By Jen Shoop, Founder and Author, Magpie x Jen Shoop.
I have been writing a lot about balance as a mother on my blog, and it dawned on me embarrassingly late in these musings that balance is the wrong mascot for working motherhood. It is -- for me, at least -- the incorrect paradigm; it feels nearly catachrestic. I hear "balance" and I see the goddess Dice with her scales: if I just add a few more hours of playtime here, or snip a couple of work hours there, then everything will net out. In reality, there is nothing arithmetic about motherhood, and there is no equation in which my hours at my desk are in perfect harmony with my hours actively nurturing my children. No matter how many bedtimes, breakfast tables, story books, or snuggles I share with my children, it will never be enough, and I speak both from a place of heart (in that I love them so deeply I would walk to the ends of the earth and back for them) and a place of guilt (in that, no matter how much I give of myself, I still feel it is not enough).
My daughter still likes to remind me of the one time, when she was three years old, that I forgot to pack her lunch and only realized it when we'd stepped onto the 1 train at 86th Street. She is six now. (Never mind that my failing led to the extravagant $7 croissant sandwich, $4 Swiss yogurt, and $4 chocolate milk I splurged on for her replacement lunch at Eataly -- easily the most delightful lunch she's ever enjoyed in a school building.) No matter how much I give of myself, no matter how often I compromise or cut corners at work to honor my children, no matter how many support systems I put in place -- I do not think there will be a conceivable time in which I will sit back and say: "There. That's it! I've achieved balance." I think this is because my motherhood antecedes, precedes, supersedes all else. It is my first and irremovable layer. Everything else seems to lay -- occasionally limply or too-snugly -- on top. The conceit of balance simply doesn't work in this context: there is no "tare" button in which I can subtract my motherhood from my work self and thereby figure out the math. While I am working, I am still a mother. The inverse is only rarely true.
I am grasping for a different paradigm, and I think it might look something like "flow." I don't want a surge, or a trickle, or some sort of mechanized lock system. I'm seeking a mindset that allows for movement. Some weeks, I am going to course way over to one side to care for my ailing daughter, or step in with extra hugs and attention because I feel needed, or show up at my son's school unexpectedly because I know he loves it when I do. Other weeks, I am going to have to retreat from that realm -- say "no" to helping at the class party, or give in to iPad time more than I'd like, or ask for more help from family or caregivers. The conditions will continue to change, and I am sitting here reminding myself that I can change with them. What is working today, this week, this month may not work tomorrow, next week, next month -- and that's OK. I'm not looking for stillness, or regularity, or some sort of static "snapshot" of perfect equilibrium. I'm learning to be comfortable with the undulations. I am positioning myself as a steward of that flow.