It hit me thirty years ago as a newly single mom. And it seems like it’s a challenge that each new generation of women faces all over again – how to take care of yourself first so that you have the energy and will to care for others.
It sure is a dilemma, and that’s why lots of us went into therapy 30 years ago; that’s why we formed consciousness raising groups to help us figure out how to survive in a world that expected much too much of us at the expense of our own hopes and dreams.
Adding pressure to that struggle for women of this generation is all of the ongoing fear of “codependency.” Heaven forbid that we should worry about anyone else but ourselves!
I'm remembering a little story that was part of Marlo Thomas' “Free to Be You and Me” recording back in the 70s. It was about a little girl who always insisted “Me first! Me first!” Now it’s “Self first! Self first!”
I'm all for taking care of myself. I read, I blog, I knit. I go out with my friends, I get my hair done. I give myself pedicures and long showers. I watch the tv programs I like and take long walks in the park. And I take on free-lance writing jobs. But I also take care of my mom, help out my kids, drive my 91-year old neighbor grocery shopping, and try to be there for my friends when they’re having a hard time. I don’t hesitate to give my opinion, but I also support them in their choices. See, all that money and time I spent on therapy actually paid off!
It’s not always Self First. It’s a constant balancing act. Otherwise, you’re liable to wind up like the woman in this little satiric story who takes the Self First approach to an extreme
I’ve been thinking about my experiences with my married/committed women friends over the past thirty years, and I see a pattern that reflects why some women are still being pulled off-balance – and it usually has to do with the expectations of the male partner that he doesn’t have to share household and child-rearing responsibilities. These women are comfortable with and enjoy caring for others. What they don’t want is total and automatic responsibility for taking care of everyone around them. That’s probably why I’m still unremarried.
It’s true that first you have to learn to take care of yourself. But you do that, I think, so that you are then free and able to extend that caring to others, to live by the Golden Rule.
Balance. Balance. Balance. Balance.
It’s what it means to be human.