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In July of 2017 I was 7 months postpartum, drowning in overwhelm and in the middle of a conversation with someone describing a fellow mama. And all of a sudden a statement was uttered that hit me like a ton of bricks ‘it’s just a shame she can’t keep all the balls in the air‘. The words were meant to be caring and heartfelt. As in, wouldn’t it be nice if it were easier to ‘keep all the balls in the air’.
The comment wasn’t directed at me, but the stark similarity of the another mom’s struggle certainly hit home. I felt a wash of shame and disappointment wash over me.
I was definitely not succeeding at keeping all the balls in the air. I was feeling physically and emotionally drained, and I was starting to question whether I really liked being a mom at all. Of course I was head over heels in love with our daughter, but the new life I was living seemed like a battle I just couldn’t win.
When I was told that it was because I was working part-time, and that I should just enjoy this time with my baby, I steamed inside. Work was the one thing keeping me mentally sane! As a small business owner I had no maternity leave or benefits, I had to work and wanted to work.
Yes, my work responsibilities were adding to my plate but it was the one thing that engaged my brain and helped me feel small, tangible successes each day. There’s no way I’m giving that up, I thought to myself.
I began to think about all the ‘balls’ or things that were part of my every day life:
When I wrote out this list, the most apparent thing to me was that I actually really enjoyed doing a lot of the things on this list. I love to cook, I love gardening, I love exercise, I love when my friends come to visit, I love baby play dates, and I even love my job.
These are normal, everyday challenges for most moms. It’s not like I have some crazy, weird pressure placed on me, this is a normal list.
So was it that I was an anomaly? That I was one of the few moms struggling to keep all the balls in the air?
No, it turns out I was not alone at all.
Lots of moms are feeling the pressure from all sides. And a big part of the pressure is US wanting to do it all, to feel as capable as we were before our babies came along. But there’s also an often unspoken, insidious belief that we should be able to keep all the balls in the air and say yes to everyone’s requests, like a good, caring person.
I started to question my beliefs about how I should be showing up in my new role as mother-wife-business owner-friend-human. Is this belief of needing to keep all the balls in the air stemming from an internal place? Or is this a societal belief?
Should I be asking for more help? How do I even begin to do that when it’s a new and foreign skill I’ve yet to master?
The highlight of my lack of boundary making skills came when my daughter was 8 months old. I got shingles. WTF! I thought. I am a healthy, young woman, am I really that stressed out? And yes, yes I was.
And this awareness was the start of my honest, anti-perfectionism fuelled journey into giving up the things that I truly do not enjoy and taking back motherhood on my own terms.
For me, the key to feeling happy, healthy and some modicum of inner peace as a mom has been:
As in, the key to me feeling successful in this role is NOT trying to keep all the balls in the air. It is deciding which ones are important to ME, which ones really matter to my family and then forgetting about or outsourcing the other ones.
This was hard for me to do. It meant that I had to make decisions to not acquiesce to everyone’s requests. It meant that I had to start setting and enforcing boundaries with my energy and time, something that was challenging and anxiety producing for me. And it meant that I had to stop worrying that I would be judged for my decisions.
What if people thought I was a bitch? What if I was labelled as selfish?
I thought about the moms in my circle that had great boundaries and they didn’t seem bitchy or selfish. To me, they seemed strong and badass.
Maybe I could use a little more badass boundary making…
I noticed some of my mom friends that were great at letting certain balls drop and I made them into my ‘mom-mentors’. I observed my mom friends with strong and respectful boundaries and copied the things they said to their family and in-laws. At first it felt like I was faking it, but I knew that I needed help in these areas.
So here are some of the tangible changes I made:
Mothering choices include how you feed your child, how you diaper your child, and how you set up your sleep schedule (or sleep non-schedule!).
You’d think that because I have worked on creating a peaceful relationship with food for myself, that I would be able to transfer that easily to my child. I definitely got sucked into needing to give 100% nutritious foods to my child, 100% of the time. Luckily it didn’t take me too long to throw out that nonsense and to walk my own talk and start feeding her the way I feed myself.
Lots of days we eat homemade pancakes and veggie packed smoothies, grass fed ground beef and free range chicken. Other days we eat packaged stuff and rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. We eat convenience style meals when it fits with our life and we almost always eat foods that taste really good (even if they aren’t 100% healthy).
Just after 7 months of age, my daughter stopped being interested in breastfeeding. She wanted to gobble real food but pushed away the breast when offered. I read all the blogs and tried all the tactics to prolong our breastfeeding relationship but it wasn’t working. So I pumped 3-4 times a day and bottle-fed her breast milk. My doctor said that they encouraged breastfeeding until one year or longer so I persisted.
After 3 months, I had to admit that I found the pumping to be exhausting. Traveling with breastmilk, pump parts and bottles was yet another thing to add to the list. We switched to formula, my daughter was happy as a clam and I regained some new found freedom and a ton of inner peace.
Now that I’ve lived this life with a baby I feel like I understand all the pressures on new moms when it comes to feeding, diapering and sleep strategies. But I take great solace in the fact that I am doing my best for her while caring for my own mental health as a major priority. Healthy is only healthy when it includes physical, mental and emotional health together.
Living away from family and in a new town, I knew that I needed to build up my own village of people that I could call for help. I decided that I would operate from the motto: The people who bring the most peace, get the most time.
I didn’t know how to ask people I didn’t know very well if they could watch my child. My daughter’s schedule was so unpredictable I didn’t know when she was going to nap and for how long and I felt uber disorganized. My husband was helpful in easing this transition and he called potential babysitters and hung around to help ease the awkwardness I felt. Leaving our daughter wasn’t easy at all, but the few hours of uninterrupted work and sweat time I got was priceless.
I made some amazing friends and feel lucky that I have a group of moms who are a supportive and positive, safe space. They’ve got my back on my bad days and give me high-fives on my good days.
I called my long time friends and told them I was struggling. How was I supposed to remove the stigma of keeping all the balls in the air if I wasn’t willing to tell those closest to me that I needed to lean on them for emotional support?
What were my boundaries with my energy and time? Gawd, I had none. If someone asked for something, I gave it to them. If someone wanted to come visit, I said yes. I traveled here there and everywhere so that people could meet our baby. Even when I managed to say no because it truly didn’t work with our schedule, I felt so badly about it and would worry that they thought I was ignoring them.
Everything I knew about my introversion seemed to be thrown to the wayside. I was full of resentment that I had no time to myself and that my husband wasn’t always around to be the communicator with his side of the family.
So I began to do what worked for me, even if it didn’t work for everyone else. I said no more often. I hired babysitters and got a one day per week daycare spot (we are now at 3-4 days per week) so that I could focus on my business. This transformed my mindset. I was finally starting to feel like my positive, happy and healthy self again.
I really wanted to be able to be supermom so that my husband would be able to relax when he got home from competing and traveling the world as a downhill skier. Ha.
Let’s just say, I’m not supermom, I attempted to be supermom and it got me a boatload of resentment and panic attacks. So I started asking for more help. My husband did bath time, bottle and put our daughter down in the evening. He watched her so I could go to yoga class. He had to give up a full on golf obsession (this was the thing that was unpopular!) so that we could operate as a healthy family.
I said no to a couple trips that we had planned so that we could work on finding our groove at home instead. I felt like I was letting our families down, but the alternative was me losing my mind.
Because of these things, I have grown immensely over the past couple years. For me, motherhood has been like living an entirely new life with an old set of instructions. My boundaries, stress-reduction strategies and communication skills all needed a huge overhaul. And the things that bugged me before I became a mom, almost became a bigger deal. So I’ve worked at dealing with them even thought it has been uncomfortable and messy.
My biggest motivation for sharing this with you is to remove the shame and stigma around struggling as a new mom. It’s ok to need emotional support. It’s definitely ok to allow as many damn balls as you want to drop. You’re not failing, you are doing a fucking great job, and if it feels uncomfortable to ask for help, that’s ok. Start small and practice accepting help.
Like every single thing I write on this blog, this is all a work in progress. I don’t have it all figured out, and I don’t think any of us truly does. These are some of the steps that have worked for me on this motherhood journey. I hope this piece helps provide encouragement on setting some boundaries of your own, dropping a few balls and asking for help even when it is not popular.