I was raised in a world where women were expected to be everything to everyone. They were expected to put themselves last.
We were told to respect the elders, the in-laws, and the family no matter what was said or done. Accept and be quiet. Do more than you can physically or mentally do. Carry the burden. Take on the responsibility of others and just do it and shut up.
And I did what I was raised to do. I did what was expected of me.
I took care of sick family members who I hadn’t heard from in years until they needed me. I put up with and allowed people who created tension to come to our home, as they continued to make everyone else uncomfortable. I took on extra work that I never got paid for.
I got out of bed in the middle of the night to help. I took days off work to assist someone and even let people live in my home that I really didn’t want there.
The list is bigger than that. I allowed the lazy person who never washed a dish to come for dinner, time and time again.
I became the go-to person, even when I didn’t want to be. I walked around being a superwoman. I never said no. I didn’t call anyone out on bad behavior. I didn’t complain or speak up or file complaints. I avoided saying anything because it was easier to not than to create a fight. And I was physically and mentally exhausted.
Then came moving day at the cottage.
We were packing up when a neighbor came over. I am suspecting her intention was to say goodbye. But the truth of the matter was I had no intention of saying goodbye to her. We had already said goodbye to everyone we wanted to. I stood there for an hour listening to her talk and she said something along the lines of this sale was probably best for me, but I don’t think it was meant nicely, and she soon invited herself to come to our new place.
I agreed to call her in the Spring for a visit to see our forever home. When she walked out the door after a few hugs, the first thing I did was block out her phone number and email address so she couldn’t contact us again.
The truth was, I really didn’t want the visit or the goodbye. I certainly didn’t want to see her again. But again, I was polite.
That opened up my mind. I thought to myself, why do you do that? You are a strong intelligent, successful women, and yet, there you stand being polite when really you want to give the person a boot in the butt and tell them what you really think.
The answer is, it was easier. And I wasn’t raised to do that.
And yet my mind was full of times that I should have said no. I should have said not acceptable. I should have said get off your butt and do your own work. That your problems are self-created and you need to fix them and quite frankly I have my own life.
That day became a breaking point in my life. It was time to stop being a doormat. It was time to stop surrendering my time to take care of the world. It was time to stop doing things I did not enjoy. But most of all it was time to stop putting up with bad behaviors.
That’s when I had a long talk with me.
Some things change at age Sixty. You start realizing that you are running out of time. The odds of good health are running against you. The years ahead are a lot smaller than in the years in the past. And a lot of people who mattered to you are no longer here to share your life with.
That’s when I made the first changes. I said no to the takers. You know those people you do everything for and then they remind you if they did something for you. Gone.
Next came the always rights. Those people you can not have a disagreement with. God forbid if you disagree.
Then came the disloyal. You know the gossipers. The ones who sit and gossip to you and you know as soon as they walk out the door they will be talking about you. The ones who are supposed to be your friends, but really have no concept of the meaning of being a friend. Out the door, they went too.
Next, I learned to do something that I was taught not to do. Say no. No explanation. No need to justify why I said no. Just a polite but firm no.
Then came the hardest part. Learning to say this is not working for me. This is not what I want and this is not acceptable. And the big one was learning to say this is a reflection on you, not me. I did those things.
Then the biggest one came. This was when I had to stand in the mirror. It took a lot of courage to say to me, if it’s not working and I don’t like it, then the power to change it is up to me.
I started on the journey of changing the things I don’t like.
I am still working three jobs. But I am no longer tired. Because I work them as I want to and I now enjoy them.
I have time to spend in the gym. I see friends I haven’t seen in years. My calendar is full in a healthy happy way.
Speaking of happiness. I smile more and I laugh more.
I have more time to help those who truly need it and appreciate my help. But now it’s being helpful, not taking on the full burden.
The biggest change that came out of all of this is, yes you got it, there is time for myself.
Having time for yourself is not selfish, as I was raised that it was. It is healthy and necessary.
They say this next generation is selfish. Maybe or maybe it’s that they are not taught to sacrifice themselves to everyone else’s needs and ideas.
Recently my young niece came back into my life. She is a teenager. Young and insecure. We had a talk about what she would like to do with her life.
My advice to her was what I told my children when they were growing up. You can do this. You can do anything you want. But this time my advice was a little different than it was twenty-five years ago.
My advice came with, you have to do the work and you have to want it. Stay focused on your dreams. But don’t be afraid to fail or change your mind. If it’s not working for you then pick another path. And remember this is your life, you get to live it. So live it.
Boy, I wish someone would have told me that.
It took me sixty years to figure out that I don’t need to be a superwoman. That I can live my life. That it is okay to say no.
It took courage to change. Some people are not happy about it. But I am. These people who don’t like the change, don’t like it because it affects what they now have to do.
Another thing that I learned was, it’s okay to make myself happy. People pleasers make everyone else happy, but not themselves.
The good news as long as you are still breathing, there is time for a change.
I have a different life now. It is full of many things. But carrying the burden of the world is not one of them.
I truly wish for the next generation, that they are taught to be independent and to put their own needs forward. Also, it is not selfish to care for yourself, it makes you a better, happier person who is able to support others.
In Nursing we have this expression, you can’t take care of anyone else unless you care for yourself. The reality, it doesn’t happen in Nursing. Maybe we should start teaching our children earlier that it’s okay to do this. Not only would it make better Nurses, but it would also make better humans.
Maybe they should be taught to say no and that failure is part of success and that changing your path is a good thing.
God bless our mothers of the past generations. They did the best they could and taught us what they knew. We learned from them and we built ourselves forward on the hard work set by them. I hope the next generation of women learns from us and does better for themselves because of it.