Over the years I have compared my parenting to juggling many, many time—it started with juggling a baby and what we had come to think of as “normal life,” then we tossed in a handful more, added school and sports, and somehow kept all of the balls, I mean kids, in the air most of the time.
The other day I was talking to a friend and said: I feel like I am batting 4 balloons around—when one starts to come down, you have to tap it gently back into the air. Then another one starts to drop, while the previous one soars, and you have to tap it back into the air. Then the one that was flying high, doing so well, starts to drop and you have to quickly give it a boost. You might even loose one and finally notice it laying on its side, dangerously close to something that could pop it and end it for good.
You see, it’s different than juggling—juggling takes a lot of skill and precision, but once you get the hang of it, you just have to keep everyone moving in the right direction. These balloons, they are exhausting. They have a mind of their own—they never do the same thing. A gust of wind, a change of direction, a helium leak and they come crashing down—it’s not a fast crash, it’s kind of slow, and you might not even see it until you hear it pop. You will find yourself second guessing your moves, focusing too heavily on one balloon while ignoring another, and wondering if the balloon that keeps making a beeline for the neighbors might seriously hate you.
With babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, parenting was physically exhausting, and at the end of the day you need to make sure that no one hurt themselves, and that everyone was fed and relatively clean.
With kids in the middle ages (and I can only image the beyond), parenting is mentally exhausting, and at the end of the day they have fed and cleaned themselves, but you have to make sure that no one is going to emotionally fall off a cliff and take then entire 7th grade with them.
And OH THE PERSONALITIES…you now have multiple personalities to manage. Why? Because you are the Mom, the ring leader, and as they grow, they will all need something different from you. How can an introvert, an extrovert, and an introverted extrovert all live in the same family? The conversation changes from sharing toys to sharing inappropriate videos or remarks about classmates and it’s so heavy. You will find yourself looking around the room for an adult…
BUT YOU ARE THE ADULT.
So they sleep a lot and feed themselves, but they ask big, hard questions that sometimes you don’t have an answer for. Things happen to them or around them that literally break your heart but there is nothing you can do—you just have to keep the balloon in the air long enough for it to recover.
Even if you are really good at it, it’s exhausting.
It’s exhausting and impossible, but there is good news. Unlike real balloons, kids are so resilient. I have spent the last ten or so years pouring love into my children the best I can. I have nurtured, and cared, and guided, and molded—and you have too. They know when I look at them and say: I messed up, please forgive me—that I mean it.
They also know when I look at them and say: You messed up, we need to talk—that I mean that too.
The work you do when they are little is not in vain—it will be returned to you again and again.
AND there is even more good news—anyone can balloon juggle, it doesn’t have to only be you. In fact, if you do it together, it becomes so much easier. This is where the support system that you have built for your children comes into play. The aunt that they adore, tap. Their second mother, who always knows when to bring a Frosty, tap. Your friend who makes the best chocolate chip cookies, tap. The Grandpa who has the perfect words, even if it’s just a text saying: Get back out there and get to work, tap.
The coach who has coached her for three years and knows when she needs a boost—she steps in to help. The teacher who sees your child struggling with something, but doesn’t leave him to do it alone—he helps. The youth leader who comes along side and says the same things you do, but they are hipper and cooler than you—they help.
Together it works.
Don’t forget about your husband, the most important piece of this puzzle, who sometimes doesn’t feel the kids’ emotions quite as strongly as you do. All it takes is you saying you need some help—have an honest conversation. Mama, you don’t have to do it alone.
I don’t know a way to get out of the balloon juggling, so for now, I am just going to enjoy it, even the hard parts, knowing that those times build their character and make them just a little bit stronger for the next hard time. I am going to remind myself, and I hope you do too, that my balloons are tough, and that if one pops here and there, it’s going to be okay–it can always be mended.
All too soon, these balloons are going to just keep going—they won’t need so much from me anymore. Their loud voices will be gone, and the piles of laundry—it is just a season.
Close your eyes. Instead of picturing yourself now (yoga pants, hoodie, tired eyes, crazy hair—I know you, I am you) picture yourself as a child, loved by many, playing a wonderful game in the yard, with a bright blue sky in the background. Breath in the fresh air, listen to the birds sing, hold hands with your support system. Love the wild life that is yours, and it will love you back.
Sometimes all we need is a perspective change and a hand to hold.