How to balance the needs of your kids with your own needs

Being a mom is one of the hardest things I’ve done in my entire life. I am called upon in so many ways that I had never anticipated before I had my children. Recently, a childless friend of mine and I were leaving a yoga class and I was telling her all the things I planned on doing with my kids when I got home. Awe struck, she asked me “How do you balance it all?”  And I appreciated her awe because so often I don’t get any acknowledgement for my effort. And she also made me realize how similar “momming” is to balancing in a yoga pose. The pose that reminds me most of motherhood is TREE pose (Vrksasana). You know, the one where you are standing precariously on one foot while your other foot is pressing against your opposite leg and you arms are reaching for the sky. 

Normally, when we talk about balance, we think of time management. But that’s just surface level stuff. The more dynamic feats of balance, the more breathtaking postures we take, are the emotional yoga poses we, as mothers, balance in. They are teetering poses that leave us feeling unsure of how to handle a certain type of behavior and insecure that we have what it takes to get these kids what they need. It’s not easy to stand on one foot, negotiating the middle- not too far forward or too far back. But when we yogini mamas have found it, we know the peace and joy of balance.

Balance on one foot at a time

As mothers we know what both a factory line worker and a philosopher feel like. We are concerned with concrete questions like, “How many hours did my baby sleep last night?” and philosophical questions like, “Will my child be kind?” The scope of our job is both so large it feels like a dense forest that we will never find our way through and so small that it seems like an utterly insignificant kernel (and sometimes very boring.)

It would be easy to wallow in the minutia of it all: wiping butts and noses, folding laundry, putting away dishes… (…………….) I’ve had days when I look around and say, “I was busy all day, but what in the world did I accomplish?!” And I can bet you have too. We can all remember moments when all our “doing” leaves us feeling like hamsters on a wheel. But I don’t know a single mother who finds joy or purpose in cleaning marker off the walls or picking up the same mess for the 1,000,000th time.

So, how do we balance OUR needs with THEIR needs?

Let me set the scene: My 6 year old Daughter, Grace, comes home from school in a horrible mood. She stomps into the house, throws her lunch box on the ground and kicks her shoes into the middle of the room rather than putting them away in the shoe bin. Her 1 year old Brother, Ben, wants to play with her but  she can’t be bothered. I ask her to pick up her shoes and she slams her bedroom door in my face. Is this what I have to look forward to in her teenage years?!

Being the human that I am, I start to doubt myself. What have I done in my parenting for her to think this behavior is ok?  I’ve created a little self centered brat. I’m a horrible mother. I also become angry because she is old enough to know where her shoes belong. I’m not her servant who runs around cleaning up after her. When is someone ever going to clean up after ME.

You might be able to see what my problem is already because you are looking at it from the outside. On the inside I am feeling overwhelmed, discouraged and totally tapped out because I am striving to live a question without an immediate answer. You, insightful mama, might even know what my sweet little Gracie needs.… An after school snack and a hug (two things that won’t actually be that hard to deliver.) 

When I can take a step back and a deep breath I too can see this. But when I don’t I am an angry monster who tears though the house demanding that my needs get met NOW. 

So, this is where balancing her needs with my needs comes in. I have to meet my own needs first. This might not be a popular view point, but stick with me. If I don’t take the time to breath and center myself there is no way I can take her needs into account. It’s just not possible.

And wouldn’t you know it, a few minutes of breathing, a cookie and kiss on the head did just the trick. It turned my witch of a daughter into an angel. After her snack she quietly and without prompting picked up her shoes and put them away.

Balance doesn’t always look like doing everything at the same time. First I balance on one foot, then I shift my balance to the other. (Make sense?!)

Find a drishti

Just like in yoga, the more intentionality you put into mothering, the more you get out of it. The most balanced yogis I know jump in and DO the pose. They don’t live in a retreat center nor have most of them devoted a full time career to yoga, but they have transformed none the less. They do something that I greatly admire, they focus on what is right in front of them.

Finding the balance between my needs and their needs can be easy, with practice. Allowing my daughter’s negative emotions to flow freely without taking them personally takes practice just like teetering in a new yoga pose does. The more often I do it the better I get. And sometimes I will fall. That’s ok, I will have plenty of opportunities to try this balancing act again.

I have also found that intentionally focusing on one thing makes the balancing act so much easier. In yoga, every pose has a prescribed gazing point called a “direct” which is designed to bring the mind to a calm, concentrated state. In “momming" it can also be helpful to focus on what really matters- we love this little bugger. Every outburst can be seen as an unmet need or call for love rather than a direct insult to us. If we intentionally focus on the feelings we want to cultivate it is actually easier to get everyone’s needs met.

Lately, I've found myself thinking about who I was in college, when I was ME unattached - and trying to be that ME again. That makes me try to listen more (because I used to be a good listener). That makes me take time to go dig in the garden or take a yoga class because those are things that are balm to my soul and since becoming a mom 6 years ago they've been buried. 

That makes me remember that once upon a time I liked "child-like" qualities such as walking in the rain and taking a walk in the dark and finding joy in blowing dandelion clocks (instead of worrying that I'm getting wet, it's past my bedtime, and weeds are the enemy to be conquered)... It's been nice to remember ME and realize that I'm still there, buried under layers of spit up and motherhood – and that when I unearth and nurture that real ME, everyone benefits. 

We mothers are poised between giving our children our best and giving our children our all. I'm not saying there are limited resources inside me that I can either give them to my kids or keep for myself. Self-nurturing and growth and the nurturing and growth of our families need not be in competition. Rather, with a little thought and effort, we can figure out how to do both at the same time. Through mothering deliberately, I get to discover things about myself that surprise and delight me. It's not "me-time" I need as much as "meness”—an opportunity to find the things about myself that get brushed off in the rush of the day or are hidden until my children help me uncover. 

How do I search out and build on all that motherhood is building in me? First, I need to take time to FOCUS on the ways that motherhood has expanded me. I’ve seen a kinder, gentler version of myself emerge from motherhood. I’m stronger than I thought and more creative than I was. As I lose myself in motherhood, I find more “me” coming back, if I’m willing to grab it. And then I grab it by spending some time doing the things that interest me, too. 

Listen to your intuition (aka your gut)

We mothers can get so down on ourselves and so focused on the times we got it wrong, that we forget that our biggest strength is right here, inside. 

A while ago I had a yoga teacher instruct me to ground not from the soles of my feet, but from my core. And that has always stuck with me. 

My children need the real me, not some superficial idea of who I wish I was. Similarly, my yoga poses need to come from a place deep inside of me if I’m going to stay balanced in them. 

It is only when I tap into this place of deep understanding and intuition that I can know what's best for my kids. The trick is to listen to it. When we tell my daughter about the day she was born, we always end with, "And, incredibly, both your body and my body knew just what to do even though neither of us had ever done it before. We were a great team because we both listened to our bodies!” 

As new parents, Brandon and I  didn't know how to survive the night with a crying baby, but we knew to love her and protect her and treat her like a person who would be in our lives forever. We knew to approach parenting thoughtfully and patiently. We didn't know exactly when to start her on solids and we weren’t that great at swaddling but we could feel that it was right to hold her a lot and to sing to her and to trust ourselves and to look for help when we needed it. 

There are so many wonderful resources for a mother. You can surround yourself with good mothers and fathers, grandparents, friends. You can find a plethora of free and wonderful ideas on the internet. You can read great books. You don't need to go it alone. There is so much collective parenting wisdom out there. Don't ignore it. But there is also a lot of bad (or just not-right-for-you) parenting advice out there. And when it doesn’t resonate with you, it’s ok to not follow it. 

Something you will always have, not matter where you go, is your gut. That place inside you that DOES know what to do. And it is up to you to listen to it or not.

As with all of our feats of balance in motherhood, we keep doing what any inspired yogini does: We open our arms wide and gaze forward. We keep our weight over our own two feet. We breathe deeply and balance on one foot at a time. When we feel ourselves falling to one side, we try to right ourselves by focusing on ONE THING at a time.  And when we get it right because we have listened to our intuition, we are a thing of beauty!