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“Can you hold this?” my daughter used to ask me, nudging a half-empty Gogurt wrapper or jacket or doll into my hand.
I’d look down at my tired hands, already grasping a tepid cup of coffee, one of my son’s footballs, or a tube of sunscreen.
Is parenthood mostly about holding things—things that are crusty or sticky or damp? I wondered.
But it’s not just parenthood. Most of the women I know are burnt out from holding so much. We hold our kids’ worries and dreams, our partner’s stress, our parents’ fears. We hold the nagging voice that tells us we must always push ourselves harder and take on more. We hold the gaping questions: like, is this all there is? Or, is my kid going to be okay? Or, could someone please tell me what the heck I’m supposed to do about climate change?
Now, sometimes I ask myself—is being a woman mostly about holding all the things? About lugging the weight of our worlds until our backs are bent, until we can’t even see our own palms, our own wants and needs?
We hold our family schedules, the doctor appointments and extracurriculars, the volunteering and playdates and birthday parties. We try and hold our own shifting hormones, the sudden rages and sinking moods, the health scares and financial fears.
Too many of us hold all of this and more. We don’t ask for help because everyone else we know is holding this much, too—if they’re not lugging even heavier loads. Then we chide ourselves for our own good fortune, for our vast, sweeping privileges. It could be so much worse, we tell ourselves.
Then why does it still feel so hard? A small voices whispers back.
I feel like it’s my job to hold everything, because this is the life I wanted, the life I chose: mom, wife, writer, friend. Because if I spend too much time on social media, I start believing that everyone else is contentedly juggling all of this and more, while also trotting off on exotic vacations and making their families well-rounded, sustainably sourced meals.
But then I think about my daughter, with her shining eyes and wide heart. I envision her someday feeling like she, too, needs to hold all the things. I imagine her light dimming and dulling.
And that breaks my heart.
I want to teach my daughter that sometimes, we need to set things down. We need to lighten our loads. To say, “I need some freaking help.” And, “No thanks,” and, “Nope.”
I hear a lot of buzz about the importance of self-care, as well as some backlash about what self-care actually means. Maybe self-care isn’t just about yoga or a massage. Maybe what it really means is getting real about what we can—and want to—hold, and what we need to set down. About the true size of our own arms.
So lately, I’ve been setting things down.
I’ve pressed pause on some of my paid work so I can finish the book I’ve been wanting to write for ages, and I’ve outsourced some of the care of our new puppy to a doggy daycare. My arms and heart are still full, but for the first time in a long time, I feel like I can exhale. Like I have space to pause and appreciate the fullness of my life instead of feeling buried beneath piles of obligation.
I feel relief and immense gratitude that I’m able to make these changes, but I feel pangs of guilt, too. It’s not easy to admit that we can’t—or don’t want to—hold so much. That our capacity is limited, a precious resource.
Not everyone can take a hiatus from work, but we can say no to volunteering at our kids’ school, or to social media, or taking on that extra project at work that makes our chests constrict.
When the doubt snakes in, I think about my daughter. Once, like her, I was small and dream-soaked. Under the weight of what we all carry, we can still find that spark. We just have to let go of enough of what we’re holding that we can find it.