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“You don’t understand how hard it is for me, because you’re married!”
“I don’t want to have to make these decisions. It’s too much responsibility.”
“It’s so scary to be the one responsible for the children now.”
“I just want to take a break from adulting, you lead!”
These are some of the statements I hear from women who—whether due to divorce or an unexpected crisis—have found themselves in the position of suddenly becoming the sole adult responsible for their lives.
While in the public arena, women loudly demand greater equality and respect, as we elect more women into decision-making positions of the government, in our private lives there are still too many of us (educated and perfectly able, adult women) who find it stressful and undesirable to be responsible for important decisions in our own lives.
I was one of those women, so I understand too well that crippling fear of having to make life-altering decisions on my own after many years of thinking as part of a unit.
No matter the degree of education or professional accomplishment, many women forfeit their sense of self once we enter a relationship and especially when we become mothers. Even when we eschew traditional structures of marriage for more informal unions, findings suggest that in intimate relationships we still adhere to conventional gender practices perpetuating women’s secondary position.
Once in a “secure” partnership many women tend to “relax” into giving up the lead.
Many years of overriding our own feelings for the benefit of our family members, putting ourselves last out of a deeply ingrained need for secure codependence, we end up losing our individuality and capacity to think for ourselves.
Such paralysis is anchored in our outmoded belief that there is a greater authority who knows better than we do what is best for us.
This thinking is damaging on many levels as we become unable to make empowering decisions to improve our own lives, but also because of the apathy it creates to participate in decisions that affect society as a whole.
When we hesitate to make a decision, we tend to ask others for their advice, which is a terrible idea.
Other people’s advice, even when made with the best of intentions, comes from their own beliefs, their fears, their values, their experiences, and family conditioning. No matter how sound their advice may be for them, no one can make decisions for us, because only we can know what we really need and what feels right.
Since early childhood, women are conditioned to adapt ourselves to some external, often unnatural standard of how we are supposed to look, sound, and behave. Throughout our lives, we give our power away, as we defer many of our daily decisions to some outside “expert.” Whether choosing what to eat or what to wear, we succumb to trends and peer pressure, while a catchy advertisement slogan can easily persuade us to override our own common sense.
For many generations, women have been making themselves small, trapped in perfectionism to prove our worth and desirability as brides. However, as women increasingly occupy positions of power, we need to stop shrinking ourselves and become less critical of our decision-making ability comparing to men, especially given that we may be making better decisions in the first place. We need to become comfortable in positions of strength and leadership, take our place next to men, and not allow them to overshadow us, whether in public domain or at home.
Today, many women struggle to do it all, killing themselves with perfectionism, but still feel like they are failing.
To paraphrase Brené Brown, perfectionism is not about healthy achievement, striving for improvement, or growth. Perfectionism, at its core, is the need to earn approval and acceptance and is dependent on other people’s opinions of us. Wondering about other people’s opinion of us is just as terrible an idea as asking for their advice in making personal decisions. Other people’s opinions are based on their upbringing and worldview, which are often vastly different from ours, and we will forever be doomed if we use them for our self-value.
Women have been judged by society for centuries and adopted the dangerous and debilitating mechanism of perfectionism in order to avoid the pain of criticism, shame, and blame.
We end up spending our most productive years trying to please, perform, perfect, prove.
One day we may be happily married mothers with a thriving career and the next day we have nervous breakdowns, shuddering our hard-earned careers and/or marriages to a halt, while we succumb to depression, anxiety, and insomnia, fueled by medication, alcohol, or both.
Mothers are the breadwinners in two-thirds of American families, yet the American workplace is uniquely hostile to the needs of parents. Most mothers do not even have access to paid maternity leave. While we are busy overachieving to prove that we are capable, we never slow down, tune into ourselves, and notice our bodies’ signals to prevent the full-blown breakdown. A woman running on empty will not be able to imagine and create healthier, happier, and more productive ways to live and work.
The more women I talk to, the more I realize the depth of damage caused by our conditioning.
We are plagued by self-doubt, guilt, and self-blame even before we are judged by others. The inability to make decisions stems from fear to make the wrong one, as we try to consider everyone’s needs and well-being before our own. One of the greatest challenges I face in my work with women is convincing them that they are the Main Character in their life’s story. Everyone else—partners, children, bosses, siblings, and friends—are the supporting cast. Then I teach them to start making decisions according to this new and improved vision of their reality.
When we love and take care of ourselves so well that our inner light starts to shine brightly, all the people in our life story will bask in it.
Marriage and children can no longer be our primary goal.
Women in their highest empowerment must feel free to choose not to have children if they want to be fully present for their careers or dreams. But if they do choose to have children it should come as the desire to cocreate with their partners, for the highest benefit of everyone concerned. The society should then have proper structures in place to make it not only possible, but enticing for both parents to participate in child rearing.
A working example of parental co-responsibility seems to already happen in some Scandinavian countries. Thanks to financial incentives for men to take paternity leave, they were able to overcome the stigma of “unmanly” behavior of staying home with the kids. As men got a taste of spending time with their children during the early months of their lives, considered critical for establishing bonds, they started craving more time with their kids and became more involved parents as their children grew older.
As everyone got used to the idea that dads would take time off, the culture at work began to change, with flextime becoming more common. The pay gap between men and women started to close. Divorce rates started to go down and a “new definition of masculinity” began to emerge. “Now men (and women) can have it all—a successful career and being a responsible daddy…It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome,” says Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister for Sweden.
It is time now to break loose of all the shackles and restraints which were placed upon us for many generations.
Women have to get out there, empowered and in full command of our many gifts, and together with men break open new frontiers of what is possible. These times call for our presence and engagement in the arena, as well as discernment and vigilance while we work to create the new reality that respects our natures and needs and will improve the lives of future generations of women and men.
We are at an evolutionary turning point right now, which is calling for women to become our own authority.
We can no longer afford to wait for someone to save us or make improvements on our behalf. It is when we stop hiding behind perfectionism or someone else’s back and take full responsibility for our own lives that we can create a new world.
We are much stronger and more powerful, capable, and resilient than we tend to give ourselves credit for. As more women get into positions of power—both in public and private domain of our lives—we will now have a real opportunity to vote through the changes that can make the world a better and more equitable place for all.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!