Many women struggle with the myth of having to “do it all.” In my forthcoming book I consider the woman who was a mother of two children. She also was a bookkeeper in a large organization and routinely brought work home. After spending time with her children in the evening, she stayed up late into the night, completing job-related tasks. Early in the morning she washed laundry and prepared meals in advance. She felt physically exhausted; she was riddled with guilt, because she believed stay-at-home mothers were better mothers; and she felt inadequate because her coworkers seemed to manage their workload during regular hours.
This woman never paused to question if she labored under false assumptions. Were her standards unrealistic? Were her coworkers as meticulous as she? Did she strive to be impossibly “perfect”?
Many polls have documented the prevalence of this myth among women, and Christine Hassler, life coach and author, links it to a misunderstanding of feminism: “Feminism is not about having it all or doing it all. Feminism is about the freedom to make choices.” When she speaks to groups of women and asks how many experience overwhelming stress and anxiety, almost every hand goes up. Hassler recognizes that so many overburdened and tired women are not enjoying themselves. On the other hand, women who nurture their preferences and abilities, and make choices that support those, appear peaceful and happy. This entails self-awareness and self-exploration.
When my husband confronted me during our marriage about the amount of time I spent on a civil rights project, which he perceived as taking too much time away from the children, I was shocked and distraught. Up until that point he had been supportive of my work for the cause. After several days of personal reflection and observation, I knew there was truth to what he was saying. I made the choice to reduce my time with the organization, which not only allowed me more time with my children, it also gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my priorities.
In taking a closer look at the hidden aspects of why I had become so involved in the project, I realized how my “serving behaviors,” at least in part, fed the view I had of myself as a generous giver of time and energy to people in need. The problem with this was that I shortchanged not only my children but also myself, for there was little time or space for consideration of my personal needs. It didn’t take long for me to relax into being the mother I had always sought to be—content and accomplished as a housewife, managing the affairs of family and home. When the children were old enough, I chose to pursue a career.
Do you have a sense of what “doing it all” means in your life? Have there been times when you’ve “sacrificed” yourself for others? If so, what was the outcome? Is there a balance between meeting your own needs and those of others? If not, are there steps you can take to create that? As always, comments are most welcome!