The decade of the overwhelmed woman
Many things have changed with what women are able to do and accomplish since the era of our grandmother’s generation. Though progress can still made regarding the limitations of women, we have seen some significant milestone. A woman has run for president. We’ve seen women hold CEO positions in fortune 500 companies, become doctors, lawyers, and well-respected professionals across the board in traditionally male dominated fields. As a society, we’ve come to realize something that us women have long known ourselves. That is, if you put a woman on the job, she will find a way to get it done. The brain of a woman is designed to move from one task to another with ease. The success of women and progress made within the last 50 years has encouraged and motivated future generations of women to pursue their dreams, thrive in their careers, and stomp on the previous limitations. We can take great pride in how far we’ve come.
Though the push, drive, and expectations of women in the career world have heighted, there have remained many of the same expectations, standards, and obligations for women within the family and in the home. Our career expectations have been raised but not at the mercy of the expectations of us as mothers, wives, home makers, and social butterflies. Keep a clean house, spend quality time with your kids, volunteer at the school, make healthy nutritious meals for your family, keep up with your friend on social media, and look good doing it. I don’t think it was ever easy, but it’s definitely more complicated when you layer it with the added expectations of managing your own career.
So, how do we win? How do we feel like we’ve ever fully done it, or do our lives becomes a never-ending battle of feeling like we’re not ever really doing a great job at anything? What does this then do to us, and how do we cope? Most women experience break downs, stress that manifests itself into physical symptoms and illnesses, or just start to feel like being in a perpetual state of anxiety is normal. This cycle is perpetuated by us women feeling like we need to constantly defend and justify the choices and decisions we are making one way or another. Once that starts to occur, judging others choices whether that be them giving up a career, relying on day care, remaining in a hire pressure, full time job through motherhood, choosing to not breast feed, or fully taking on the traditional role of caregiver/house wife as good/bad, respectable/shameful, honorable/deplorable. By doing this, nobody really wins and we continue to stay in a place of being overwhelmed by the expectations we’ve set up for ourselves to inevitable fail.
So here is the thing: it’s all okay. We are all unique individuals that offer our own set of values, contributions, and skills. Where we choose to share them is a personal choice that every woman must make for herself. We can really learn to benefit from one another and relate to each other as allies and resources, no matter where our gifts fall. We can drop the hyper-competitive dynamic against one another as a way of comparing ourselves or feeling threatened, and we can instead embrace the value and offerings of each woman in our circle, community, and society. Just because Johnny G’s mom is super organized, volunteers on all class field trips, and makes class cupcakes like the winner of Cake Boss, doesn’t mean that you must internalize your own lack of participation or baking skills as a flaw or failure. She may envy something about you that you don’t even see or recognize in yourself as a strength.
In order to overcome this battle of feeling like we must be great at everything, we first need to evaluate what is actually important to us and understand our own values. Take the time to quietly reflect on what’s important to you. What are your top five hopes for your family and what are top five hopes for yourself. What is it that makes you feel fulfilled or like you are winning and when does that happen? This could be making the most epic class cupcakes the elementary school has ever seen, or it may be when you do phenomenal work defending a client and winning a case for your firm. Focus on the things in your life that make you feel successful and allow you to effectively contribute. Then figure out ways you can delegate some of the other responsibilities that aren’t really your thing. Find a way to incorporate your support system in your life and maximize on the gifts they have to offer, as well. This may look like having your husband/significant other take on more responsibility with the kids or the home. It can also be taking the time to support your own children in sharing responsibility, as well. Both options can be good and can contribute to the well-being of yourself and your family.
If you are showing up for yourself, fueling your own self-esteem, and making your own difference big or small, your child will see that and find security in it. In a study done by Ellen Galinsky, children were asked the question, "If you were granted one wish to change the way your mother's and your father's work affects your life, what would that wish be?" Parents often assume their children would wish for more time with their parents, which resulted as the answer for only 10% of the children. While the majority of the children wished that their parents would be less tired and stressed. 39% of the children claimed they worry often about their parent’s stress and fatigue, and 69% answered they sometimes worry about their parent’s stress. As the saying goes, happy wife, happy life, but this saying could also be equated to happy mom, happy kid. Children are constantly soaking up the emotions, behaviors, and perspectives of their parents. If you are too hard on yourself, or you constantly feel burnt out and over burdened by your life, that is the experience your child will be internalizing, as well.
For all you moms out there that can relate to the feeling or experience of mom guilt, realize that guilt itself is not helpful or serving you. However, it is an indication, just like all negative emotions, that you are in need of some kind of change. Take the time to uncover where you’d like your priorities to fall and eliminate the things that you agree to do out of a sense of obligation or just out of the fear of saying no. When you begin to hear the dialog of mom guilt in your head, take some space to journal through it or seek out a professional or trusted advisor that can help you uncover what triggers or perpetuates these thoughts that are not serving you. Lastly, support the women around you for the personal and professional choices they make, as well. It is likely that they experience some of the same doubt and negative self-talk as you. Calling them out or showing you respect their choices continues to elevate and empower the progress of all women. Together, we can reset the expectations to be realistic and for the betterment of ourselves, our families, and one another.
Grace Stevens, LMHCA