(This is the second in a series of 8 posts that I am writing on the intertwined topics of self worth and self compassion. If you have not read the first post, you can read it HERE. And once again as you go through this series, you can use journaling as a tool to get to reap the full benefit)
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humour, and some style.
―Maya Angelou, author, speaker, poet
Many of us have an aversion towards asking for help. Usually, we end up doing this only we when are in desperate need for it. For most men and women, this is usually when we have reached the end of our rope, feeling burned out and overwhelmed. How much less painful it would be if we had started paying attention to our needs before we reached this stage? Also, in many ways, women are worse off in this respect than men.
In fact, according to a recent UN report, modern women carry out at least two and a half times unpaid and household and care work than men. However, this is rarely recognised as "work". Things have definitely changed with well-intentioned men taking on more work at home, but it is clearly not enough. And this is not just because of sexism on the part of men, it also due to conditioning of both men and women while growing up. Inevitably, for most women, an impeccable home and well groomed children often become linked to their sense of self-worth.
I confess that I am struggling with this at this very moment as I am trying to set up my coaching practice. I see myself struggling to reach my goals at work and at the same time manage the homefront according to the standards that I have set for myself a long time ago. However, whenever my well-intentioned husband tries to do his fair share of work or help me out, my ingrained conditioning gets in the way. My idea of getting things done properly is and always will be very different from his and this makes things really frustrating for both of us. Simply accepting our differences with regards to our approach towards housework has been really hard for me. I have chosen to work on this not just because of my own sanity but also because I want my children (a daughter and a son) to have a different kind of conditioning towards this type of "invisible" work irrespective of gender.
In most urban family settings across the world, women are the primary caregivers in their families as they take care of their children, family members and home. This is on top of the work that they may also be doing outside the house as a bread earner. This kind of pressure leaves little time for most women to tend to their own needs and practice self care. Thus today, even though many more women enjoy financial freedom, they often grapple with a feeling of frustration, a sense of hopelessness and end up living in chronic survival mode.
However, the focus of this post is not on the economic price that the society at large pays for this kind of hidden inequality but rather the price that most women end up paying in terms of their health and peace of mind. Since most of my coaching clients are women, I see this playing out all the time with them and this is true even for my friends and family members who are women. Many women are perpetually overwhelmed, with a sense of a never ending to-do list of responsibilities of things to do both at work and at home.
We are all a little broken. But last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same
Women are often under the impression that they need to "do it all" in order to "have it all". There are many ways that modern society has benefited women, however, it masks a dirty secret. As mentioned earlier, while a division of labour did take place in the workplace as many more women have joined the workforce, housework, cooking and/or planning meals and looking after children are still very much under a woman's purview. And in today's world, this is in addition to the workload that women have simply by being a part of the workforce.
This poses an enormous amount of pressure in terms of the expectations that many women inadvertently have of themselves in terms of how childcare and housecare should look like at all times. Can you relate in some way to this kind of thinking?
Do you find yourself measuring your self worth in terms of
how your house should look at all times?
what your idea is of a "perfect" YOU and a "perfect" family?
how your child behaves or looks like especially in public?
what kind of nutritious foods you are able to whip up (or have your cook make for you) in your kitchen?
There are countless other such examples!
I am guilty of having very high expectations of myself when it comes to the last one. While healthy and nourishing foods have been a part of our meals for a number of years now, I was driving myself and my family crazy by trying to ensure that each and every meal in our house meets my high "nutrition" standards. I realised that I was doing more disservice than helping by forcing my younger son to have each and every meal that met my standards in terms of both variety and quality. It ended up making our meal times very stressful for all of us and became self-defeating in nature. Instead, I have taken a slightly different approach of involving him in respecting the food that is served in a more healthy manner and at the same time teaching him to understand how food affects his body. But, I digress...
Take a moment to reflect on the ways that you may be similarly linking your own identity and indeed your own worth at times to very high standards that you may be intentionally or unintentionally setting for yourself. Be gentle with yourself as you do this as you may have grown up believing that this is the only way.
Here are some questions that you may want to ask yourself (and preferably write down in a journal) to help bring some clarity.
What kind of price (in terms of your health) are you paying for not reaching out for timely support from your partner/spouse or others?
What measure of "success" is worth your health? In other words, are you setting up your life to support the "success" that you want with intention so that it does not cost you in terms of your health in the long run?
Are you clear about what you really want in terms of your life - personal freedom, happiness, more personal time to pursue creative work/hobbies, emotional and physical health to name a few?
Are you willing to give yourself permission let go of your need to link your sense of worth to your house/family's health/children's achievements etc?
While it would certainly help to have our partners/spouses take more responsibility and initiative in terms of helping us, we need to start reaching out to them and find other forms of support in a constructive manner. There is certainly no one right way of doing this that will work for all women and their families.
Given below are some of the things that you can keep in mind while you do this-
Reach out when you feel the need to without guilt or shame- either to your spouse or a family member or a friend
Let go of any shame or guilt and the flawed notion that you need to "keep it together" at ALL times
Tend and befriend- connect with a friend or do something social as a part of a community
Give yourself permission to pause and practice "self care" in whichever way you deem fit
Learn the art of saying "no" and be comfortable in disappointing others as you learn to choose yourself over others when required
Infact, this last point is the topic for my next post but you will have to wait for it till next week!
I leave you with this beautiful poem on self worth by the young poet Erin Hanson
You are not your age, nor the size of clothes you wear,
You are not a weight, or the colour of your hair
You are not your name, or the dimples in your cheeks.
You are all the books you read, and all the words you speak.
You are your croaky morning voice, and the smiles you try to hide.
You are the sweetness in your laughter, and every tear you've cried
You are the songs you sing so loudly when you know you are all alone.
You are the places that you've been to, and the one you call home.
You are the things that you believe in, and the people whom you love.
You are the photos in your bedroom, and the future you dream of.
You are made of so much beauty, but it seems that you forgot.
When you decided that you were defined by all the things you're not.