Is there even such a thing as a balanced life? Are we completely and utterly fooling ourselves? I think these are questions that tend to find their way into the frazzled minds of us women. I have this conversation about balance and managing it all with just about every close female friend I've had in this season of life and I find it interesting that it matters so much to us.
I know that plenty of men desire that balance of work/personal/family life to even out - in fact, Dave changed jobs last year so that our family life could be more healthy and flexible, but I wonder if this question, or quest as it may be, gets more airtime in the female brain.
You see, I've been listening. I've been listening and reading and talking and thinking and have felt carefully nudged by what I've heard and read and thought to put this post together. Lately friends have recommended books, podcasts, videos and they have all spoken the same message to me.
The message that I've been hearing over and over again is that the world needs people who have come alive.
I delved a little bit into this a while back after a really helpful strengths coaching session with my friend Abbey. Not only does the world need people who are fully alive, giving themselves to the stuff that energises and brings out the best in them, but we, ourselves, need it too. We need to surrender to the stuff in our lives that is seeking us out - the dreams, the visions and the ideas - because I truly believe that unfulfilled or unrealised dreams can spawn much resentment and bitterness.
I have felt strongly that this is a message that women and girls particularly need to hear in the deepest most profound ways and I have been wondering how deep our societal norms have furrowed into our psyche that cause us to allow our needs and our desires to go un-met?
Let me be really clear about it all: There is nothing humble about putting your dreams aside. There should be no relationship that doesn't allow for give and take - for both people to equally feel fulfilled. By denying or shelving our creativity, our ideas and our ventures, we are depriving the world of our full selves and we are depriving ourselves of living fully. Nowhere do I see this happen more than with women, and more acutely with mothers.
Motherhood, to me, is one of the greatest contributions that I want to give to the world. Children that are raised fully loved and fully accepted would be an amazing legacy for me. But there are also other parts of me that long to come alive in different ways and I want to honour those longings, invest in them - because actually, being a mother that is fully alive is actually the best mother that I can be for Levi! I am doing nobody any favours by giving less than my whole self to my life.
I think what trips us up in getting there is that we are often held back by guilt. If we do this, then that suffers. What will people think if they see me enjoying anything as much as I enjoy my children?
And the question we must ask is: How can we hold and honour both motherhood and the other pursuits that make up our identity?
Elizabeth Gilbert, in her podcast (which I mentioned here) Magic Lessons says: "Mothers are the members of society that need to be given the most permission to be able do the things that ignite their own souls." CAN I GET AN AMEN TO THAT?
She talks about the deep sense there is in the world that once you become a mother that you lives belong exclusively and entirely to your children - even when they are in school.
But it's ludicrous and unhealthy.
Liz quotes A.S. Byatt, an English novelist, as saying this:
"I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure. It's the most important thing in my life, making things. Much as I love my husband and my children, I love them only because I am the person who makes things. I, who I am, is the person that has the project of making a thing. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all these people."
Just have a read of that again and let it soak into your bones. And then substitute 'writing' or 'making things' for whatever it is that rattles you, gets your blood pumping.
Byatt so beautifully explains that because she is able to let all of the creative pursuits deep within her come alive, she is able to love her family more fully. I don't know about you but I resonate with that deeply. I'm a better mother when I don't deny my own needs. I'm a better wife when I have replenished my own soul. I'm a better friend when I have given time to the things that make me come alive. There is only life in that - no room for guilt.
I love the idea that Liz puts out there of how the things that make us come alive actually are pursuing us and anything that stops us from doing those things - this work that gnaws at us to be made or to create or to live out - is generally fear. It may look like insecurity, it may look like procrastination, it may look like guilt, it may look like perfectionism, but it boils down to fear. Oh that we would be women less afraid! There is such a wealth of insight over on Magic Lessons, I would truly love you to listen to these podcasts for yourself (and then call me and we can gush together over how wonderful they are).
Another one of my favourite writers, Shauna Niequist gave a talk recently on what her mother has taught her. You can (and should) watch it here, but again, what stood out for me was when she spoke of the realisation her mother had after her kids were all grown up. She said:
"What’s so sad is that when women fail to take their lives seriously, nobody wins.
Our kids didn’t win. They got a devoted, conscientious mother, who picked up after them and made sure they got their homework done. They got a mother who adored them, prayed for them, always wanted the best for them. But they didn’t get a happy mother. They didn’t get a fun mother. They didn’t get to see, up close and personal, a woman fully alive.
My son needed to see that. But even more, my daughter needed to see that. She needed to see me operating out of strength and passion, and I couldn’t give her that. Fortunately, there were other women in her life who modeled that for her. And I am grateful that as I have chosen to lean into my own true life, I am now able to give her something I couldn’t give her before. But if I had it to do over, I would not have waited so long. I would not have robbed her of the model of an authentically alive mother."
I wonder what the world would look like if we decided to give each other, and ourselves, permission to live fully.
Have you ever thought about this? I would really love to hear your thoughts. What makes you come alive, what fear is holding you back and when are you going to do something about it?