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How I Let Go of the Chase for Balance in Motherhood

05/15/2015 05:40 EDT | Updated 05/15/2016 05:59 EDT

I remember sitting in my parent's living room with my nine-month-old on my lap. I was nauseated, tired and frazzled and my dad said, "what's going on with you?'. I almost burst into tears when I blurted, "I'm pregnant and I'm exhausted!". I don't remember much more, but I know he laughed at me (we call him Mr. Diplomatic, pfffft); my mom cooed and I just sat in denial that I would soon have two kids 16 months apart.

Before Lenayah came, I had hit a stride with Levi. We had a format for our days that made simple things, like showering and eating protein bars for meals, very doable. Then a second baby. All I had learned about parenting and mom-life was turned upside down with this new tiny baby who was constantly crying. Two under two.

In those early months with two under two my sisters would come stay with me for days that Conor worked and we would take turns rocking Lenayah in whatever fashion she preferred at the time, while the other kept the older two kids busy and fed.

But when Rachel was gone and Conor was working there was a very Grey Gardens meets Raising Hope atmosphere in my house. I know people are all "don't just survive, rather thrive in motherhood." No. I did no thriving. I would do whatever it took to survive those days and nights. Non-stop Netflix streaming, goldfish crackers laid out on the table for independent toddler grazing, me wearing whatever clean pjs I could find, and lots of coffee and protein shakes while I welled up with exhaustion and anxiety being held hostage by a crying baby. I made Stockholm Syndrome look fun.

I felt like I couldn't get anything done. Feeling unproductive for those "simple" things just made me feel like I was failing. I even would Google schedules and tips trying to find the secret to make it work. Surely there were other women with two small kids who were sleeping longer than two-hour stretches, making regular dentist appointments, eating fresh vegetables. Possibly getting laundry folded! I knew they were there! They showed up in colourful squares on my phone with cute captions and top knots and they were refinishing furniture and drinking Starbucks!

What was I doing wrong?

The same thing I've done wrong for much of my life. Trying to make the situation something it's not, specifically: fighting this gritty season of motherhood. Trying to force my idea of perfect without stopping to appreciate that perfect doesn't exist this side of Heaven.

All that time I spent searching for "the trick" to making it all work. All the information I would seek out on finding balance. All the put together moms I would corner in the grocery store parking lot shaking them down for answers. I've found the same answer. There is no balance with young kids. There is no "routine" you enact, then sit back, press play and let things flow seamlessly.

There are always more chores, events, crying kids in a day than there are hours, hands and consolation waffles. Over time I'd come to see this doesn't mean I'm failing. It means that we aren't meant to do it all, rather we are meant to make choices about how we spend our time and energies.

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There is freedom in letting go of the chase for balance. Because then that means I can be the mom I am meant to be rather than aim to be the sum of all the other moms I compare myself to in the produce section-slash-social media, same diff right?

Maybe you are looking at some choices too. Are you the mom who wants to be out and about with your kids so maybe your house won't be well-attended to all the time? That's awesome, your kids are out in the world learning and living. Are you the mom who makes craftacular activities but you're not into eating Whole30 foods. Your kids are learning how to use their hands and creativity. Do you leave your laundry in the basement til your kids ask you for their clean clothes cause they ran out? Look at these resourceful little problem solvers (...just go with it). Or maybe you took an extra ten minutes for yourself to get ready and your kids watched Elmo. They are seeing the importance of caring for yourself as well as others and Elmo is always a good idea.

I don't believe we are meant to "do it all" or that motherhood should look the same for every mom. I believe we are meant to find balance within ourselves and let our mothering flow from a deeper place of the things we are passionate about rather than the guilt of activities, chores and images we don't match.

In my experience -- and I am constantly working on this -- when I stop fighting where I am at in motherhood and hounding life for perfect balance. I stop being a Mom Martyr. I give myself (and my family) permission to enjoy imperfect, to enjoy me.

This post is coming to you from your nerdy girlfriend wearing post-maternity shorts, lipstick, with all the lunch dishes surrounding me.

Find more from Shawna on Facebook and at Simple on Purpose. She writes with real talk and humour about trying to become a minimalist family, marriage, motherhood and attempts at running 5K.

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