Since my inception as a Mother, I have always struggled with finding balance amidst the stack of hats I am required to wear. I feel plagued with the idea that what I am doing is never enough. That everyday is filled with several small failures. Goals not met, expectations not fulfilled, people disappointed. I can comprehend the idea that these failures are false and that my successes far exceed my shortcomings, but I cannot deny their presence in my mind. The role of the Western Woman has unspoken ideals of who were are expected to be as mother, lover, daughter, friend. The task is daunting and it comes with no instruction manual.
I recently discovered the lovely prose of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and have determined that in another life, we would have been kindred spirits. Besides being the wife to the infamous Charles Lindbergh, one of the first female pioneers of aviation, and a mother to 5, she was also an amazing author and poet. Although most of her work stems from the mid-century, her writings strangely reflect the thoughts and emotions of the modern woman. While reading her classic, The Gift of the Sea, I so often felt that she was transcribing my own thoughts to her paper. How could this woman, in 1955, possibly be experiencing my experiences? Has the female archetype really failed to evolve over the last 60 years? Has our society unconsciously crafted this idea that the woman can and should always be doing more and doing it better? Or is this a universal experience of women worldwide? Big questions. To which I have no answers for. I’ll make sure to put it on my long to-do list and attempt to unravel the mystery tomorrow:) In the meantime, check out the excerpt below from Anne, and if you get a chance, may I suggest you read the book in its entirety. It won’t disappoint.
To be a woman is to have interests and duties, raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel. The pattern of our lives is essentially circular. We must be open to all points of the compass: partner, children, friends, home, community; stretch out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes. How difficult for us, then, to achieve a balance in the midst of these contradictory tensions, and yet how necessary for the proper functioning of our lives. How much we need, and how arduous of attainment is that steadiness preached in all rules for holy living. How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist, or saint – the inner inviolable core, the single eye.
With a new awareness, both painful and humorous, I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions. The bearing, rearing, feeding, and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls – woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically: how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull on off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crash the hub of the wheel.
What is the answer? There is no easy answer, no complete answer. I have only clues, shells from the sea. The rare beauty of the channelled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how: total retirement is not possible, I cannot shed my responsibilities. I cannot permanently inhabit a secret island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return. In my periods of retreat, perhaps I can learn something to carry back into my worldly life. I can at least practice for these weeks the simplification of outward life, as a beginning.
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh 1955