I’m a fierce woman. Direct, honest, and sometimes, exacting. I have good boundaries with people and don’t overcompensate for their gaps. I’m ultra-intuitive. It makes me good at my job. I can sense people’s emotions and read group dynamics very quickly. Because I can intuit the energy in situations and people, I can also be incredibly empathetic.
All of this about me is true unless you are in my inner circle, someone I love, and then all that strong shit and intuition seem to go out the window. I turn into a do-it-all woman, master plate juggler, and pleaser, ignoring my ability to read energy (especially my own) and forgetting that my own needs should be prioritized.
It’s a trip.
And, for most subconscious behaviors we need to take a trip back to our family system.
I watched my Mom do Everything. I learned that sacrifice was the work of the woman. You do things for your husband and kids because it’s what you do. My mom is a super special sacrificer. She went above and beyond and never complained. She was known in our town as “Saint Joan” and she earned it.
My grandmother, who was a stroke victim, moved into our house after a massive stroke. My mother had four young children under the age of ten at the time and she took over care of her mother-in-law who was paralyzed from the waist down, obese, and also diabetic. My mother had no medical training and yet she was a full-time nurse to her bed-ridden mother-in-law. And, a full-time mom to four young children. Not to mention a wife and a daughter to her own parents who lived close by and were also in poor health.
Ten years after my grandmother died, my mom took in her own father, who was a stroke victim. He was a bit easier because he was only paralyzed on ONE side. My mother took care of him, this time, with only three children in the house under the age of 16. She periodically had help with him. My 16-year-old brother would help lift him and put him in a sitting chair or we had some women who came in periodically to bathe him to give my mom a break. But, my mom did 90% of the work.
I learned at a young age – you take care of others before yourself. I watched my mom, who, just like the energizer bunny, even if her batteries were low – had to keep on going. Without complaint. She was and is still amazing, at 93 and a half years old. And, she left quite an imprint.
While the woman-does-everything model is not necessarily new – it is thriving despite all the talk of self-care and putting oneself first, second, or even a distant third would be nice. I’m living proof. And, if you factor in that women today work. We add another full-time job on top of our full-time job. That’s 80 hours a week, Ladies – you know who you are.
Here’s a statistic, that won’t surprise any woman anywhere.
“A 2020 Gallup Poll of more than 3,000 American heterosexual couples found that women handle the majority of the domestic workload, including doing the laundry, cleaning, and cooking. And for many women, the workload has only worsened during the pandemic.”
I handle the domestic load. And, I work. Thankfully, no one in my house is physically paralyzed, though, on any given day, it may seem so.
No one in my family – my husband, and our two teenage sons, asked me to do all this for them. No one asked me to subjugate my needs over their own. But, over time, a pattern develops and those in the inner circle, begin to expect it.
This is where the resentment builds. Resentment is a need that isn’t articulated or is articulated and still goes unmet. Years of this selflessness have left me tired.
Some women, many women, don’t have my upbringing and yet, still are expected to fulfill all these roles. Many women, do not have the privilege that I have of being white, middle-class, and born into a family that valued education and had the means to support those endeavors.
I’m unpacking all of this now and setting better boundaries. I have found good resources like Terri Cole’s, “Boundary Boss”. And, really just looking at where the resentment stems from and asking myself, “What need of my own, did I just unwittingly forfeit?”.
There is much more to say on this topic. How we, as women in this society are expected to be pleasing and fill in the gaps for others. How we as women, who are often silently brave and strong – never really seem to get the credit for our courage. And, how the world, especially the United States is telling us that our own bodies are not really ours and that men, politicians, and lots of religious people who only like certain humans, have the power to decide for us.
How do you feel about your work as a woman? Can you relate? Or if you have any tips for any of us like me who are learning to set better boundaries, please share them!