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“But for her there was neither peace nor rest”

By Angela Hallstrom

red-shoes2When I was a little girl, my aunt gave me a copy of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales. It was a big book with a beautiful blue binding and full color illustrations, and I spent a couple of years with that book on my nightstand so I could read and re-read it. Not because I loved the stories, really. I loved Laura Ingalls and Charlie Bucket and Harriet the Spy. I kept reading Hans Christian Andersen because the stories scared me. They horrified me just enough to keep me coming back for more.

“The Snow Queen” freaked me out, and “The Little Match Girl” was terribly sad . . . but no story had a hold on my imagination quite like “The Red Shoes.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s the tale of an orphan girl taken in by a kindly noble woman who’s nearly blind. The girl is to select a pair of shoes for her confirmation day and, taking advantage of he benefactor’s blindness (“she’ll never know!”), chooses a bright red pair. Of course, folks at church are duly horrified and tell on the little girl, who promises never to wear the shoes again . . . but she can’t help it. She loves the attention, and she loves the way the red shoes make her feel—they make her feel pretty and powerful. They make her feel like dancing! And dance she does, until she finds she’s not in control of her own two feet. She wants to dance left, but the shoes dance right. She wants to go to bed, but her dancing legs keep her up all night. She even subjects her poor benefactor to her flailing kicks one day as they ride home in their carriage.

The worst part is, she wants to take the red shoes off, but she can’t. No matter how much she tugs and pulls, they’re stuck fast. The only solution as she sees it is to have the executioner chop her feet off—which he does—and, afterward, she watches as her disembodied shoes (and what’s left of her extremities) dance themselves down the forest path. (Can you see why this would be fascinating and horrifying to a nine year old?) The best part of the story, though, is an aspect that I didn’t understand when I was a little kid. It’s what happens after she gets her feet chopped off.

“‘Now, I have suffered enough for the red shoes,’ she said; ‘I will go to church, so that people can see me.’ And she went quickly up to the church-door; but when she came there, the red shoes were dancing before her, and she was frightened, and turned back.”

She tries to go to church twice, feeling as if she has earned the parishioner’s sympathy and accolades, and both times her dancing feet block the way. She finally gives up and finds work as a maid for the pastor’s household, where she learns thrift and industriousness and humility. The pastor’s wife asks her to come to church but she doesn’t feel she’s able. While the family is away she prays (“O God! Help me!”) and an angel appears. Miraculously, the walls around her transform to the walls of a church and she finds herself surrounded by church-goers in their pews, singing hymns.

“The church itself had come to the poor girl in her narrow room, or the room had gone to the church. She sat in the pew with the rest of the pastor’s household, and when they had finished the hymn and looked up, they nodded and said, ‘It was right of you to come, Karen.’

‘It was mercy,’ said she.

And then, as is the fashion in good Andersen fairy tales, she is taken up to heaven and her eternal rest.

I started thinking about “The Red Shoes” last week. It had been a ridiculously crazy week (and I’ll spare you all the details as to why), but needless to say, the fairy tale’s metaphor seemed apt. I felt like my own Red Shoes had been dancing me, and I was exhausted.

In the midst of all the craziness, my husband and I had a good long talk about how (how? how?) we could possibly figure out a way to live full lives without the attendant frenzy. In other words, we asked ourselves: “What do we give up?”

The problem as I see it is that most of the stuff that keeps me dancing seems like good stuff. I don’t think it’s as obviously self-indulgent as a pair of bright red dancing shoes. (And I realize—of course—that at first the girl in the story thought her red shoes were harmless, too. Addicts never think they’re addicted. And there’s the being led “carefully down to hell,” and the flaxen cords, etc. etc.)

I’ve read “Good, Better, Best,” and yes, I’m trying to apply the counsel. It’s just so hard to really know how much is too much. It’s such an individual question, and there’s a lot in my life that’s meaningful to me and/or my children that could conceivably be cut out, but I find myself wondering if I absolutely must. After all, I keep all my balls in the air about 90% of the time. It’s that 10% when I wonder if I am, in fact, nuts.

I also know it takes a certain toll on my children and husband when I ignore them to grade papers, or write, or edit literary magazines with a current subscription base of 218. (Yes, yes, I know. It gives me pause, too.) There are times like last week when I’m running around the house like a banshee, feeding the kids chicken nuggets two nights in a row, forgetting my appointment to help in my 2nd grader’s class, blowing off merit badge paperwork, dashing my kids from baseball practice to piano recitals, screeching in the parking lot so I’m not late for class and I think THIS MUST STOP!! I wonder if I gave up all my personal stuff and focused solely on my family and their needs if everyone would be better off in the end.

I wonder if the only solution is to cut off my feet at the ankles and leave them as an offering at the ward house door.

But that’s where the allegory gets interesting, no? Even after losing her feet—even after such a “sacrifice”—the girls’ Red Shoes are still blocking the way. I fear that if in a fit of pique or exhaustion or self-doubt I proclaimed to God, “I will give up this, and this, and that. Here you go. Take it!”, not only would my spirit be hobbled, but I would be just as obsessed by what I had “given up” as I was while I was dancing.

I remember after the famous (and in some circles, infamous) Julie B. Beck talk, “Women Who Know,” a friend of mine despaired that she’d already quit her book club, because she “didn’t have anything left to give up.” I didn’t believe then, nor do I now, that the intention of the church (or, even, of Julie B. Beck) is to require that its women in child-rearing years give up anything that isn’t directly related to momhood. I don’t think God, especially, wants us to leave our abandoned book-clubs on some kind of sacrificial altar as proof of our piety and excellent intentions.

But He also wants us to figure out how to make good choices with our lives. How to serve our families without neglecting our own spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs. The trick is getting the balance right. And I’m still figuring that one out.

So I stumble along with my feet still attached at the ankles. I try to remember why, a long time ago, all of us fought really hard for the principle of free agency. I strive to stay in tune with the spirit, which can be hard with so many distractions. And I remain grateful for God’s mercy because I’m going to need it, no matter what I do.

What are your Red Shoes? How do you keep them from dancing you into oblivion? Is it even possible to find that perfect balance? Do tell.

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

42 thoughts on ““But for her there was neither peace nor rest””

  1. As I read your post I felt to give you hope. As a 51-year-old SAHM of six children for 30+ years I must tell you that it gets better! As children grow and move out of your home the load does lessen. There is still much to do (people do seem to enjoy eating and wearing clean clothes everyday!) but the pace is a little less frantic and there are more choices.

    Truthfully, though we all have to make those hard choices about our priorities. There has been a point where I gave up the goal of a college degree and career because I felt was right for me and my family. The only really important thing is to make those decisions as a couple, prayerfully, with the only real goal of being able to know and do the will of our Heavenly Father.

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  2. oh angela, i so admire women like you, who, in my opionion, are doing it all– and doing it well.

    i think my red shoes are this: when the motivation behind what i'm trying to accomplish isn't the purest form of motivation. (did that make sense?) it's the WHY i'm doing it that fulfills or depletes. I don't feel like i'm giving anything up when it's not filling me in the first place.

    (confused yet?) an example then:

    lately i have hated the computer. just logging onto my email or blog makes me feel a little anxious because lately i like the girl in real life better than the girl behind the computer screen (and not that she's inauthentic, but sometimes she seems like a picture of something).

    or, when i realized my daughter was doing dance only because every single darned girl in utah seems to be a dancer and not because she loved it, we quit.

    and we both felt liberated after that.

    anyway, sorry for the long comment. i hope it makes sense. but i just loved this post, angela! xo

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  3. Wow. Great post. I will need to think about this for awhile! It does give greater meaning to a Twyla Tharp concert I saw back in about 1986 (and wrote a paper on in college) with red shoes that eventually became a complete red outfit by the time the dance was done–it must have been inspired by that story. If I'd known about it I bet my paper would have been much more interesting!

    My "red shoes" is probably my terrible procrastination problem. I have great ideas, some good talents…but getting things done takes me forever! So frustrating!

    I agree with you that moms should still be spending time on their own pursuits–and love that the church teaches the men to give that time to their wives. Still, it is such a battle, isn't it? I think finding that perfect balance will be a lifelong pursuit that is never realized, but will be rewarded as we honestly try to serve others and develop our God-given talents.

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  4. Wow, Angela. I've never read that story, and it made me want to weep.

    My red shoes? Probably the computer. There are days (rare, but there are a few) when I leave it turned off and just do laundry and clean. Those few days make me feel like I have a grip again.

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  5. That's a tough call isn't it? Which pursuits are trivial, and which ones are "developing your talents". How much do we give to family, to church, to ourselves; which of these things is good, better, best? How many of the changes we make are based on feeling guilty and how many are based on true repentance?

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  6. Great post.
    As a child, I too was mesmerized by the Hans Christian Andersen anthology. Delightful for a moment; horrific for a span; and in the end, an eerily beautiful, yet needless tragedy. Preparation and foreshadowing for my life to come? Gosh, I hope not, but sometimes I feel that way!

    I think it is impossible to find the perfect balance because our lives are in a constant state of flux. If it takes any amount of time to figure out a great balance, go ahead, celebrate all you want. And then wait ten minutes and you'll be left with your darn red shoes again. That's just the way it is. The red shoes keep coming back…
    It's like walking on a tightrope. If you're going to stand still, it might be a little easier to find a sweet spot and hold steady. But if you really want to get somewhere, you're going to have to move eventually. And there are always going to be distractions and new unforseen challenges that are out of your control. The wind shifts; circumstances change. Finding the "balance" involves constant re-evaluation, re-negotiation and constant tweaking.
    Being a mom is all about sacrifice. It is something, as hard as it is at times, that I am willing to rise to and endure, simply because it is one-hundred percent worth the alternative: life without my children and family. I agree that the sacrifice should never involve complete elimination of things that nuture and feed your own soul. That is a quick recipe for resentment and puts you on the fast track for mommy burn-out. But I do know that at certain times in my mother-life, I have had to put even the things that I think are *best* on the back burner for a small season. It IS an individual question with many possibilities; different things are right at different times and it is different for each person. There is no easy answer or quick comfort for this conundrum; only solace in the knowledge that we are not alone! All of us mothers (and fathers) experience this on some level.

    (A sympathetic and listening ear can be a good start…
    you have mine.)

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  7. Janet, thanks for your words of encouragement. And I respect your choice to forgo some things because you felt it was right for you and your family.

    Brooke, I so agree with you about the "why." I'm always trying to get to the bottom of my own motivations, for me or for my kids. (It's one of the reasons I'm feeling conflicted about merit badge paperwork right now. I'm not entirely sold on the whole shebang and I feel like part of the reason I'm doing it is because if I don't I won't look like a good Mormon mom . . . but *that's* another post entirely!). This year I decided to cut back on some major PTA commitments for that very reason, too. I *wanted* to go into my kids' classes, but I didn't want to head up some committee. I just felt bad saying no. This year, I said no.

    Sage, I'd love to see that concert. And read your paper!

    Melissa, I'm with you on the computer thing. Oh, girl.

    And mormonhermit mom, I love that last question you ask. Do I really want to change, or am I "sacrificing" out of guilt, or in order to appear as a martyr? So tough to know.

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  8. And Jenny, thanks for your wise words. You're right that as soon as you think you've taken your red shoes off, it seems a new pair finds its way on your feet.

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  9. I have found that kids need much less in their lives than we think they do. This year I pulled my kids out of everything except church/scouts. It has been lovely. I fought with my son about doing baseball–he didn't want to and I thought he should because he's talented. But if he hates it, fine. It's a big pain anyway.

    We feel like our children won't have rich lives if they don't experience every single thing out there. They don't need to. What they need is to learn to work hard without complaining. Doing crummy chores around the house will benefit them much more than karate or ballet will.

    Don't skimp on "mom" time, though. Some moms choose to spend their mom time working. Some moms choose to do something creative. Some do something fun (I'm a big fan of having fun). Only you can decide what will recharge your batteries. If you spend your "mom" time doing something that leaves you unsatisfied than you need to sit down and figure out the whys. Why are you doing the things that you are doing? What are you getting out of it? What will be the outcome? Will you be pleased with the results?

    So many times Moms sign up for things without thinking of the opportunity cost. Having my son in baseball isn't just about him playing ball a couple of times a week. It's about my husband and I having to rearrange our schedules three times a week to take him to practice and games. It's about me not making a decent dinner for my other children two nights per week, and then leaving them with a babysitter for two hours on Saturdays. That's 6+ hours that I am neglecting five other children so that one child can play a game that he's pretty good at but doesn't like much. When I looked at it that way, playing baseball seemed like a pretty stupid idea.

    If the girl in the story had really though about the consequences of wearing the red shoes, she probably wouldn't have even put them on. So maybe we just need to sit and think through the whole process before we commit to anything. What are the pros/cons of having the missionaries over? What is the opportunity cost? What about working/starting a business/book club/coaching basketball/writing/signing your daughter up for gymnastics?

    Maybe the answer isn't necessarily slowing down and stopping, but slowing down and thinking everything through.

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  10. As an Andersen fan so I really enjoyed this post.

    I have always thought that the red shoes represented sin in it's forms of vanity and pride. When her dancing feet block the way to church it shows that, though she has cut the shoes off, they are still in her thoughts and wishes to laud the false self she has erected for the world. She did not need to go to a place to be seen of others to shake off the shackles of her sin (or do something externally like cutting off her feet) but stay in her home (often a symbol of the soul and body) and learn to worship there without seeking the approval of the outside world.

    Like the girl in the story,worldly ambition has been the force guiding my own red shoes. But after a brush with death my experience of the red shoes has changed.

    What gives me solace and helps me bypass the shoes is the realization that now is all there is. Joy is a choice of the moment and I often find joy when I am engaged in what is truly necessary. Sometimes writing a poem is necessary. Sometimes changing a poopy diaper is. Child-rearing is only a season and a short season at that and that is also what is necessary so I engage myself in that right now. Are the things I choose to do because I want the accolades and sympathies of the world? Or do I do them because they are important in an eternal sense?

    What I ask myself these days: Is it necessary? Does it contribute to the false self or my true self? Will it expand my heart and mind? Will it contribute to the health of me, my family, or my planet? Will it connect me to the divine?

    I think creating art is as necessary as child-rearing and doing the dishes is. Every activity can connect us to the eternal if we keep our intent and thoughts on what is divine within and without us. And the rest-if we are doing things to gain approval of the world- then these things can be cut off without any major soul hemorraghing.

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  11. Jennie, you're one of the most authentic people I know. I love how you're able to cut through the crapola and get to the heart of the matter.

    Th., now that's another post entirely.

    Krista! What a wonderful response. I should print out your list of questions every time I'm tempted to add something else to my life. I agree that the red shoes represent pride and vanity, and I love how you said that after cutting off her feet she isn't yet free because she she "wishes to laud the false self she had erected for the world."

    So much of this hinges on the question of authenticity. What is best for me? For my family? *Why* am I making the choices I do?

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  12. Hans was also a big favorite of mine, who horrified and enchanted me by turns. I did love those old tales, though.

    Krista's comment resonated with me. It's interesting to note that the red shoes were not bad in and of themselves. The first pair held no negative consequences for the little girl. What created the problem was the girl's feelings about her red shoes…and the undue importance she attached to them. That is what gave them power over her. That is what made her choose to abuse the use of red shoes by wearing them for communion, to church and so forth until she could no longer take them off and was dancing to their tune.

    Cutting them off physically wasn't enough to resolve the problem. She needed to cut them out of her heart by changing her heart. And she did, which is when true redemption came.

    I don't think many of the "not actively evil" things we choose (and red shoes ARE good, in the right context) are by nature selfish or vain or even superficial. It's what we do with them that matters…and the extent to which we allow them to wear us, rather than our wearing them.

    And by the way, Irreantum's subscribed readership just increased to 219. (My own little show of support for your artistic endeavors.)

    =)

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  13. Thanks Ang. Haunting story, thought-provoking post.

    I finally crashed after a long stint of doing too much, and it isn't pretty. Looking back, I can see how I got from there to here, but at the time I didn't understand.

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  14. Amen, Jennie. This has been a much quieter year than usual for us activity-wise. I typically have lots of homeschool activities going all the time, and we moved to a new area where it has been hard to get that established. I stewed over that all year, but in the end I am surprised how little it has mattered. The kids are still happy, well adjusted, and get along well with others. I've been calmer and happier (except for the times when I'm worrying about if I am really doing enough).

    i agree that moms need time to recharge and develop their interests. But there is a flip side to that. I find that I enjoy being a mom and a homemaker so much more when I'm not rushed around some crazy deadline all the time. Like anything else, you get back what you put into it, and allowing some time nurture at home in simple ways–reading, cuddling, cooking, gardening, singing–is so rewarding, and so critical. Book group can't take the place of that time any more than the soccer carpool can.

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  15. I think it's important that all these decisions about what to cut and what stays be made between spouses and with divine guidance.
    There's just no comparing with what other people, even other members, do. When I joined the church I watched/studied families–LDS women specifically. I ended up very confused. Some families had no TV in their home while others have flat screens in every room, half my ward drinks diet coke like water and many others think it's an evil beverage. The list could go on but the same applies to how heavy schedules are. I think that while the commandments are black and white there is a lot of gray area on the field of agency. Add to that differences in talents and personality–it's an interesting life.
    My red shoes would have to be comparing myself to others and feeling guilt for ridiculous things (like saying no to the little girl selling candy at my door half and hour ago. She wasn't selling chocolate. But maybe I should have bought something to support her cause…) See?

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  16. i have a terrible time with this, as we have shared on other entries. i am still thinking and talking it thru! in fact a just took a step to try and help myself with it. yesterday morning as my husband asked about the activities of the next few days, he once again announced that he is tired of doing so much. so i suggested we cut things out – anything he wanted! no that was ok. this is a very confusing statement to me. So i dutifully crossed things off we had planned for the weekend. he looked relieved, but i am convinced it solved nothing in the long haul.but maybe that is part of it. most days we are absolutely fine. then when we aren't, just cut some things out. maybe nothing has to be etched in stone all the time, like my mind thinks. i just ordered dvds on algebra, botany and calculus to keep my mind working. that helps satify me, even when i am home. (thanks for yesterdays post, it pushed me along!)this is a continual struggle – and maybe that is it – it is a continual struggle.

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  17. Wow, thanks Angela! Being called authentic is a really great compliment (at least it is to me). My husband would like a little more of a façade, but too bad for him!

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  18. When I am struggling to pick and choose, I use this rule of thumb: If it "fits into" motherhood, I do it and enjoy it! If it "detracts from" motherhood, I limit it or put it away for the next decade. I finally became okay with telling myself "next decade" on a lot of things. I now find it creative fun to figure out what I can "fit into" motherhood. I've found a lot, actually.

    Alanna, I live in a "target" neighborhood for kids selling things. Here's my method. I tell them "no thanks" as sweetly as possible and then I donate a dollar or two to their organization. They light up again and go happily on their way.

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  19. Recently I had to slide some things off of my plate because if I didn't, I knew I'd drop it. So I asked myself these 5 questions to help me decide what to keep and what to let go:

    -How do I feel when I'm at__________?
    -Am I a better person when I come home?
    -Do I serve in _______ with a giving heart or a grudging heart? Yikes…this one showed some true colors!
    -Is _______ important to ME personally, or is this someone elses cause?
    -Are my kids involved in ________ because they really want to be? Is the cost (time, energy, scheduling, money, stress) honestly worth what they'll gain in the long run?

    It was hard to quit the first couple of things, but the weight off of my shoulders has actually made it easier to drop a few more. Plus, I feel like I'm enjoying our activities more. I'm giving more to fewer people instead of spreading myself too thin and giving very little to a crowd.

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  20. I've been thinking about this topic so much in the last couple of years…well, just kidding. I've been thinking about this topic ever since I became a mother, but never so eloquently as you did in this post. I, like you, struggle with my finger in too many pies, juggling too many balls, and worrying about what will fall next and how soon. I did, however, make some big changes in our lives in the last year, and have been blessed with much more peace.

    Once I got that peace, though, I threw another few balls up in the air. Will I never learn?

    My red shoes? Probably wanting to be perfect at all the things I'm juggling, and feeling terrible when something falls. Perfectionism…it's a dangerous thing. Sometimes the Lord just wants us to be OK at something, and that's good enough for Him. He can take our half-way done tasks and make them perfect, if He needs to, and if He doesn't need to, it won't REALLY hurt us if something's not perfect, right?

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  21. Great post, thanks for teaching me a little more about literature. I was never brave enough for Anderson as a child. The comments with this post have been thought provoking also.

    This idea about the red shoes took your idea of life balance a little further than other posts have previously on Segullah: "I would be just as obsessed by what I had 'given up' as I was while I was dancing".

    One of the best ways for me to tell if I'm giving up something that I'm truly still obsessed by is if I return to it, like a dog to his vomit – as the scriptures say. If I commit to change but then the habit creeps back into my life, (diet Coke anyone?) then I know my heart was not in the change to begin with. At those times I feel very close to my sister, anyone know her? Lot's wife.

    So I fight with myself to really mean it when I change something. My kids have very few after school activities because I can't handle it. My pride is cut down to size when I admit it, but those are the facts. My ability to handle it isn't likely to change, so their after school activities aren't likely to increase.

    After those adjustments I still find myself in need of more. Sometimes I go to the Lord begging him to hand over the blueprints for my life, admitting I am no builder, I don't know enough. How can I possibly know which beam to place next or which brick goes on top of another when I can't even decide what to make for dinner? My head swims as I ponder even what the bare minimum is for sustaining a moral life. I don't want anything fancy, no showing off to impress the neighbors. I just want to get to the end of the day. That bare minimum may, in fact, be what I'm already doing and can barely handle.

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  22. I think that when we are trying to do it all and it is too much, we should not be thinking about what to "give up." We should decide what it is we want.
    Our family might want more time to spend hanging out at home. Or dinner together. Or dinner made at home. Or mom less stressed. Or kids with enough time to finish their homework. Or Saturdays with less stress. Or less fighting. Or money to save for retirement. Or the chance to follow through with our commitments well enough for us to feel satisfied. Or be able to tell our children "yes, we can do that now" instead of "not now, maybe later" all the time. Or be able to not procrastinate something that you have to keep putting off.
    When we give up something for something we want more, it is no longer such a sacrifice.
    As long as you are matching up what you actually want with what you are actually doing, then relax and be happy. If it is not working for you, then maybe you need to step back and figure out exactly what it is you do want.

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  23. I used to do soooooooooo much more than I do now. I felt that I had to be involved in everything to be the good LDS woman and mother. As a SAHM I felt that I should be contributing a lot in the commumity as well as church.

    I have, among other things, given up within a short space of time:
    being a school governor, 4 years worth of confrontational meetings which I lost sleep over and made me cry.
    Running the Rainbow Guides in our village, 5 years of fun but hated the paperwork and politics.
    Helping run two toddler group, specifically doing the craft table every week at both.
    Running a book group about classics, I still run another one but found 2 too much.
    My children do less now too.

    Yes, I did do all of those simultaneously. Of course there was also my calling on top. I signed up for everything at church too, if help was needed I was there. The Bishop got even with me for that though, I was called as the compassionate service leader because he said I always loved to help. Not true, I just felt like I had to. I was crazy.

    Now I feel much happier with my lighter load. I know I don't need to do everything. Having a break is good for the soul too.

    However, my red shoes are that I like to be in control, I am a pure control freak. One which is about to lose control of her life as my husband is handing in his notice tomorrow as he hates his job and wants to destress. Watch my stress levels rise, and see me dance!!!!!!!!

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  24. Sue, thank you for your support. And I agree that it's when we let our shoes wear us–when the "not actively evil" choices we make end up overwhelming our free agency. And Traci, it is a continual struggle.

    Lee, I totally understand where you're going with your rule of thumb and I respect the intentions to do well by your children that underpin it. I, too, feel that, no matter what, my kids are the most important thing in my life. But I have a hard time with deciding what, exactly, "detracts from" or "fits into" my mothering. If I'm completely strict with myself, there are all sorts of things (watching "Lost," going out to dinner with a friend, reading a magazine, putting my toddler in the child care at the gym so I can excercise) that don't really enhance me as a mother. Sure, they allow me to recharge or take care of myself, but that can be taken to an extreme just as easily as anything.

    I just have a hard time knowing where to draw the line on standards like that. Does teaching a class once a week detract from my mothering? Technically, yes, I suppose–I'm not home. My husband makes dinner and shuttles the kids around. My son sometimes has to babysit his siblings if my husband's out of town. Some days I have to stay in my office with the door closed so I can get my grading done.

    But I also know that my kids are supportive of *me* in my role as a writer and a teacher, too. Just as I sacrifice for them, sometimes they sacrifice for me. They accept some of the things I do with my life outside the home as part of the "woman who is their mom." At least I think they do. There's always a chance that I'm kidding myself and that they actually resent it. But in my heart I don't think so.

    I do agree with the sentiment you express, Lee, so I'm not arguing with you. I suppose your guidelines just struck at the heart of why I find "the line" so difficult to find.

    Camille, I like your list of questions, especially "Am I a better person when I come home." That's so important.

    Kerri, interestingly, I think part of my problem is that I'm *not* a perfectionist. I'm a control freak, sure–but that's a different animal, imo. I think if I was more of a perfectionist, I'd be less inclined to jump feet first into something without thinking it through entirely. I suffer from the "Hey, I can cut some corners here, juggle an extra ball here, and it will probably all work out. Somehow. Maybe" syndrome. I sometimes think I let certain things slide *too* easily in order to accommodate all the "cool ideas" that pop into my head.

    And Jendoop, what a beautiful response. We're all just stumbling around, trying to do our best–that's what I think. It gives me a little bit of comfort knowing that I'm not alone, at least.

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  25. jks, you wise, wise woman. I'm going to take this:

    "When we give up something for something we want more, it is no longer such a sacrifice.
    As long as you are matching up what you actually want with what you are actually doing, then relax and be happy. If it is not working for you, then maybe you need to step back and figure out exactly what it is you do want."

    and tape it to the wall in my office. Perhaps I should pin it to the front of my shirt. Thank you.

    Kay, congratulations on your courage giving up all the stuff you didn't need. I think we feel so much pressure as stay at home moms sometimes to be *doing* all kind of stuff to justify ourselves. ("To whom?" I found myself asking. That's when I quit the PTA committee stuff, stuff I didn't like doing in the marrow of my bones but felt like I "had to" in order to be a good SAHM.)

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  26. I have struggled mightily with these kinds of questions over the years. I am finding, though, that while I will always have my toe in some puddle, I am happiest and most at peace when I am (and we are) less busy and at home more.

    I think these are the kinds of questions that can give us the opportunity to really learn to lean more on the Lord. I have found, though, that sometimes He lets us get our answers by moving our feet — cutting this or that out, making conscious choices to simplify and put family first more often. It's when I make little efforts to do those kinds of things that I start to feel a little more clarity about what balance may look like. NO, what it FEELS like.

    I think the Spirit can help us know it and find it. And it does ebb and flow and change, because our families and the individuals' lives and needs are constantly changing.

    I also find that the more I choose to be involved in, the more opportunities arise, so I am learning all the more that I have to be a real agent (I was thinking of the doctrinal significance of that, but hehe — really, it's true, we need to be our own agents — picking carefully where to spend our time and talents). Because there will almost always be more opportunity than there is time or appropriate space in our lives.

    One of my favorite lines from Sister Beck's talk was 'Mothers who know do less.' I totally agree that she doesn't mean that we cut out every last thing in our lives, but I liked her criteria:

    "Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home. Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all."

    These things are on my mind a lot. Am I laughing enough with my family? Are we having enough quiet moments at home? Do we minimize the amount of time the children are away from home? etc.

    The more we do those things, the better I feel, and the better life is. It's just sweeter, more fun, less stressful when we have the time to connect, when enough quiet moments exist that we can teach, when we can sit around the dinner table and talk and laugh and share. I also just love my kids having time to PLAY.

    It's all too easy to say, though. I'm too often willing to let the day happen without enough conscious choice infused into it. Again, that concept of being an agent is on my brain more now….

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  27. Thank you all for these wonderful thought provoking words. Angela, those shoes are a haunting image of how our have-tos and our demons can end up in control of our better natures. Such rich thought food! M&M, that was one of my most favorite paragraphs from Sis. Beck's talk too.

    I ebb and flow like all of you on what works and what doesn't and how well it all works in our family's balancing act. And what works for me won't necessarily work for the next woman (or for me in the next season).

    There are a lot of things I don't do. But there are things that are essential to my family that don't make another family's list. My husband is the bishop right now and alot of "important at other times" things have gone by the wayside. I have been interested in the counsel the stake president has given another young bishop family (our friends) as it differs from his counsel to us as in what callings I, the wife should have. It is of great comfort to me that counsel from our leaders in this manner is not cookie cutter as we ourselves are not cookie cutters one from another.

    One day I was watching Oprah of all things where women were talking about how overscheduled they all were and how hard it was to fit it all in. There was one woman whose life mirrored mine at the time–young family, law practice, crazy crazy times. She talked about having no downtime, no nourishing time for herself and I was signing myself up for the same pity party, when the thought came to me: she has time to watch Oprah. And the inspiration came to me then that has served as a ruler since–EVERYONE takes downtime; it's all in what you choose as your downtime. Make sure your downtime is nourishing to your spirit. And when I carefully select the things on which I spend precious time so that they nourish my spirit, I do okay. My life is still crazy in different ways but I'm learning to own my choices better and, when I feel depleted, to examine my choices again and see if it's time for a re-ordering of things.

    I find that when I am depleted in doing the right things, the ones the Spirit has whisered onto my to-do list and calendar, that it is a more satisfying exhaustion (although I am still tired) and I am better able to hear praise and chastisement when each are due, but when I allow myself to waste my time and my energies in more listless pursuits, my spirit is dulled and my discouragement is amplified and the to-do lists seem insurmountable and the exhaustion seems worthless.

    It has been my goal to live on purpose for over a year now and the best I can say is I am making progress, baby steps of progress at balancing plans and serendipity. I have taken great direction from Elder Bednar's talk this last conference and the idea of prayer as the spiritual creation for our day. Such prayers help me balance best of all. And still: baby steps. It's all baby steps.

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  28. I try to keep it simple for my kids, we spend alot of time playing on the playroom floor. For me it's too many interests, too many things I love to do and feel are important- I get too many pots cooking at once- but the thing that gets burned is me- Lately I have tried to turn my feverish boils down to a more slow simmer…I find it's helpful if I don't give anything up completely but kind of go in spurts and cycles- i find it revitalizes me…

    Love this post- excellent!

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  29. That is a lot of things to think about. I don't know that I could answer your questions. But they are things I should probably examine in my own life.

    Thank you.

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  30. Angie F, I love your idea of "satisfied exhaustion." I think it's important to realize that many good things ARE work; many good things will even stress us out at a certain level. So it's not the avoiding of work or stress necessarily that's the issue, and sometimes you'll make a choice that's a good choice, but it'll still kick your trash. (Like, oh, having a baby, or getting a college degree, or serving in a demanding calling). Sometimes it will be *right* for us to do a number of these demanding things at the same time, too. But, again, this is why these kinds of questions are so hard to apply–they are individual questions, and each of us will have different answers.

    Justine, if you do have any red shoes, they look really pretty on you. 🙂

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  31. In reading the other responses, I was reminded of an experience I had 20 or so years ago. When I was working on my MS in counseling (I returned to college for graduate work the year my youngest hit first grade…so, for me, it felt right to wait until all of my kids were in school), one of the classes we had to take was group therapy. There was no book. There were no tests. It was, quite simply, group therapy…and you were a participant. You learned by doing. In other words, you were undergoing group therapy yourself, and the PhD who taught the class was an excellent therapist/psychologist who was extremely confrontational in his approach…probably more than he would have been in a "regular" group, because he was trying to help us see our own issues so they wouldn't get in the way when the time came for us to be therapists ourselves. What I mean to say is, this group was hard core.

    Anyhow, one day several of the women in the group ended up coming at me pretty strongly, saying that I was "in a dream world," couldn't understand their lives because I had it so good with my nice husband and cute little family, etc. It was as if they thought those things had just landed at my feet somehow, and I had picked them up like a penny on the sidewalk. Needless to say, I disabused them of that notion quickly. (They were mostly young graduates who had gone directly from college to grad school and older women who were changing careers.) I told them I had pretty much given up everything for 12 years to build the family I had, and that even at that moment I was still spending more time and energy on my family than I was on the full-time masters program we were all in. I wasn't angry at them. (Well maybe I was…a little.) But I mainly thought it was important that they understand the time and effort…the SACRIFICE…that it took to create a bonded, happy family. They thought my family was a stroke of luck because to them it was an anomaly. It was a sad and sobering session.

    Even once they acknowledged that my so-called "dream life" was not a random gift, that it did indeed involve hard work and sacrifice, they latched on to a new concern, which was that I was not "honoring" myself because I had subjugated all my needs to those of my family. Now I was suddenly seen as working TOO hard, sacrificing TOO much. They couldn't envision a context where my having made a number of pretty major personal sacrifices would be beneficial to me. And so goes the world…sorry to say.

    But I don't think it will surprise anyone here when I say that every sacrifice I made as a mother was well worth the joy my children have brought me…and don't get me wrong…they've brought me a little more than their share of sorrow, too, but the joy trumps all of that.

    One more thing. Those relationships with adult children, whose trust and love you have gained through the years? Priceless!

    Yep, I would do it all again, in spades.

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  32. What a great post, and my answer is I just don't know. What can I live without? Everything his connected. I could give up writing, and feel as though I'm wasting a talent. I could give up my children's activities, and they would miss out on opportunity to develp talents of thier own. I could give up blogging, or e-mail, or groups, or speaking, or running, or eating yummy food, or reading, or or or or. But what kind of life is that? I don't think there is any such thing as balance in the life of a mother, I think we're supposed to constantly look at what we're doing, see what needs our attention and then work hard at taking care of everything else so we can give that one thing what it needs from me. And that puts everything out of balance again.

    And sometimes you just have to break down, cry, and see what your missing. Are you praying? Are you reading your scriptures? Are you asking for God's help? that's usually my problem–it's no that there is too much, is that there is too little of the essentials.

    Oh, I would give up cub scouts–that's what would make it all better.

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  33. Angela, thanks for the compliment. I appreciate it.
    m&m, thanks for the Mothers Who Know excerpt. That is a really good part of the talk.

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  34. What a great post! I really needed it. I often feel like everyone else has it all together. I often ask myself, "Why can ___ do all that and taking the kids to piano on time is such a chore for me?"

    I also have a hard time hearing so often from great women who mean well, as I try to express that I want to do this or that, that I can in the future. You know what? I can't emotionally wait 20 years to do stuff in the future. I have to do some things that I enjoy now. Sometimes comments like this leave me feeling guilty–or unrighteous for having any interests outside the home at all, or as if any other pursuit at all will leave my home in the shambles. I confess it is true that other pursuits take away from the family. But I've come to the conclusion that that is ok. Church takes away from the family. Scouting take away from the family. Exercise takes away from the family. Reading a book takes away from the family.
    Sometimes I think we think mothers used to be more focused on their children. But before microwaves, washing machines and dryers, mixers, dishwashers and a host of other conveniences, I am sure so much time was taken up with the basics of life that children didn't get all that "mothering" we talk about.

    Finding a balance is so difficult for me. I feel so blessed with certain talents that frankly, have zero application in mothering at the moment. I also feel like Heavenly Father gave them to me for a reason, even if that reason is simply for me to enjoy my own life more.

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  35. mmiles, remember that there is nothing that says you have to put completely everything on the shelf. The Spirit is the key to finding the balance.

    One of the things that I feel strongly about is that if we are going to figure this out in our lives, we have to base our perspectives on truth. The truth is not at either extreme (Sue's experience illustrates the danger of either extreme). Our leaders have talked about the importance of choosing carefully, not eliminating anything that isn't motherhood-related. But often in our crazy world, we fill our lives with unnecessary BUSYness, or in our world that wants to say women can have it all now, we sometimes bit off more than we can or should chew.

    But I think there is mercy for the honest in heart. We just keep trying to do our best and seek God's help and hope and pray that we can stay balanced more often than not. We try to seek His will and guidance about our kids' lives and our own talents. We aren't here to do it all perfectly, so we try and try and try again.

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  36. Another insightful post from my favorite writer. I think most of us with young families go through this challenge of finding the right balance in life. I don't have any advice for your personal situation since only you know exactly what you are doing, why you are doing it, and what you should probably to do next. The fact that you are able to do so much speaks volumes about how bright and capable you are, so I'm sure you'll figure this one out to.

    (Either that or just hire a manservant. That would be a big help. Preferably one with the dry wit of Geoffrey from the Fresh Prince.)

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  37. The weather here today is absolutely beautiful and I thought of the hymn with that has the chorus, "Beautiful day of peace and rest". So I searched for it and found your blog. Isn't that interesting?
    I struggle too with some of the same issues and as a mother with teen and preteen children and one foster baby (14 months), I can say things do get easier. Do pick your battles wisely and take control of your red shoes. You know that they are not going to fit right and will probably rub a blister on the back of your heel anyway.

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