How do you know where you stand, when you don’t seem to fit in a single box?
In this blog, we will discuss the challenges women face today, in regards to being a modern woman. There is no manual on how to juggle the many tasks of womanhood, and it can come with a lot of expectations, demands, and conflicting messages. Many women recognize that the old-fashioned expectations of women are unrealistic in today's society, yet, seem to experience slight trepidation upon daring to rewrite an up-to-date, working definition of modern womanhood. Rather than getting married in their early twenties, the majority of women are now waiting until at least thirty to get married, with men being at least thirty-two when they tie the knot. In addition to the "me too" movement, this blog comes on the heels of the second annual Women's March--and not by coincidence. As a therapist specializing in women's issues, I work with female clients of all ages who struggle to choose a life-course: whether it be in regards to career, education, business, finding a suitable partner, or deciding if and when to have kids. In many ways, this blog is dedicated to the the professional-minded woman who does not believe a career and children are mutually exclusive. It is also for the woman who wants one, but not the other. And, yes, it is also for the dedicated, stay-at-home mom who labors for the betterment of her family structure.
It seems that more and more, millennials are waiting longer before having their first child or elect to forgo having children all together. In my practice, I have found that the reasons for this are not only financial, but also existential. I have heard individuals fret with the subject of offspring, as they do not want to have to let go of their career or be pinned down to the role of mother and lose a part of themselves in the process. Some are also concerned they will not receive adequate help from their partner in order to manage the demands of raising a child plus working full-time. Traditional gender roles are turning on their heads, as men today do a higher share of chores and household work than any generation of men before them. The problem often presents itself when there is a disconnect or a lack of empathy between partners, as each party may feel the other does not recognize or value what they bring to the partnership. Also, stereotypical male and female roles are a thing of the past, so modern couples are struggling to redefine what marriage and raising a family looks like in the new-age. The result? A counter-culture paradigm shift that challenges the status quo and causes an unprecedented syndication between the sexes and a significant drop in the reproductive rate on a global level.
Self-Compassion is to Self-Care, as Self-Care is to Self-Compassion: The notion of self-care is flourishing within modern society, as more and more people have become aware of its benefits and its vitality. However, when I ask my clients if they have ever considered being more compassionate towards themselves, I often receive a perplexed grimace in return. Having compassion for yourself means knowing when to back down from the emotional labor that makes up the majority of the day, in order to make sure you are catering to your personal needs, too. You deserve to enjoy that much needed cup of tea while it is hot, and to drink it slowly while watching the sunset. I want you to recognize that watching the sunset is in fact a verb, but that you are NOT one. You do not have to constantly engage in productive behaviors for your existence to be meaningful. It's about having enough compassion for yourself to know your limits and to give yourself the necessary breaks. When we buzz throughout our days, we rarely (if ever) stop when we feel depleted and say to ourselves, “Jeez, I sure do juggle a lot of competing obligations; I should really slow it down." Women definitely have compassion for others, as they make up the majority of service workers and child-care and elder-care workers. However, they often lack that same compassion for themselves. They work countless shifts composed of smiling on cue and prioritizing the needs of others. Smiling when you feel like screaming is hard work, and it definitely warrants you taking it easier on yourself after a full day of telling yourself to"fake it 'til you make it." Instead, why not train yourself to think in terms of "rest and recover," rather than dragging on, without your best foot forward. It's okay to soak in the tub as long as you want, even if that means asking others to step in so you can step down. The take home message here is that by practicing self-compassion, you open up the gateway towards practicing acts of self-care. This is how it becomes a "practice" in the first place.
Communicate Effectively about What You Feel and Need: Women desire and deserve validation for all that they do (both in their workplace and/or in their household). Equally as taxing can be the frustration that is caused when attempting to do it justice by explaining what it is they do that deserves such recognition in the first place. The weight of it gets lost in translation. This is why it is helpful to find that there is a term to describe this experience, as a first step towards deciphering ones needs and wants. The term, "mental load" refers to how managing the minutiae of everyday life can truly cause wear and tear on an individual after a while. Mental load describes the untold multi-tasking, hours of planning, and weeks of organizing that goes into the maintenance of a household. It is the endless streams of consciousness that goes into managing ones life (not to mention their family members' lives). It is the invisible stuff. It is done in an effort to ensure the completion of chores and obligatory tasks, the maintenance of payment plans and balanced budgets, and the sustenance of a ravenous family. Simply put, the majority of women do not have the language to describe what it is they do all day, everyday, and what it is they need from others. If women can’t describe it, it becomes very difficult to discuss, and getting their needs met becomes pretty near impossible. It's important to gain clarity on what it is you want and need from others, so you can be better supported. The art of articulating those needs in an assertive fashion is knowing what you need so you can ask for it: whether that is an even divide of household chores or more validation for all the things you juggle in a given day. Sometimes, even something as seemingly trivial as communicating the feelings around your mental load can take a load off!
Challenge your Black-and-White or All-or-Nothing Thinking: This means challenging your limiting beliefs by realizing you do not have to be one thing versus another. You can be a host of differing, contradictory things. Your value-systems may clash, but they should not be keeping you stuck! For instance, you can be both career-minded and traditional. You can elect to be a stay-at-home mom or you can elect to put your kids in daycare and continue going after that promotion you’re entitled to. You can go back to school. You can constantly change your mind and switch gears, because identity-formation is transient. It never stops. You can choose to reinvent yourself or reignite passions throughout the life cycle, as every stage of life presents new demands. Your life will constantly present a wide array of challenges that force you to make choices, and only you can decide what is right for you. You can be a mother and a business woman, the same way you might be a daughter and a mother. There are no rules. But, if you keep trying to fit into a box, you will likely feel overwhelmed or less-than. If you choose not to have children, you are still entitled to celebrate your milestones and successes, despite them having nothing to do with motherhood. Your promotion is worthy of a party as much as your friends baby shower is. It is not necessary to check every box. You do not have to wait to feel successful post-motherhood or post-marriage. There are no pre-requisets for feeling good about yourself and your accomplishments. Also, it’s important to note that you can have your cake and eat it too. You can be an entrepreneur and a mother. You really can have it all. Just because your grandmother was not afforded the opportunities you have at your disposal, does not mean you have to make apologies for going after everything you value and cherish in life. We now live in a society where women are speaking their truth and are no longer sitting on the sidelines, as their male counterparts take the lead. Think of it this way: your ancestors made sacrifices so that you could reach new heights today. Make their sacrifices worth something by living out their fantasies.
Try Not to Succumb to Comparison-Culture: Compare and despair. When we compare, we are putting ourselves in a state of lacking, or of being less-than. This is a recipe for negative self-talk, reduced self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. This only takes us farther away from our goals and from becoming the best version of ourselves. Comparing yourself to others may be dooming you to sell yourself short. When we attempt to emulate another person, it often originates from a place of lacking a true identity or point of focus. In turn, we unintentionally create more dissonance between ourselves and others, as it is harder to see where others end and where we begin. When we experience ourselves as an extension of others, by yearning to be more like them or have more of what they have, we lose ourselves in the process. We then feel more disconnected from our own true identity and can even lose sight of our purpose for existing. The notion of striving to be unique and different is scary, whereas fitting in with the masses feels safer and more appealing at times. It is helpful to reevaluate who you are and what your prioritizes are at this juncture, so to put things into perspective and help you focus on YOUR goals. Your best friend is getting married, while you are not even interested in dating? Perhaps the majority of your Facebook friends are posting pictures of their kids, while you can't even picture raising one? The funny thing about comparing is it can even trick us into feeling bad about not having something we are not even sure we want yet. Ask yourself: would I really go after X, if I had to give up X, Y or Z? Is it possible that the people you compare yourself to actually admire or want what you have, such as your career or your independence? If you have a close relationship to someone who you find yourself comparing yourself to, why not ask them what their experience of you is? They may let you in on something they envy about you, that you had never considered. This can be a powerful window into their world, and a way to kick the habit of making comparisons.
Mindfulness of the Times: You do not have to adhere to outdated gender-role stereotypes--if they do not resonate with you--as these are becoming a thing of the past. Women are now tackling more male-dominated jobs and "masculine" tasks, which rejects the notion that women should be seen but not heard. Many women are doing the bookkeeping for their household and are even in charge of the budget. In some households, women are the primary breadwinner and often make higher salaries than their spouses, which goes against the the former, female persona as a dependent of her husband. Some cultures continue to reject the modernization of today's woman. While feeling ostracized by people who do not agree with your lifestyle practices can feel terrible, it is important to remember that you are a product of modern-times, who is ascribing to modern-ideals. Although some will not be accepting of these shifts, it is better to face that reality than to inconvenience yourself simply to make other people feel more comfortable. Rejecting socially-acceptable gender roles can be a serious challenge for many millennials, as they attempt to disentangle their values from that of their their family or heritage. Millennials have the added challenge of being experienced as radically different from their mother's generation, which can cause conflict between mothers and daughters, as well. We tend to have a hard time individuating from the identity that our culture or upbringing has subjected us to, especially when it clashes with the path we have forged for ourselves. For instance, maybe it goes against your culture's best practices to move in with your partner before marriage, or to do anything "out of order" for that matter. This will undoubtedly leave room for an internal struggle if you are caught choosing between cultural norms and personal desires. It is becoming more common for people to break the rules that the mainstream has left imprinted on our psyche. This is due to the reality that life is not always going to allow for things to be done in the perfect order, and we sometimes have to make traction in our lives in a manner that makes sense to us. By being mindful of the current state of the world, and considering the reality that we are literally experiencing history in the making during a women's revolution, we can feel less entrenched in outdated belief patterns and limiting lifestyle practices.
With the Divine Feminine archetype rising today, it is my intention to inspire you to live out your truth, despite what the naysayers have to say. I would like to normalize obscurity and to help women challenge the status-quo, in hopes of living more authentically.
Eva Moheban, LCSW
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