Chaos Theory: The Search for Personal Balance Amidst Parenthood

By Lu Hanessian, author of Let the Baby Drive and member of API’s Board of Directors

**Originally published in the Winter 2006-07 Balance issue of The Journal of API


A while back, I hosted a travel show on television. It was a crazy, chaotic time in my life. Traveled so much that I once reached for my seatbelt in a movie theater. Anchored live TV wearing an earpiece in which I could hear the director screaming to producers in the control room when they lost the live satellite feed while I conducted an interview in the studio. Witnessed an industry of smoke and mirrors where the carrot at the end of the stick was designed to be permanently out of reach.

Still, on a good day, I thought I had things pretty much under control.

Then I had a baby – a deeply tender and wise boy who stared long at me the moment he was born as if to say, “Work with me, Ma.” Popular opinion wasn’t popular with him. He urged me to redefine everything I knew. Little did I know, this was a good thing.

What is Balance Anyway?

Finding balance is no cakewalk. There are the voices. People all around you convinced about what’s right for you and your children, what you should be doing with your life, your toddler, your breasts, your heart, your time, your aspirations, your groceries, your money.

We tend to everyone’s needs – his, hers, theirs, yours. We give, we nurse on demand, we feed and nourish our children’s minds, bodies, and spirits. On days when whole-hearted mothering can render us exhausted and filled with doubt, we may wonder how much of our own potential we might have been fulfilling if we were not busy nurturing our children’s.

Some people in your life wonder if the balance issue is your fault. Some question your priorities. Your giving. Your parenting. Your choices. The last thing a mother needs to hear when she laments about her fatigue or self-doubt is, “Well, you chose this!”

The Myth of ‘Having It All’

We live in a culture that both glorifies and scoffs at the notion of “having it all.” A mother’s needs are largely ignored and dismissed in the corporate world, by government, society, sometimes by friends and family, even under our own roofs. Often by us.

In reality, “having it all” flies in the face of balance. “Having” keeps us self-seeking, doing the math, calculating who gets, who wins, who loses. “It” is an abstraction, aptly named in order to keep us guessing, doubting, pursuing something elusive. “All” feeds our anxiety, our envy, our fear that our needs cannot, may not, or don’t deserve to be fulfilled.

I have never wanted it all, mostly because I have never defined “it.” I have never liked living in a state of yearning, wishing I were somewhere else.

Losing Myself

But in my first year of motherhood, nearly seven years ago now, I remember distinctly feeling as though I had lost my footing. It wasn’t an overnight loss of balance but a gradual, nearly imperceptible one. I came to know my son’s needs intimately, could decipher every cry, knew his motivations, understood just what he needed to keep his equilibrium. But I had begun to lose sight of what I needed. And the scary thing? I had begun to feel the quiet ache of indifference. “How did I get here?” I thought.

Finding Balance from the Inside Out

I now know one thing for sure: It is impossible to find one’s own balance from the outside in. I now know beyond a doubt that finding – and maintaining – our balance is an inside job.

Most of us could balance our needs pretty well on our own. It’s in the context of relationships that maintaining balance is so hard. I’ve come to see that balance and boundaries are good friends. When boundaries collapse, as they necessarily must in new motherhood, it is easy to feel like we have lost ourselves. But as my dear friend, Jane, once said, “I think we’re supposed to lose ourselves at the beginning.”

The Importance of Boundaries

The lines blur. At what point down the road do any of us ever know where to draw them again?

It’s a boundary thing. So hard for us mothers. I think once we get the idea that we must care for ourselves, care about ourselves, and let others – spouses, children, bosses, relatives, and friends – know what our boundaries are on our physical, emotional, and spiritual health, then we can enjoy a pretty balanced life.

A sense of balance comes naturally when we can let go of worry, not let anger fester, find ways to be proactive instead of reactive, befriend and forgive ourselves. With no boundaries, we invite resentment, over-exhaustion, depression, self-pity, self-loathing, guilt, shame, hopelessness.

Our kids don’t turn out better because we have depleted ourselves in parenting them. They can’t thrive when we burn out. On the contrary, wouldn’t they benefit from bearing witness to our perpetual growth alongside their own?

The Chaos Theory

Somewhere between conception and this morning, I’ve come to realize that balance can only truly be achieved through chaos. Using chaos as a compass, we flail helplessly, struggle, navigate our own labyrinthine thoughts and emotions. Chaos and order require big picture thinking as well as respect for the mundane details.

To live an inspired life and be the inspiring women we are, we need perspective at every turn. We need open minds. The ability to see the forest, and the trees. We need balance. Our balance.

But how?

Balance is Unique Unto the Individual

For some, that translates into the balancing of work versus home. For others, it means balancing parent-child love and romantic love with a standing Saturday night date. For those seeking a balance between childcare and self-care, it might be a membership at a fitness club. A walk every morning before the day starts. A meditation for ten minutes at bedtime. Some find spiritual balance in bread-making. A forest hike with the children. Journaling. A long, hot, cleansing shower. A pottery course. Pursuing an idea, a calling, a passion, whether in tiny increments or giant strides.

Whatever nourishes our minds, bodies, and spirits, and models the same for our children.

Staying Present

For many of us, balance and vertigo play seesaw. There are those days, moments, stretches of time where I feel like I’m attuned to both my children and myself, aware of their and my place and purpose, accepting of the divine timing of things, knowing not to rush the process. That’s when I’m living in the present. And I realize, keeping balance, for me, is about trying to stay present and be relaxed in the present – not just in my children’s presence, but in my own. What good is the balancing of schedules and time and priorities if our skin doesn’t fit right?

Children Remake Us Into Better People

In a perfectly balanced world, we would want nobody to derail us. But if we’re going to let somebody rock our world, let it be a child. Not to run us ragged, but to turn our stale perceptions on their heads. To make us think hard about who we are in their eyes and our own. Let our children remake us in our true image. So we may nurture ourselves as we nurture them.

3 thoughts on “Chaos Theory: The Search for Personal Balance Amidst Parenthood”

  1. I needed to read this 🙂 My daughter is now almost 16 months. I put endless energy into making every minute of this 16 months perfect for her. So many times I missed my life before her. But also I can not imagine life without her anymore. Now I’m working hard to find the balance with her in my life. I’m learning “to stay present and be relaxed in the present” Great advice. Thank you!

  2. Wow, thanks so so much for writing this, I sincerely needed this read today. My son just turned 16 months (just like the other person who commented!) and I sometimes feel so overwhelmed by everything I feel like I can’t balance it all, and then I remember to breathe, and I can a friend.. and it goes away, this feeling of needing to have it all!! Especially since I started to work again and with the morning routine, I will print your article and keep it in my purse so I can refer back to it when need be!

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