’s that things can change on a dime and as much as you can plan, life can have other ideas. Better to surrender and see what happens. But to try, when and where it’s possible, to listen to what you really want.
So instead of balance this year I’m trying to let go of things I ‘should’ be doing and even best-laid plans. I’ll keep thinking about that club of stretched women and be proud and grateful to be one of them. My only resolution this year is to be more present in life’s seasons and take the most from them, as they are. To understand too that all of the season’s do pass. Often turning into something even more beautiful.