You're supposed to be traditional: get married, have babies, and your only interest should be in your little ones' welfare. But at the same time, you're supposed to be modern: get an education, be able to provide for yourself, stand up for yourself and what you want.
This contradictory messages mean that if you believe both messages, you're going to exhaust yourself trying to be everything, feel guilty for not measuring up, or both.
I admit that I do the same thing. "Nothing is more important than my family," I tell myself. "Sacrificing my own happiness is sometimes required." But then the opposite point of view starts barking in my internal ear. "You need to be happy, too," it says. "What kind of message does it send your children if they see you pandering to their demands all the time and being unhappy? Is that the future you want for them?"
At different times (or sometimes even at the same time), completely opposite messages seem to be completely logical and right. Last year, my internal conflict got bad enough that all I could find the energy to do, beyond the bare necessities of survival, was sit on my front porch, reading feminist books and staring at nothing.
I think what turned things around for me (besides the children going back to school) was the book Breaking Point by Martha Beck. She articulated exactly what I was feeling and why my life wasn't working for me.
An excerpt: "As different as these women are, the problem they all share is that their own moral systems include the same paradoxical values by which American society judges its women. Because there are two sets of standards, one based on traditional, hierarchical values, the other on modern, egalitarian values, the people around any given woman can judge, overwork, abandon, condemn, belittle, or betray her no matter what she does--and justify their actions by citing her own deepest core values. Because women share these values, they often don't protest the injustices done to them. Instead, they agree with them, developing massive stores of guilt and a devastating loss of trust in themselves."
If this sounds at all familiar, it's part of the process many women go through. Beck divides this process into five parts:
- Socialization. You absorb all the messages about what a woman should or shouldn't do.
- Encountering Paradox. You realize some of these messages are contradictory. You feel pulled in more directions than you can possibly travel.
- Reaching the Breaking Point. You're at the end of your rope. You're depressed. You burst into tears over seemingly small things or your health starts deteriorating.
- Transcendence. You realize you can't possibly do everything perfectly, and you're okay with that. You feel peace.
- Re-creation. You re-invent who you are based on what you want instead of what everybody else tells you to do.
What paradoxes do you struggle with in your own life? What stage are you at in the breaking point process?