One of the best illustrations of motherhood I’ve seen is a simple triangle. At each of the three points is a short phrase: “Clean House,” “Happy Kids,” and “Your Sanity.” Beneath the triangle is an instruction for moms: Pick Two.
Obviously, it’s meant to make us laugh. But it’s also a reminder that “a life in balance” doesn’t mean that every component carries equal weight. Priorities change frequently, sometimes daily. And in order to maintain your sanity as a mom, you need to know when to let something in your life slide a bit—or when to eliminate it from the equation entirely.
I am hardly the master of this skill. More often than not, in the three-item triangle of my world, it’s “sanity” that falls by the wayside. But this past December, in that frenzied window between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I hit a breaking point that forced me to acknowledge what I had been trying to ignore for several months: something had to give.
Each of us—mom or not—has a long list of things we are juggling personally and professionally on any given day, so the particulars of my own list aren’t important. What is relevant is that by the close of 2015, I had taken on so much that when the inevitable bump in the road came along, I completely unraveled. That unraveling consisted of 20 minutes of loud, hysterical ugly-crying while sitting in traffic one afternoon, set off by something totally trivial (that saying, “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” exists for a reason).
What I resolved after I stopped hyperventilating was this: I would only add something to my plate if I took something else off at the same time. I would stop the knee-jerk “Yes, sure” that had left me exhausted and stretched too thin to be truly helping anyone, least of all myself. I would also come to terms with the fact that certain enjoyable pursuits might have to be sidelined, at least until my two toddlers are a bit older. Saying “no” doesn’t have to mean forever.
So far, this has translated to relatively small acts of give-and-take: accepting a position on a nonprofit board only after stepping down from another organization, for example, and enrolling my youngest child in swimming only after taking a break from gymnastics this spring with my oldest.
But it has really paid off. Sure, I’m still usually tired, occasionally frazzled and would totally be okay having a creepy Japanese robot on hand to help get everything done. But I no longer have that feeling of, “One small stumble and this whole thing is coming crashing down.”
It took a behind-the-wheel mini breakdown for me to reach this realization, but if I had been more honest with myself, I could have avoided the histrionics (and spared the drivers around me that day).
So if you feel you may be verging on a meltdown, I’d encourage you to take a look at your own plate and make sure you’re not piling things too high. There is probably something on there that can be tossed, or at least set aside for later. Think of it as portion control for the soul.