You were a little frazzled when I spotted you. I was sitting at my own high-top table at Chick-fil-A. I remember because I was just about to begin brainstorming for some new writing with my tea and nuggets. That’s when the door was flung open and in you came, chasing a determined, energetic three-year old with crazy blonde hair. She came in like a whirlwind, stomping and shouting as you grabbed her small hand. You didn’t seem angry. In fact, you smiled. You smiled at her as you balanced the baby on your hip, the diaper bag on your shoulder, the runner in your hand, and the sunglasses on your head.
You showed up another time in the grocery store. I watched you uneasily glance at the register every time an item was scanned. That “beep” sound seemed to get louder as the number slowly increased. Your face showed the thoughts that you were trying hard to balance – ones, I imagine, of work, kids, mortgage, extracurriculars, college, and that family vacation you’ve been saving for. Then, I watched your teenage son lean over and say, “Thanks, mom,” as he gently began bagging all the groceries without being asked.
I’ve truly never been the person that just always wanted to be a mom. I’ve never really dreamed about having kids, never decided on the number of kids I want, and never concocted a fantasy of my own family. The last time I changed a diaper, I put it on backwards (which is really hard to do, apparently – props to me), and I honestly enjoy watching my kid-magnet husband Ben play with babies more than I naturally love playing with babies.
I know it sounds blasphemous. But it wasn’t until the last year or so that I started really noticing you. Ben started pointing out the way that you have fun with your kids and also have fun in your marriage. How you speak to your children firmly yet take every opportunity to remind them of your love. How you balance having a loud, warm household while lightheartedly accepting that sometimes the kids get cereal for dinner. How you balance your dreams and passions while also balancing the huge pile of laundry.
I don’t think you know, parent, how much us non-parents stare at you.
And the longer I stare, the more I notice the commonality between all of you. Regardless the age or amount of kids, all parents do this same acrobatic thing. Sure, it might look differently among families. But you all do it.
If you’re searching for a new career, you need to call up Cirque de Soleil. Because you’re the kings and queens of balance.
As you color-coordinate your planner with all three children’s schedules, you balance each of their extracurriculars with excellence. While you work your full-time job and put dinner on the table, you balance your career and family intentionally. When you tuck your child in every night and work on graduate work after she’s asleep, you balance your goals and your home with great discipline. While you cautiously listen to the baby monitor as you try to finish that episode on Netflix, you balance your self-care and parental commitments with grace.
All I really want to know is…how do you play that balancing game? And how is it done so naturally? And so joyfully?
I think most people believe that having kids will either fix every broken thing in their lives or destroy everything that’s still intact (e.g., your sleep schedule, your finances, your plans). It might sound trite, but what I’ve found to be true while staring at you is that kids add an element that wasn’t there before. They neither fix nor destroy. They add change. And with this huge sense of change, you parents add balance. The good ones do. While us non-parents view this balance as effortless, good parents know it is intentional sacrifice.
Yet even still, in the midst of the great balancing act all of you parents perfect, there comes the swarm of nay-sayers from every direction, trying desperately to throw you off balance. If you stay at home with your kids, you’re not balancing your goals…If your kids go to daycare, you aren’t balancing your family values…these sharp, swift arrows come from friends, social media, church, school, society – all aimed to pierce your beautifully crafted sense of balance. Nothing is more scary or intimidating than those ugly darts. The weapons that come in the form of disapproving facial expressions, unsolicited suggestions, or straight up mean words. But as all moms (and some not-moms) know:
“Parenting is the easiest thing in the world to have an opinion about, but the hardest thing in the world to do.”Matt Walsh
As I continue being the shining antithesis of the above quote, I write this letter to communicate one thing. Parent, I see you.
I see you balancing your commitment to investing in other families in the midst of investing in your own. Thank you for shepherding others as we study your example. I stare at you parents who humbly laugh at your own balance-failures with an authenticity that is contagious. Thank you for making me feel worthy of your vulnerability and inspiring me. I revel at you parents who, at the end of the day, bring an imperfectly beautiful balance to the ups, downs, twists, and turns that kids bring you. Thank you for showing me that you are human. You parents that I see are the ones that understand how to cope with the crazy while embracing the lovely. And no matter what stage of parenting you are in, that unique balancing ability deserves to be seen, admired, and stared at. But mostly, admired.
So next time you see me staring at you in the parking lot as you put your kids in that giant minivan…or at a Braves game as your child screams at the fireworks…know that I’m not judging you. Parent, I am taking notes. Because what you do (and don’t do, for that matter) is freaking impressive. It’s daunting. It’s intimidating. And I can only imagine that it is damn hard.
For now, I will sit back and watch you. I’ll take notes. I’ll try my hardest to envision me being as brave as you. And I’ll say a little prayer, because I see you.
One day, it will be you sitting at that Chick-fil-A, sipping some tea and eating some nuggets. The door will fling open, and it will be me with that whirlwind child. And you’ll smile. You’ll stare. You’ll say a little prayer, because you’ll remember. When we lock eyes, we will both laugh. Because in midst of the balancing act, we deserve to be seen, admired, and stared at.
But mostly, admired.