Do you carry a diaper bag, backpack, or Mary Poppin’s purse with every essential?
My guess is yes. When my boys were younger, I remember doing the same thing. You’ve got your snacks, wipes, extra clothes, books, toys, lipgloss (maybe 3), an extra shoe. Some rocks, paper clips, and tiny found ‘gifts’ your kids give you throughout the day.
You’re carrying too much.
And though I’m 99% sure your bag holds enough to survive in the wilderness for 3 days, that’s not what’s weighing you down. I’m talking about what we, as women and moms, carry around with us every moment of every day. And while we’re sleeping too.
Imagine for a moment that you’re out on a lake having a swim. Life is beautiful, and you’re comfortable in the water. A good swimmer enjoying the day. Now imagine that you’re wearing a backpack. It’s not too heavy, but it makes things a little awkward. You’ve got to think more about how to stay afloat.
Let’s call that backpack Being a Woman.
At first there’s not much in the backpack, but as you get older it starts filling up. It fills up with advice, recommendations, and expectations about how you’re supposed to be and act as a woman in the world. You find full pockets that you didn’t even realize you had in your backpack.
Think about the different expectations, coming from all directions, that impact your actions, thoughts, and beliefs.
Put that all in your backpack. How does it feel now?
Then, you get married. Place a few more things in your backpack, because a ‘wife’ is expected to do and be and act in certain ways. A little harder to swim.
Then you had a child, or two, or three. I’d like you to take a stack of books for each child and load them into your backpack. That’s the equivalent weight of the expectations around motherhood. What’s ok, what’s not.
How are you feeling in the water?
If you’re like most of us, you’re drowning. Even though you’re doing your best to enjoy the swim, the water, and those you’re with, there is literally no way you can manage everything. There’s no one offering a helping hand. Not in a way that lightens the load long term. (Maybe because you’re great at holding things together, maybe because they don’t know what would help.)
If you have a job, a business, or an ailing parent, that’s even more in your backpack. So add those responsibilities in too.
If you have a child or children who are differently wired, neurodiverse, or atypical, then you carry their backpack as well. Children have their own, as there are expected ways of being and doing in the world at every stage. So you wear their backpack too, even though you’re not really sure what’s in it yet.
What’s wrong with this picture?
There are so many different expectations we try to manage our daily lives. We focus our energy on what seems the most important. Our energy goes to fighting fires and making sure everyone else is doing ok.
One of the biggest weights in our backpack: Doing for others.
It’s not bad to take care of others; it’s a joy and incredible opportunity to help others and be of service. But not when you’re drowning. Not when you can’t keep your head above water. There are SO many messages that we receive as women and moms that we need to sacrifice for others. That THAT is what makes us good mothers, good people. That’s BS. It’s an old model that maybe worked when survival was of utmost importance. While our children will likely survive with food and wifi, moms continue to struggle.
What message do we send our children, when we count ourselves last, if we make the list at all?
If you continue to carry everything in your backpack, what will life look like in 3-10-20 years? You’ll always have a backpack on from this point forward, which is all the more reason to make sure you’re only carrying what matters. You’ve got to KonMari your backpack and get rid of whatever doesn’t bring you joy. 😉
What if you let go of some things? You can breathe again, and it gets easier to swim. But how?
First, you start with the notion that you are worth fighting for. For yourself, because you deserve to enjoy your life. For your children, because they deserve to have your full presence, love, and patience – not to mention a healthy role model for how to value themselves. For your spouse, because they married you for your spark and energy and life, but they cannot give that to you if it goes away. You’ve got to keep it. Set boundaries. Take breaks. Find a way to connect with and nurture your spirit.
Second, notice your energy. What drains you? What lights you up? What beliefs and values guide your actions? Notice how your body feels in different situations, with different people, as you eat different foods. Notice how your mind reacts with diferent people, activities, and environments. Bringing your attention to your energy sounds a little “woo” but does wonders when you’re looking to lighten your load.
Third, simplify. Take baby steps (or giant leaps) toward what lights you up, and let go of what drains you. Even in small doses, you’ll have more energy when you’re feeding your spirit with things you love.
Usually at this point, someone asks: What if your children are what’s draining you? Even though we love our kids, parenting can be hard, emotionally exhausting work. You’re in it for the long haul! (Although, a week at grandma’s can do wonders!) They are being kids, even incredibly challenging kids, and that’s all they know how to do. And you love them (most of the time).
Children aren’t the root cause of the drain.
The problem is carrying and trying to live up to TOO many expectations. You have to start ignoring what doesn’t matter to you and your family. And connecting to what DOES matter, so your actions feed and support things that result in your family growing into what YOU want it to be. This still might be exhausting, but it’s worth it. You’ve got to make sure you’re filling your cup along the way. #notwithwine
You care for everyone else, so you must make sure that you come first. That you’re keeping a connection to your own spark and spirit. Because you are a person – outside of any role of wife and mother and employee – who needs creative expression, to make a difference, and to enjoy this journey of life. When you make yourself a priority, everyone benefits. Everyone. You are able to serve and love without attachments, without neediness, and without resentment.
No one is going to take care of you. People can help here and there, and maybe give you hugs and flowers. Only you can do the work of deciding what you’re going to carry on their journey of life, figuring out what matters to you, and how to maintain a connection to what matters.
That is true self care. For you. Long term.
That’s what makes a lasting difference in how you feel, and your ability to enjoy this swim of a life. We are social animals, and the expectations of our family and culture jump into our backpacks often without our even realizing it. Like a goldfish not seeing the water in which it swims. That’s what I do with my clients, I help them see the water, unpack their backpack, and create a roadmap that connects to what matters most to them and their family, starting with their own wellbeing.
Love this analogy! Spot on!
Very apt, helpful insights and guidance.
Thank you Linda! Glad you appreciated it.
Cara, I read you blogs and am always somewhat puzzled by them. I realize i am a lot older than you are, and consequently have a different view on life. But, as I try and look back over my life, I don’t recall ever feeling the way you seem to feel and assume many other young women feel. Of course, life wasn’t always 100% wonderful, but life never is for anyone – man, woman or child; and over all, the good far outweighs the bad. You say that marriage adds more to your pack; it does, but it also brings with it a help-mate to help you carry the pack. To further use your analogy, there are times when a wife may feel she is carrying the full load, but there are also times when the husband feels the same way. The majority of the time, in a good marriage, the load is shared and easier to carry. Maybe I am misunderstanding what you are saying??
Do young women today really have such a difficult time carving out a little space for themselves? Do they really feel so burdened down by life? Do you? I sincerely hope not.
Thank you for the honest comment Sara! While I might be more apt to over-analyze life than others, my encounters and conversations with moms show me that I’m not alone. I know that men have an equivalent weight in some respects, but I would argue that motherhood now is wrapped up with a lot of expectation and judgement about what one ‘should’ be doing. It feels like you’re never really doing good enough, because the expectations are so high. And while dads help, much of the judgement falls on the mom. If you’re sensitive to such things, and I’m sure some wade through it no problem, then it can be difficult. It’s harder to make time for you. That’s not to say that everyday is a slog, of course. Life is beautiful, partnerships are supremely helpful (certainly easier than being a single parent), and raising children is a joyful journey for the most part. It’s when you end up giving without replenishing your cup, so to speak, when things get rough. Or if you feel like you can’t really communicate what’s going on. That’s why making sure you’re nurturing your ‘self’ is so important, and having a supportive, healthy partnership makes a world of difference. Plus, things get easier as the children get older and as we get better at ignoring the judgement/expectations that don’t matter.