Finding balance in our lives is no novel idea. We strive for balance every day in a million different ways. Whether its balancing time between your friends and family, finding a balance that helps you maintain a healthy lifestyle while still indulging in your favorites, or balancing finances to accommodate a healthy mix of wants and needs. When we are able to find that harmonious middle ground that keeps us steady and at an even keel, we set ourselves up for optimal mental, emotional, and physical health.
To no surprise, I’m finding that maintaining a healthy balance is a common theme in motherhood. In particular, a balance between my needs and the needs of my daughter. Like many women, when I was pregnant I used to frequently daydream about what life would be like with my daughter when she finally arrived. I got this idyllic sense of being a supermom, knowing I would go to any lengths to meet the needs of this precious life I was about to bring into the world. Her needs would always be placed above my own, for I am her mother and her ultimate protector (yes dad, you too 🙂 )
What I’ve been learning in these past 10.5 months, however, is that it is not always her needs above my own. Like all things in our lives, it is a careful art of finding the balance that works for you both. Now don’t take this the wrong way – I will always make sure my daughter has what she needs and is well provided for and loved. Always. But moms have needs too, and I’m realizing that those are many times just as important. Our children take their cues from us and can feel our emotions long before we can communicate them. When we are stressed, they are stressed. When we are anxious, they are anxious. Because of this, I’ve gotten better at appreciating what is necessary to keep me relaxed and happy, and not feeling guilty when my needs need to be met. When I’m at my best, she’s at her best – and isn’t that the goal?
I can still remember the guilt I felt for weeks when I was beginning to wean off breastfeeding. My goal was to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months. Around 4.5 months, however, my supply had a hard time keeping up with her growing need. I tried it all – the pills, the water, the relaxation, and the 95 extra pumping sessions a day after she finished eating. The truth was I was getting worn out. Breastfeeding, which was once a very rewarding and happy time for us, had become a source of stress and anxiety. After weeks of guilt over the impending end of our breastfeeding journey, I changed my attitude. I had given my daughter 7 months of breast milk, and it was time for me to take care of my needs. After a very slow and gradual wean to formula, we were done. And wouldn’t you know it, I felt a sense of calm as a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders. The best way I can describe the feeling was like having someone fully recharge your mom batteries (and of course this feeling also made me feel guilty – why was I so happy about it? That darn mom guilt!). I was back to my A-game, and so was Tayler. She was healthy and thriving, I was healthy and thriving, and finding that balance again was all we needed.
Over the holidays our family went and stayed at my parents’ house in our hometown for a few days. On one of those days we had some family down from northern Michigan that we don’t get to see that often. Due to a full house that night and an infant that doesn’t sleep well as it is when we travel, we had pre-planned to come home that evening. As we ate and laughed and played games with my family, I brought it up to my husband that maybe we should just stay the night. My mom had everything we needed for Tayler (her house is the best!), and we would just make-do with what we had for the night. After all, sometimes don’t you just have to enjoy time with family when you have it? Well, a few hours and a few glasses of wine later (which I’m sure didn’t help the matter), I had a little meltdown. I was so upset with myself for “putting my needs above Tayler’s” and I “couldn’t believe I chose my own selfishness over my daughter”. The truth was, Tayler would’ve been just fine. And thanks to my empathetic mother and husband, they talked me off a ledge and reminded me that nights like this are very far and few for me, and I simply needed some time to kick back with my family – not just be a mom. I needed to find my way back to that healthy balance of being a mom and being a part of the family that can let loose a little bit! If only I could go back and tell myself that when it happened.
It’s still an ongoing struggle for me, but I’m working hard at finding and keeping that balance. I need to keep working hard at not only making choices that have both of our best interests at heart, but also on maintaining the pieces of me that have nothing to do with being a mother so I can continue to be my whole and content self. If she’s at her best when I’m at my best, then my needs can’t continually be put in the bottom drawer.
As one of my wise Momtourage friends once said: there are a million ways to raise a healthy baby. Whether your choices are big or small – breastfeeding vs. formula, career vs. stay at home, cloth vs. disposable diapers, or a night out vs. a night in… do your best to find that healthy balance and don’t let any guilt linger for one single second. Spend your energy being your best so your child can be theirs.