Friday, March 29, 2013

Balance (aka "Why" I went back to school)

One of my favorite places in the world is the library. University library. Public library. Old libraries. New libraries. I'll take it. I love the peace and quiet. I love reading a book in a sunny window or typing away productively accomplishing things in peace and quiet. There's just an energy and peace to the library that I love. Mostly I love being alone in my own mind. I think lots of people feel this way about running. For me, that's how I feel about being in the library. It's one of the things I love best about being back in school -- lots of library time, alone time.

It sometimes surprises people to find out how important alone time is to me. And it's not just since having a child. Of COURSE mother's crave alone time. For heaven sakes, you can't even do your business in the bathroom with out a child asking "Mommy, what doing?" But for me, alone time has always been important. I need it.

When I was single I had a roommate who said she didn't like being alone. I could not relate to this feeling. I LOVE being alone. Even when I was dating or a newlywed, I still needed time away from Joe.

Don't get me wrong, I do not like being lonely. But lonely is different than alone. Alone is a choice of solitude. Lonely is craving human connection, yet lacking it. In motherhood I have often felt lonely even though I'm with a little person all day long. And as a person who loves being alone I still need a certain level of human connection each day to feel whole and complete. Connection with my child. Connection with my spouse. Connection with girlfriends. Connection with my coworkers and classmates. All of these are important to me.

But I also need to be alone.

Becoming a mother made alone time scarce. Especially since my motherhood came with a child who napped inconsistently and when she did nap it was rarely for longer than an hour and a half. And then at night my alone time was interrupted frequently by a waking distraught child and lots of crying with sleep training. Not exactly the peace and tranquility I sought.

Then there's the fact that my alone time had to fight with the physical need for sleep. I would be desperately physically exhausted, but I was also desperately craving alone time. So often I would read a book, watch TV, or eat a leisurely lunch during Evie's nap time rather than nap myself.

At 18 months when I thought I would lose my mind for lack of alone time my husband forced me to join the gym where I could get up to 90 minutes of alone time a day. It also improved my health and gave me a surge of endorphins, but the main motivator was alone time. I really grew to love my gym time. It saved me. But it wasn't the final solution. Things still felt out of whack.

Then this past fall I returned to school. I returned because the timing was absolutely right and things fell into place. But the fringe benefit has been access to hourly child care on campus (and preschool too) where I drop Evie for a few hours each day. I cannot begin to tell you how much better of a mom I can be when i get a few hours to myself.

These hours actually are rarely spent sleeping, getting a pedicure, or doing some other "me time" indulgence. I don't necessarily need that. What I do need is alone time. Time to not be "on call' for responding to the needs of a 2.5 year old. I love her dearly, but I just need that time each day. I drop her off and I almost feel physically lighter, like I can breathe deeper, as I head off to the library to study and work and research alone. I find my study time at the library rejuvenating and exhilarating 

Whereas early in my motherhood I dreaded getting up each day, feeling like my days were so long and hard, now I am excited about my days. It's not that I don't love mothering or that I don't love Evie and that I'm trying to escape that part of my life. Of course I love that part of my life. But I was trying to force myself into a mode of parenting where I needed to be physically present in Evie's live 24 hours a day to be a "good" mom. And it was making me miserable.

I've come to realize that what Evie needs most is a mom who is happy. Happy in her own life. Happy in her own skin. Happy with her circumstances. And most of all happy to be her mother and to spend time with her. And for me to be that happy mom when I am with her I need to take time being alone - exercising, working, studying, or doing whatever it is that makes me feel fulfilled.

I can't imagine working 8-10 hours a day. That's not what I want at this stage with little children. And it has been a hard sacrifice to pass up dream career opportunities because the time commitment is too high. But I can't imagine being a full time stay at home mom either - for a long time I felt guilty that I couldn't love it like I saw so many friends doing. But I just felt drained. It has taken me almost 3 years to figure it out, but I can't tell you how relieved I am to have found the right balance for me. I am happier than I've been in a long time.

I love being a mom. I love being there on a Thursday afternoon at 2pm at the zoo when Evie shouts "yay" and runs as fast as her legs will take her to the carousel. And I have found I can best enjoy and be "present" in those moments with Evie if I've also spent part of my day deciphering factor analysis or writing a memo for the city council while Evie was off painting with her feet at preschool. People often say "you are amazing, I don't know how you do it -- school with everything else," but the real truth is, I don't know how I could go on being a decent mother if I didn't take this alone time to pursue those goals.

Mostly I feel blessed that I have all these choices. That pregnancy and the arrival of our daughter came with relative ease. That we've worked so hard to get out of debt so that I can choose to work just part-time in a career I love rather than full time in a career that I'm not crazy about. That I have a husband that is supportive of whatever choices I make. And that opportunities seem to come my way which allow me to pursue the part-time meaningful work that brings me joy.

For the first time in my motherhood life it feels like things are in balance. It is such a relief.

How about you my friends? Did you struggle this much to find balance or did you ease right into your role?
p.s. For my friends who say "I don't know how you do it all" I will respond with "My kitchen is almost always a disaster...actually my whole house is generally a disaster. Also I never do full hair and make up. :)

7 little remarks:

Anne said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I am still struggling with my role as a mom. I am glad that you have found some balance...gives me hope that maybe someday I will find some kind of balance for myself :-)

Kacey said...

I think feeling successful in family life "looks" different for every parent. I am glad you've found a happy place!

Lincoln Farrell and Marilyn Barlow said...

I am so proud of you. Not proud that you are making it work but proud that you have learned early on in motherhood how to be a good mom. Often it takes a lifetime to figure out your personal needs and how to satisfy those needs. I think this was reflected in a R.S. lesson recently that talked about taking time for ourselves and finding that inner peace. I don't think this will be your last revelation as a mom and certainly you will be pushed to put other's needs before your own sometimes but just coming to this realization of what you need will help you put it at the front of your priority list and help you discover more things that give you fulfillment. Three cheers for a happy mom. Love you.

Emily S said...

It's hard. Sometimes it's been crazy hard. I've toyed with a lot of ideas, but also evolved (and hopefully grown) a whole lot. It would be a looong story, but I'll skip to now I'm at a point where I'm realizing how fleeting this all is. Kids grow ridiculously fast - faster with each one. Obsessing over birthing and nursing and baby gear seems so amusing to me now. I've done it four times, and if I never had another kid, all that stuff would be over. And it all happened in a flash. Anyway, I'm not doing a good job with my story, but I'll just end with saying it's a journey. For everyone. Glad you found something that brings you peace!

Tannie Datwyler said...

I LOVE this Anna.

Sometimes I think that I'm very selfish. I live my dreams so many people don't.

I mean it when I say I live my dreams.

I LOVE teaching, and I miss being a teacher every single day. However, I have never and will never give up on my dream of going back one day. I teach my kids every day. I live my dream.

I love education. Learning is so key to me and now that I'm back in school (with my pathetic 1 class per semester... but hey, it's something) I feel that piece of me coming back. My masters is on the horizon somewhere... but for now, my endorsement work is helping me to live that dream.

I love music. At 28 years old I figured out it wasn't too late to improve and be better at the flute. At 24 years old I figured out I wasn't too old to learn how to play the piano. I make music a part of me. I live that dream too.

I love to workout and I MAKE it happen every week (save those rare time when my body won't cooperate or when I have a new baby). That's another dream fulfilled...

I could go on. The point is, I haven't given up on being ME to be a full-time mom. I love being a mother so much, but I am a BETTER me and a BETTER mom because I live my dreams too. I'm not selfish... and sometimes I think we as mothers have to remind ourselves of that. Giving yourself something (whatever it is, because it truly is different for everyone) is right, and smart, and oh so good!

Thanks for sharing this and sorry for rambling...

painty (Melinda) said...

I totally relate to this! I have always been one who needs time to be alone, and as a mother I have a hard time feeling that I am ever really alone. I am such a people pleaser that I find it hard to relax knowing that little people could possibly interrupt my reverie at any given moment and I simply cannot ignore them even when they really are ok. During my last pregnancy I actually finally sort of had the feeling of being settled with my identity as "mom" and Melinda. Only took five years... :) Glad you have found your happy place!

Andrea said...

Anna,
You are such an inspiration. I just love you. I've known you for a while now and I just love how you are so honest with yourself and with the world. You inspire me.

I'm not yet a mom but if I ever become one I am certain that I would take after you. I need my alone time too and I just love how you so eloquently explained it (something I've never been able to do). The last time I had this experience of exhaustion and the need to be alone was after a date I just recently had. It just drained me of all my life and energy! I came home and was glad to spend the entire rest of the weekend in my house, alone. By the way, I also love libraries. I go there for fun, but never say that to anyone for fear of not being understood. Loved your entry! Love YOU!

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