To be totally honest….this is my 3rd attempt at writing this blog….hence the patriotic guy to the left.
I see all my couples dealing with this issue in one way or another, so I know it’s a BIG thing. I don’t know why this one’s so hard for me to put into words….maybe because it’s what I’ve struggled with the most since becoming a wife and mother.
There’s a lot of “shoulds” that go along with the roles of parent and spouse; some of them gender-specific. And whether you subscribe to them or not, you are swimming in a culture that does, or did not that long ago.
- Mothers shouldn’t want breaks from their children.
- Husbands should bring home the bacon.
- Wives should keep the house clean, head the PTA and be [...]
a sex kitten in the bedroom
Ok, if you’re thinking, “This gal sure is sexist!” you would be REALLY wrong. In fact, when I first learned about gender roles and how I was unconsciously subscribing to many of them (my mom played softball and worked….I thought I was raised pretty girls-can-do-anything-boys-can-do-better) I was down-right angry.
You think you’re immune to the gender-specific shoulds out there? If someone loses their house due to lack of funds, who do you judge more severely? The male or the female? If someone’s house isn’t clean, who gets most of your judgment? The male or the female? If a family of in-laws forgets to give your kid a birthday present or send you a thank you card who gets it? You get the point.
It’s enough to make me want to come out of the closet as a lesbian. “It’s her fault this place is a pig-pen!” I would say, finger pointing from my recliner. (LGBTQ friends this is not to diminish the specific issues you face…just a bad heterosexual joke.)
But now we live in a world where many moms are bringing home the bacon, too. And dads are changing diapers, giving baths, and tucking kids in at night. Many of us are doing it all.
And on top of the gender-specific shoulds it seems there’s these family-related shoulds.
-We should be eating home-cooked meals every night together.
-If my family goes to the Zoo on the weekend I should want to go with them.
-If my partner visits my in-laws I should go every time.
-My kids should be in as many extracurricular activities as humanly possible..
…and I should attend every practice and meet.
And then role-specific shoulds! And then the marriage-specific shoulds! And then the sex life-specific shoulds! And then body and health related shoulds! And then career/job related shoulds! The list goes on.
The list of shoulds seems to grow the more roles we take on: wife, mother, husband, father, employee, entrepreneur, PTA member, soccer coach, house cleaner, dinner maker, family nutritionist, Martha Stewart-like birthday party planner, family card sender, lawn mower, trash taker outer….
But why are we letting so many shoulds on our list? Because we want to be viewed as a “good person”? Because we want to do what’s “right”? Or because you like watching your need for approval from the outside world kick your own ass?
I remember drowning in these shoulds after I had my second child.
The crazy thing was, it had happened so slowly or conspicuously I didn’t even realize how off I was. I went out to dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen since before I had kids. She was remembering times I had made her laugh until she cried. Seriously, tears coming out of her face. I sank on the inside. I couldn’t remember being that fun or funny.
All these new roles and expectations seem to slowly and stealthily steal the best of who we are without our conscious permission.
I’m seeing the vast majority of people shoulding on themselves to the extent that it is at the expense of their best self, at the expense of their best relationships, and at the expense of their best marriages.
What starts off as a behavior with the greatest of intents seems to be depleting the well-being of so many to points of feeling, what my clients have described as, “like a battery that needs to be charged”, “like a hamster on a wheel”, “resentful”, “angry”, “like I don’t know who I am anymore.”
If this is you I want you to know that, for the sake of the people you love the most, you can’t wait around any longer for someone else to make you and your needs a priority. Putting you on your list is all up to you. It’s a never-ending test about how you feel about your worth and value. Will you pass?
The strange thing is, when you start treating yourself as worthy and valuable, other people will too. PS – The opposite of that is true as well. This might explain some feelings you’ve been having towards others.
Many people come to therapy for permission to treat themselves well. I recently gave a few over-worked SAHMs (stay at home moms…in case you don’t know the lingo) permission to take more breaks.
It wasn’t as easy as writing them a prescription for more breaks though. We had to work through their own specific shoulds and biggest fears, examine them, decide if they were true, figure out what felt better, and come up with plans.
When you realize the places where you've been treating yourself like a prisoner-of-war tears are always shed and relief is always felt.
This looked different for EVERY. SINGLE. ONE OF THEM. There’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for being your best self.
One woman feared being her mother, whom she perceived as neglectful. She pushed herself to the max with her 3 kids and a husband out of town more than half the nights of the week.
She wanted me to help her stop yelling at her kids. I know that what you do to others you do to yourself. She had an inner voice yelling at her that she wasn’t doing it right or that she wasn’t doing enough. She didn’t need to learn better techniques for dealing with her children; she’d read all the books. She needed to be more compassionate and nurturing with herself so that her best parenting skills could come through.
We can only give what we have. And we treat others the way we treat ourselves.
I also recently gave a few spouses permission to not attend all family functions. If attending family functions that you don’t really want to attend leads to resentment of your spouse or irritation within you it’s just not worth it. Those people invited you over for a good time, not so that you could secretly harbor resentment towards them.
It’s not fair to anyone involved. You not wanting to go might not even mean you don’t like them, it might just mean your plate’s too full and that you need a break, or that you’re introverted and need more alone time.
This was not as easy as saying, “Just stop going! If your heart goes down at the thought of going, just don’t go!” It took some really clear conversations with spouses about stress levels and facilitation of conversations that led to understanding, validation, a mutual agreement and plan for the future.
One of these instances of not honoring yourself here or there probably wouldn’t be a big deal. Sort of like 1 pebble in your shoe wouldn’t be a big deal. Put 100 in there and you might not be able to walk. Marriages fail, affairs happen, children detour, depression sinks in, and the light at the end of the tunnel squeezes shut. I’ve seen it 1000s of times.
Is that your selfish alert going off??
Here's the fool-proof test if a decision is selfish OR if it's made from a place of honoring you (while also doing no harm to others): Replace you in the same scenario with someone whom it's easy for you to see his or her worth and value. One of your kids? Oprah ;-)?
When I first became a mother my workout schedule was off-track for ....errrrr, well, half a decade? I was still working out, but it was REALLY half-assed. I fast-forwarded 20-some years and put my oldest daughter in my place. What would I want her to do? The decision to join the group-fitness gym near my home became crystal clear even though it was one of the more expensive and time consuming options. Putting her in my place helped me make the decision from a place of valuing myself and making my health a priority. I would want what's best for her, so that she could be the best for her family.
I don't want to hear, "I don't have the time," or, "I don't have the $$." You have time and $$ for what you decide are priorities.
Everyone suddenly has the $$ for marriage counseling when 1 partner starts threatening divorce.
Usually the biggest fear in honoring you is that someone that you love will feel like you’re not honoring them. Because this is the last thing you want you’ll often just put your wants and needs at the bottom of the list, stick with all those SHOULDS you’ve heard about, and avoid having the tough, but oh-so-worth-it conversations about who you are and what you need. There’s ALWAYS a win-win solution where everybody feels good in the end….it’s just not always the obvious solution.
XOXO from you to you. You got this!!
**Help me in my goal of changing people's minds about therapy. Share by clicking one of the buttons below :)