Does ‘having it all’ mean giving it all?
Which hat are you wearing today – mother, career woman, wife, homemaker, nurse, caregiver, lover?
In recognition of March being Honouring Women Month, and taking into consideration the new Gender Equality Law which came into effect in the Cayman Islands, the tides are changing to means that, at least in theory, men and woman have equal rights.
However, it can be suggested that as women have striven to be seen as equal partners at work, home, and society, in many ways the demand on women has grown more complex and therefore potentially more stressful.
As in many other countries, women in Cayman traditionally stayed at home to raise children or perhaps worked part time while the men were at sea. As gender equality has developed, women have been able to access further education, careers. The idea of “having it all’, of being a superwomen who can have a full-time career, be a devoted and attentive mother, wife, whip up gourmet dinners and, of course, still look sensational is a tall order for any person, irrespective of gender.
Each role requires a different ‘hat’ to put on, to switch attention, focus, communication style and persona as we adapt to the demand of the people and situation around us. For example, consider the switch from taking the children to school, to arriving at work, and putting the professional ‘hat’ on.
During the day, this may change to a ‘confidante’ hat when a co-worker confides in their difficulties, ‘wife/girlfriend’ hat when a partner contacts us and back to ‘professional woman’ hat. As you read this, just consider the moment you woke up, and imagine you had a butler whose job it is to hand you a different hat each time you’re required to change roles. How many changes would you need from waking to now; for many, this butler would never be out of work.
For many women, juggling and having a variety of roles can be incredibly satisfying, our needs can be fulfilled by having a variety of demands rather than just one area of our skills and abilities being called upon. Your persona at work may be completely different from who you are at home or with friends, yet this ability to adapt to the environment and people you’re with is found to be satisfying. However, an increase in stress or the addition of another hat or role to fulfil such as helping out the PTA, the social committee at work or taking on the school run can lead to feeling overwhelmed or as if it’s all too much.
So, is it little wonder that sometimes we can feel tired, and pulled in different directions? After all, this constant switch takes valuable emotional energy, and can reduce the energy you have for your own needs. As women we have a tendency to have a nurturing side, and therefore it can be easy by juggling all these different roles and demands, even if they’re enjoyable, we can lose sense of ourselves and our own needs.
As we mature, and take on more responsibility, whether work, college, relationships and parenthood, it’s all too easy to lose that sense of who we are when all the hats come off. Think back to when you were a teenager, and consider how demands placed on you as an individual have changed. Teenagers are typically more in touch with their own needs and most during this time construct a real sense of self, which can make them infuriating at times as they can forget to consider others. Teenagers have fewer hats to wear, and although feelings can be intense at this age life is generally less complex than today’s adult world. However, as we get older and life challenges us in different ways, the number of hats increase and our sense of self can start to fade.
In trying to please and be all things to all people, it’s easy to forget your own needs, wants and the characteristics that make up your individual personality. One example of this is in our personal and intimate relationships. Our unique personality traits and uniqueness were the thing that attracted our partner to us, but as time goes on and maybe in wanting to please our partner, we may find ourselves caught up in a demanding job, become a parent, our own needs and ease to express those goes to the back of the queue.
In counselling, we often use the “Who Am I” exercise which encourages the client to reflect, often for the first time in years this exact question, and through a series of simple questions explore likes, dislikes, needs and parts of ourselves that may have become hidden over the years. This is important to do for yourself; make some time for yourself, if home isn’t peaceful sit on the beach, coffee shop, give yourself the space to think about this question, “Who Am I”.
Consider what makes you happy, sad, what you do for yourself, what you need from others and if your best friend was asked to describe you as a person, what would they say? Would this be accurate or are there parts of you that have been neglected, unfulfilled and lost along the way. Acknowledging this is a great starting point for change, to examine all the roles you fulfil now and ask if this is realistic and satisfying. As we’re not superwomen, you may need help in the form of practical support from your partner, work, or set yourself more realistic expectations. It’s alright to ask for help, being fulfilled means a healthier happier you. Limit your roles, acknowledge your limitations, and start to be the woman you are.
Emma Roberts is a counsellor with the Employee Assistance Programme of the Cayman Islands. For more information about the organisation, call 949-9559.