Why Are Working Mothers So Afraid to Admit We Aren’t Coping?
“I’m not getting along.”
Four words. Simple in shape. Straight on in meaning. But so often they have to be taken from our lips. Speaking of which, a sign of weakness as we try to live up to society’s expectations of the career woman who can have it all.
“Sure, this is life and I should just soak it up,” we think. Our inner voice trembles as we desperately hold our seams together.
To the thinking mind, these four words have dire consequences. We bury them until the inner conflict at the heart of our existence roars to the surface of life. The more we persevere, the more confusing physical and emotional symptoms appear. “There’s something wrong with me,” you convince yourself. When the sun goes down on another cramped day and you fall into bed, the heaviness of your heart presses you against your mattress, while your head fears the sunrise when you look from the front have to start.
Since I published My Beautiful Mess, I’ve been overwhelmed by young women pouring out their own dire personal and professional situations. It’s never one or the other, it’s a blurry mess of both. And they and their families suffer from it.
I’m listening to these stories now and I feel like I’m staring at the 2016 version of myself. The words I thought then are the same words I hear these women speak today.
“I need to speak to someone who understands.”
They are desperately looking for a connection with a mind and heart that will help them not feel so alone during a time of deep loneliness. They are looking for a personal flotation device to keep them from drowning. A safe space. Allow yourself to pause and say the words “I’m not coping” out loud.
This is the point when the tears, if they are not already falling, flow down her recessed cheeks. The floodgate of relief opened.
What makes us pull ourselves to the breaking point before we say these four simple words? Fear.
We fear: insecurity; Start of the highlight role; disappoint others; financial uncertainty; Fail; navigating the consequences (and having the space to do so); Ruin reputation; Hindrance to occupational advancement; to be forced to face a part of us we don’t particularly like; not be busy or have a purpose. Just to name a few.
Ironically, we fear these assumptions while ignoring a much, much worse reality – life stays exactly the same. While the realization that we are not up to the responsibilities of life is often accompanied by relief, our delicate fragility cannot be ignored. It’s a very emotional time.
Bringing our thoughts and dreams to life begins by confronting the fears that have held us back.
I like the following fear management strategy. Choose a quiet place and try the following in a personal journal:
- What’s the worst that can happen if you admit that you can’t handle it? Be as dramatic, creative, and doomsday-ish as you can. (Even if you’re not in the mood.)
- What strategies can you use to minimize the likelihood of this?
- Realize what you are going to do should the worst happen. Be prepared for eventualities. They will help you manage your fight-or-flight response and steer the conversation in your preferred direction.
Writing the words, a way to soothe the emotional charge that risks hijacking any possible conversation in the workplace. There’s no right or wrong, it’s a process of change, deeply personal, and that’s the beginning. Remember, as the priorities of our hearts change, so must our lives. Nothing can or should stay the same forever, mom.
Peta Sitcheff is a speaker, coach and lawyer for professional and life practices that minimize burnout. She is also the author of My Beautiful Mess, which tells the story of life through burnout and the rediscovery of yourself. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.