I hate feeling trapped. Sometimes when I hear about women who aren’t happy with what I think is an ideal situation, I want to yell at them. I would say something like, “Do you have any idea what I would give to do what you’re doing?” But on the other hand, I’m sure there are many who would say the same to me.
I think what makes us so miserable is not that the grass is always greener (though it can seem that way), but that we can’t get to the grass in the first place. If we could knock down the fence, maybe we could sample the grass for a few minutes or at least get a good look at it before we decide if it’s for us or not. But how do we know if the other side is better or not when we’re doomed to pace around in circles and stare longingly at the gate?
When we complain about it, sometimes we don’t get much sympathy. Didn’t we choose our traps and our fences, after all? And, theoretically, we could leave. We could climb over the fence. This fence doesn’t (usually) have a guard. So we could choose differently.
The problem is, we can’t do it without getting some serious injuries. That is one seriously high fence—previous choices, hungry kids, a boss’s old-fashioned mindset, a need for medical insurance…
I’ve certainly felt trapped before. When my kids were babies and needed so much attention, when I couldn’t leave the house for days at a time, or when I felt completely unqualified to do any kind of paid work, the house seemed to shrink and I felt like I was shrinking right along with it (of course, it was only 1,000 square feet, so maybe it really was).
I don’t have all the answers, but here are some things I learned from feeling stuck:
You’re not alone. How many SAHMs feel isolated? How many women wish they could cut back on their hours? If you can’t find other people locally, I’d be willing to lay money down that you can find like-minded folk online.
You may not be as stuck as you think you are. I felt like there was never enough money or time to do the things I wanted, but there are often options out there if you look for them. With the internet, you can find solutions for all kinds of problems. You can learn new skills. But when you’re in your own head all day, it’s easy to get stuck in a loop without realizing it.
Don’t sell yourself short. I realize now that I have lots of skills and abilities that could have helped me, and that I always have. I didn’t think very hard about how my skills could transfer to another position or why I would be an asset to anyone. I just assumed that my arts degree was useless without taking the time to consider all my options.
The past doesn’t have to determine the future. The past affects the future, but it doesn’t determine it. If you got married young, had a couple of kids, and then found yourself divorced with no education or job experience, I won’t deny that these factors complicate your life. But most of the time, you can turn things around, even when it’s hard. After reading Half the Sky (a book about women in impoverished countries who are changing their lives), I have to believe anything’s possible.
Sometimes you have to put in your time. As annoying as it is when people complain about the younger generation’s expectation of instant gratification, they might be onto something. I often imagine myself becoming rich and famous when I finish a draft of a novel, and then things seem a little less glamorous when I actually have to put my butt in the chair (or get my butt off Facebook). Landing your dream job might take a few years. You won’t get lots of time to yourself until the kids are older. You still have a few years of school ahead of you. You might not get your ideal schedule until you get a new boss. Hang on!
Taking small steps can help you feel a little better. Looking back on it now, I’m not quite sure how I managed it, but when my oldest was a baby, I used to get up when it was still dark. Writing gave me a shot of self-esteem and helped me not feel so useless and depressed. That novel stinks, by the way, but at the time, I thought I was the Next Great Sensation, so it worked. Plus it helped me become interested in writing, and I’ve done lots of it since then.
Things do get better. I used to hate it when people would tell me that. “But I’m stuck NOW!” And there are times when things get worse. When they did, I’d want to smack people in the face for lying to me. But overall, I think there’s reason for hope. I’m not going to say that every situation will always improve and have a happy ending, but here’s something I do know: optimists live longer, they’re happier, and they have better outcomes. So you might as well hold on to the hope that things get better, because it’s quite possible that they will. And you’ll be happier in the meantime.