Finding The Balance Between Chaos And Structure

by Melissa Mowry
Originally Published: 
A mother walking down a staircase while carrying her two toddlers in her arms in black and white

Today, I am tired of being the one who holds it all together.

Maybe that sounds whiny or accusatory. It’s not meant to be either of those things. I am unbelievably grateful for the gift of motherhood, and I am appreciative of all that my husband does to keep our family afloat. He is exceptionally generous, endlessly supportive, and wonderfully helpful.

But he is not me.

He is not the one with a finger perpetually in the dam, holding back the flood, while balancing a baby on one hip and preheating the oven with the other hand. He’s not particularly bothered if the upstairs carpet hasn’t been vacuumed in three weeks or if our toddler doesn’t have a clean pair of pajama pants to wear to bed. If things start to fall apart, he doesn’t see it as a personal failing. To him, it’s just life happening. His attitude is the one I want to have, the one I know is healthy. If I allowed certain things to fall away, I’d probably be happier overall.

But what would happen if the one who holds it all together just decided to let go?

This past weekend, the four of us joined my husband’s mom and siblings for our annual family ski trip. It was a four-day, three-night excursion, which meant I had my work cut out for me when it came time to pack. As is customary, my husband packed for himself: a small duffle bag with his clothes and toiletries plus his winter gear and skis.

As is also customary, I took care of the rest: Clothes and toiletries and winter gear for myself. Onesies and diapers and sleep sacks and pajamas for the baby. Sippy cups and jeans and granola bars and a teddy bear for the toddler. Backups of everything, just in case. A cooler full of newly purchased groceries. Two Pack ‘n Plays. A Pyrex dish for Sunday morning’s French toast casserole. Six assorted chargers. Seven car-trip distractions. Four pairs of mittens. Two tiny snowsuits. And a partridge in a pear tree.

About 90 minutes into our trip, I realized I’d forgotten the spices for the beef stew I was supposed to make for dinner Saturday night. They were at home in the spice rack, having never even crossed my mind. As we passed into New Hampshire, I remembered that my snow pants were still in a box in the attic, the lone uncrossed item on my three-page list. My husband turned to me on the second day of our trip and asked, “Did you happen to pack the Bluetooth speaker?” I hadn’t.

In those moments, it didn’t matter that I’d remembered to bring approximately 8,000 other items. All I could focus on were the ones that I’d forgotten. I am the keeper, the list-maker, the executor. If I drop the ball, everyone pays—sometimes in small ways, like in the case of a forgotten speaker. Sometimes in much larger ways with much further reaching consequences.

This struggle is nothing new to me. It’s something I wrestle with constantly, careening from one extreme to the other without warning. Some days, I am absolutely at ease with all that I’m responsible for as a mother. I feel capable, chest-poundingly proud. I am woman; hear me roar.

And other days? I feel utterly crushed by the weight of it all.

Melissa Mowry

On days like today when I’ve felt more of the latter than the former, I’ve fielded advice from others about just “letting it go” and “focusing on what’s important.” The “important” being my kids.

“The dirty floors can wait,” they tell me. “Children won’t.”

They’re right. My boys are still young, but they are growing up faster than I’d like to admit. I know it’s important that I spend the years when they still want my attention giving them just that. But here’s the thing I can’t reconcile: What happens to all the rest of it when the one who holds the pieces together decides to just stop?

Does that mean everyone in the house gives up on wearing clean clothes? Do we just cease caring that we’re out of toilet paper? Do I stop calling to schedule doctor’s appointments and let the bills go unpaid? Is dinner a free-for-all every night because shopping and meal planning and cooking are just too time-consuming?

How do I know what to let go of and what to hold on to?

There must be mothers out there who have figured out the balance between total chaos and rigid structure. They’re the ones who don’t mind messy houses, because it means their kids are happy. They’re the ones who don’t sweat it if appointments are forgotten or the week’s meal plan flies out the window by Tuesday. They’ve let some of the balls fall and managed not to interrupt the rest of the juggling act.

I have yet to join their ranks. I hope to someday, but today, I’m still a long way off.

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