A few nights ago, I watched America’s got Talent with the kids. There was an act, where a young guy balanced a series of cylinders one on top of the other and then climbed on top and balanced himself. We winced and watched out of one eye as he seemed to defy all odds. With white knuckles and baited breath we waited to see if he’d manage to stay on top of his wobbly cylinder tower…would he do it?
Bam. Down he toppled. Dream of a million dollar Vegas act dashed. Just like that.
Oh, I felt his pain. I felt it in my gut because I attempt a similar balancing act every day and have yet to successfully stand on top of my multitude of balancing cylinders without it all crashing down.
These are the cylinders I attempt to balance every day:Cylinder 1 is nutrition. Making sure everyone eats properly. This entails not only preparing healthy food (which means actually planning meals and then miraculously getting to the shops to buy the ingredients before finding time to get my chef on) but somehow getting my wayward offspring to eat it. In my house, this is no walk in the park. It is, rather, an obstacle course to beat all obstacle courses as I wrote about in The Guilt Sandwich. Cylinder 2 is the laundry. I can’t even type the word without visibly shuddering. Laundry is the gift that keeps on giving. Except nobody wants it and you can’t regift. I seem to be digging myself out from under a pile of mismatched socks and Dora the Explorer knickers every second day. Do the pygmies I gave birth to appreciate this? Heck, no. In fact, sometimes they put clean clothes in the laundry basket because they don’t want to put it away themselves. My mother must be laughing right now. Apple…tree.
Cylinder 3 is the nurturing. Too much praise and adoration and we have ourselves a family of self-entitled, spoiled brats. Too little and they fall head-first into the low self-esteem pit. Do I ever get this right? Every now and then, I have days like this to let me know I’m doing okay.
Cylinder 4 is discipline. Too much and I’m stifling their creativity, stealing their childhood, squelching their spirits. Too little and they run riot and will likely end up posing for a mug shot and blaming me. Most days, I feel like a policeman. A nasty, policeman from the No-fun Precinct. I want desperately to be the fun mum, the cool mum, the one they have the best time with. In reality, no matter how much I try, Policeman Mum crashes the party all too often and pops all the balloons. I know I have to do it, but it doesn’t make it suck less. Sometimes fun mum crosses over to the dark side so quickly, even I get taken by surprise. Like the time I decided to teach Little Man how to ride a bike. Cylinder 5 is personal time. I know, you are wondering what this strange concept is. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the three minutes you get when you’re in the bathroom before a small person barges in, asks if you’re doing a #1 or a #2 and then demands that you plait Barbie’s hair now. It also isn’t the fun-filled half hour you get alone with the dishes and laundry after the kids are asleep (this is assuming your kids sleep at all). It is actual daylight time, when someone else takes responsibility for your kids for a while so you can run/read/knit/do gymnastics/browse Pinterest/do what you want to do. It’s recharge time. Make no mistake it’s no smaller or less important than the other cylinders. No sirree, Bob.
Cylinder 6 is work. It needs to be done. It needs to be fulfilling. You need to somehow fit all the other cylinders around it. I work from home and my hours are nowhere near a full-time job and I still struggle. I have no idea how mothers who work outside the home manage. They are the Dalai Lama and are worthy of my awe.
Cylinder 7 is equality.Each child is different and unique.Each one has his or her own needs. My three are so different it blows my mind. Miss M needs constant engagement and validation. She is the quintessential “look at me!” kid and it’s so hard to not brush her off but at the same time teach her that it’s impossible to be engaged 100% of the time. She is cute and funny and quirky and thrives off positive attention but isn’t a hugger. Little Man could cuddle all day. He is happy to play by himself and is totally undemanding. The problem with him is that because he doesn’t demand attention, it is easy to focus more on his attention-seeking siblings. I have to seek him out and ask if he wants to do something with me and, without fail, he is always thrilled at the prospect. If I didn’t make a point of actively making time for him, he’d lose out and become a classic middle child. And he wouldn’t complain. Baby G is somewhere in the middle – maybe that’s a third child thing. She is happy to do her own thing but would also jump at the chance to get straight back into the womb. Dividing myself equally between these three is exhausting and something I always feel that I am failing at.
Cylinder 8 is marriage. With eyes on all the other cylinders, it’s way too easy to forget this one even exists. At the end of a day of giving and nurturing and worrying about everyone else, it would be so easy to just collapse in a heap and say “I’m done.” But just because hubby is an adult and capable of looking after himself doesn’t mean he doesn’t need attention. And likewise for me. We spend so much time looking at our children, dealing with our children that stopping to look at each other and relate to one another is the most important thing of all. In my mind, it’s the glue that keeps everything else together. Before I was a mother, I was Michelle. He was Darren. That’s who we need to be when we are together. Making time to have fun together, without the kids, makes us better parents.
There are countless more cylinders that get added to the pile all the time. As parents, we are constantly piling them up and climbing on top and – crazy as it is – expecting ourselves to effortlessly balance on top, looking well-rested, glamorous and calm. What really happens is that, more often than not, the tower comes crashing down before we even begin to climb it. If we do make it to the top, it’s with eye-baggage, someone’s crusty booger wiped on our pants leg, ratty hair and mis-matched socks with a hole in the toe.
I’m here to admit, out loud, that I suck at this balancing act. Sharon Osborne would not send me to Vegas. Well, that’s fine. I have knickers to fold, anyway.
How do you manage? Are you a SuperMom or a useless juggler, like me? What do you find hardest to fit in?
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Michelle Lewsen is an award-winning copywriter with 18 years’ experience in the advertising industry. She is the author of theycallmemummy.com where she writes about her imperfect parenting, struggles with work-life balance and the often laugh-out-loud chaos that her Adult ADHD brings to her life. Michelle was honoured as a Voice of the Year by BlogHer in 2013 (“Inspiration” category) and again in 2014 ("Heart" category) for her writing on theycallmemummy.com.
The three most interesting and fun people she's ever met call her Mummy and keep her feet firmly planted on the ground. The same goes for her husband, who suffers through her adult ADHD with an admirable generosity of spirit.
In her spare time (between 1am and 6am) she's been writing a series of children's books. Soon, she'll be publishing them and your kids are going to adore them, so watch this space.