It’s no secret that motherhood is full of sacrifice. Your body, your sleep, your privacy, your sex life, your weekly mani/pedis all get turned upside down once the needs of a new human depend 100% on you. The thing is, while the idea of this “upheaval” may well deter some from embarking on the parenthood chapter, as soon as pregnancy and babies became my world, these so-called “sacrifices” hardly seemed as such. And I have yet to meet a mother who would spend $100 on herself before spending $500 on her kids. But just because your routines change and priorities take on a new order (at least temporarily), doesn’t mean you are any less of an individual person who had a complete life before the little monsters took over. Motherhood may forever change you, but it doesn’t mean the old you – the one who is responsible for choosing this very path, needs to be forever lost. Perhaps just redefined. However it’s the figuring out what is this new definition of your identity, and how it fits into your life as a mother, that I call “The Juggle Struggle.”
Now for a brief history of how this idea came to pass…
Throughout my life, dance and choreography have always been my first love and passion, but I have often wondered if I gave up on things too early. Was I not pushed enough? Did I not push myself enough? I have never quite understood what got in my way, but I wonder where I would be if I followed my passion down the professional road. I am a very good dancer, and an even better choreographer – and I’ve always felt like my truest self in an empty studio with my bare feet on the ground and music in the air.. Had you asked 6-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was, without question, a choreographer. But going to dance class was like pulling teeth. I honestly didn’t understand the talent I had until I got into middle school, and even then I didn’t fully appreciate it until well into high school and beyond. I didn’t enjoy the process or the practice of stretching and conditioning until I was arguably well past my dance prime. But my creative process was always very present and alive, and as I grew up and matured, I began to finally take it seriously – attending classes every chance I could, seeking out choreographic opportunities, or at the very least brainstorming ideas that would “someday” be put on dancers and performed on the stage. But as the prospect of this “dream” grew farther away from reality (and I didn’t push enough to keep it close), my direction changed and I found another avenue. Vowing to never give up dance as a hobby and passion, I switched gears and went into Interior Design. In the moment, all these decisions seemed like the right ones to make – and I’m confident to this day they were (though this sometimes takes a little more convincing). During this transition, I ultimately had one thing on my mind: my future family. I knew my body wouldn’t work forever the way it once did, and so in the moment the “practical side” took over and I decided to enhance another passion that may have greater longevity in my life – and allow me the time and flexibility to become a mother whenever the time was right. But, as much as that was a very deliberate (and necessary) decision at the time, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes wonder what would have happened if I pushed myself farther into my passion and dream. I don’t live with regrets, but sometimes I live with questions.
What I am left with is the ultimate conflict of interest: something I love and something I’m good at does not exist in my life the way it once did, however, if it did and I had gone down a different road, I probably wouldn’t have the amazingly magical family life I am fortunate enough to be building. I wouldn’t even know my Roger & Dolly (and I may not have even ever met Matt) – but my life wouldn’t be complete without them. So, how do you reconcile that? Mommy first, Lily second – without even a second thought, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yet, I still yearn for a glimpse of the original me.
This is something that I didn’t think too much about until recently…
I received in the mail a quarterly magazine from my high school, promoting all the recent accomplishments and notable ventures from students, faculty, alumni, alike. Impressed with the stellar (and clearly expensive) quality of this magazine, I immediately sat down and read it cover to cover. Perhaps I was in a particularly vulnerable and emotional state in my pregnancy, but in reading this magazine, I stumbled upon an article that made a strong and, quite honestly, lasting impression on my very impressionable heart. It was an article written by a teacher about his experience connecting two former students in a professional setting. It was a wonderfully written piece, and spoke to the power of staying connected to this community – a community of people who truly care about what they do, and care about the relationships they create along the way. It was a piece reflecting how the teachers at this school see the students as future adults with something to offer the world, rather than just kids.
This is something I can speak to quite well, as this particular teacher was a very important part of my high school career, and beyond. He is someone I would easily call a mentor – someone I confided in, respected, admired, and trusted, and someone with whom I always considered my bond mutual. He is someone I still value very much, and will always feel fortunate to know. I always felt he understood my voice, my creativity and my world, and I often looked to him for advice and guidance (whether he knew it or not). He wrote this article about a former classmate of mine – also a dancer and choreographer – who is currently living her passion and creating work all over Manhattan. Regardless of what their relationship is or ever was, I was overcome with a strange feeling of envy while reading this piece. I could not tear my eyes away, but the more I read, the deeper this feeling became. So many thoughts came into play – some rational, but many not so rational. Why was he writing this about her and not about me? What is her life like, pursuing something I so longed for? Why do people get this kind of recognition when they are doing interesting things out in the world, but not at home creating & raising babies? Am I a terrible mother for thinking these things? More thoughts and questions flooded my mind, and put me in a strangely dark place for the rest of the night. But as I sat and thought about where these feelings were coming from, I finally understood one important thing: she might be living a life that I once dreamed of (or so it may seem), but she might be dreaming of mine just the same. It is ok to have these thoughts and dreams of your life the way it “might have been when,” (and I’m sure I’m not alone in that), I revel in the fact it’s important to know that my life as a mother is the most important job I will ever have – and everything else will fall back into place when I am ready to make that happen.
No, I may not ever be the music video choreographer I once imagined, and yes, some are lucky enough to have paved the way early on to “have it all,” but my story is made up of the choices I made in the past and those I will continue to make moving forward. If there is something I want for me, there is still plenty of time to get it. But for now, my focus is elsewhere. That said, these ideas are all much easier said than done, because once you are a mother, the rest of your life becomes The Juggle Struggle – and no matter how much of it “all” you have before, there will always be the challenge of reclaiming your identity as a woman in the world, with passion, confidence, and and success (in whatever form is important to you) outside of being a mother.
What we always hear about is this work/life balance that moms are constantly trying to conquer. We may blame gender roles or societal norms and expectations for putting on the pressure to “have it all” and be, at once, a perfect mother and boss lady powerhouse. But, while this “ideal” is not completely impossible (with A LOT of help involved), this is not the issue worth dissecting. As women, the only ones who can physically bear the children, we will always face this conflict. Perhaps part nature and part nurture, this is simply a fact of our lives being women. We do have the choice of if and when we become mothers, and when and how we pursue other things – and thanks to modern medicine, for better or for worse, our biological clock does not have to dictate our decisions the same way it may have in the past. Yes, once you have kids, the work/life balance is always a part of the conversation. But I know full time working moms, stay at home moms, and those in-between who all feel the same amount of confusion and disconnect. The juggle struggle is not about Work vs. Life – it is about identifying the Mom Me vs. the Me Me, and finding a way to bring the two back together.
As I look at my two beautiful kids, I wonder in awe – how did I grow these humans? how will we raise them to be good people? who will they become? – I imagine my life no other way. I have picked the perfect path for me, because I get to enjoy this amazing moment in time right now, as difficult as it can be. As soon as each of my kids were born, I felt like I had known them forever. It’s a strange feeling and very difficult to put into words, but it’s a connection beyond anything like a soulmate. They each feel like a pure extension of my being, yet they’ve been developing into their own individuals from the moment they took their first breath. My 3 week old daughter is sleeping on my chest as I sit here writing my closing thoughts. She makes sounds and facial expressions that are hers, and hers alone. She may be dreaming of things only her newborn world can understand. And one day she will (hopefully) experience this life of the juggle struggle. For, as frustrating as it can be, I wouldn’t trade this state of being for anything in the world.
As much as I look forward to the day to have a certain balance of identities back in my life – everything up to now has happened just as it’s supposed to – and, to quote a dear friend, do you know why I know this to be true? Because it did. I have to believe that is the case for everyone else as well – regardless of where they are in their life, or which path they have chosen. But I also believe it’s important (or at least necessary) to occasionally feel these feelings of confusion, envy and longing. They keep us real, they keep us alive, and they keep us connected to the people we are outside of being moms. Motherhood is a true gift – but as stated before, it’s also full of sacrifice. The challenge is accepting both, and identifying who you are in the middle of it all.