I've been thinking about this topic for a long time. As I write, as a I age, as I make decisions about parenting, relationship and friendships, as I read about role models and those with courage and accomplishment that seem nearly impossible, as my views soften or come more sharply into focus, as I look back with nostalgia, regret and relief, as I become more confident in the woman/mother/wife/friend and so forth that I have become...I've realized that what those myriad processes have, most succinctly, given birth to is a real sense-of-self: my voice. I wonder: does one have to have lived for a certain amount of time or through a certain number of experiences to really come into one's own? do men find and harness their "voice" with greater ease and less (self-) consciousness? if so, why is finding one's true sense-of-self often more difficult and fraught for women? what finally encourages those seeking an authentic self to buck the shackles they may have long felt constrained by and say, "hey, this is me, like it or not"?
I think women feel such a multiplicity of expectations, from ourselves certainly -to accomplish certain things, to be able to manage and succeed in multiple roles, to look a certain way, etc- but also quite profoundly from others. From our parents, our teachers and our peers, but also from those we don't know or know much less intimately: what is the proper decorum at work? with your in-laws? with your partner's colleagues? at your children's schools? What are we supposed to do, how are we supposed to be, what are we supposed to give, in all of these different relationships and scenarios? It can be mind-boggling and hard to untangle what's coming from within and from without.
To be who you really think you are can often feel much riskier, and I suspect that's why finding our voices often takes women longer, it's why we often apologize for things that aren't remotely our doing, our responsibility, or our fault. It's hard to think you might disappoint, offend, or surprise others. It's hard to realize and/or acknowledge that maybe this friend isn't right for you, that your family might always wish you were just a bit different, that you hate your job, that your life just isn't quite the way you want it to be. But until that realization starts to seep in, I think we never blossom into our most true selves, and that seems like such a waste.
Although I am busier than ever before (I think literally!), I also feel incredibly fulfilled. And I think, think it's because I finally asked and answered: what do I want to do, who do I want to be, what will it take to get there, what are the costs/benefits, what do I really care about. For example, I do not want any more children. I feel 100% confident in that (very personal, by the way) decision, but it's not infrequent that that response is met with "really? why? aw..., huh...". In the past, this kind of feedback would have shaken me or made me feel guilty. I would have internalized other people's feelings and wondered what was wrong with me. Was I not thinking things through enough?
But the thing is, I have thought things through. I love my children in a way that's hardly describable -if I didn't, I sure wouldn't be a stay-at-home mom!- but I don't want to be defined solely by or in relation to them. Yes, I am a mom. In fact, I'm a damn good mom. But that doesn't mean that momming is all I want to do with my life. And there is nothing(!) wrong with that.
This came to the fore tonight because, as you might know, I have my first large catering job tomorrow. I am thrilled, excited, inspired, but darn if Jack doesn't seem to be getting sick. He hasn't been sick in ages, never misses school, but I think he will tomorrow, and I literally will not have the time to take him to the doctor. I have to make these 300 tea sandwiches. I want to, I want to do them well and make them beautiful, and I want to deliver them and see the project complete. T is out of town, and so if J does need to see the doctor, a beloved babysitter might have to take him. You cannot imagine the self-flagellating thoughts that went through my mind as I processed this. But you know what else went through my mind? Frustration. Yes it did. Frustration because I have come into my own, I have found and acted on the voice I've discovered, and I have worked hard to do so. And then to be tripped up by timing?
It is hard to balance these competing desires and senses of duty, and although I feel vexed, I also feel empowered. This is not about selfishness. It's about treating yourself with the love and respect with which you treat others and not feeling badly about doing so.
Food for thought tonight readers. Thank you to everyone who reads Em-i-lis. I am grateful for and inspired by your feedback and engagement.