So many of us have internalized the idea that if we want something or if we need something it is, by definition, unnecessary. If we want it, it must be superfluous, right? Or maybe we are trying to win points (with who? our partner? our kids? the universe?) for denying ourselves so that we will be rewarded like some heroine in a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale.
It’s this weird circular logic: I want it therefore I don’t deserve it. I need it, which means I should do without.
For women particularly there is such a strong message that we must be self-sacrificing. And for mothers, oh golly, it’s all about how much we give away without complaining.
This hit home for me when I was a kid and there was this Family Circus comic strip (I tried to find it to link to but I can’t find it). One of the big kids is holding an ice cream and standing by one of the younger kids. The youngest one is crying because his ice cream is upside down on the ground next to him. In the background the mom is standing with her ice cream. The big kid says to the little kid, “Don’t cry. Mommy will give you hers.”
I was probably eight or nine when I read this and I realized the joke was that the mom wanted her ice cream and the kids didn’t even realize it. And I was a kid and I didn’t realize it, which led to, “Hey, maybe my mom wants her ice cream cones!”
I’ve worked with so many women and so many moms who don’t know how to ask for what they want and need and they’re getting sadder and sadder or madder and madder and they don’t even know why. They don’t know that they’ve hit their limit in lost ice cream cones and sometimes that sad and mad is coming out sideways, making their relationships with loved ones harder. Or maybe it’s eating them up inside, making their relationships with themselves harder.
It’s easy to become passive-aggressive, communicating what we want by being angry at the people with the ice cream. Picture Thelma (the mom in Family Circus) handing her cone over and then as Jeffy settles in with it saying, “Isn’t that good? Yes, pralines and cream is my favorite. No, no, you enjoy it. It’s almost as satisfying watching you eat it and I’m sure we’ll go out for ice cream again eventually although this was mommy’s only afternoon off but really, no, I’m happy you have it.”
Would you want your loved ones to do without? Do you want your children to grow up and give everybody everything? Of course the answer is no, so why do we force ourselves into this self-sacrificing box?
It’s scary to ask for what you need because what if you don’t get it? What if your loved ones refuse to give it to you? Sometimes it feels easier to live in denial, to pretend we can do without. To pretend that the problem is not in the not-having but in the wanting.
We lie to ourselves, saying, “The issue is not that they won’t treat me with kindness; the issue is that kindness is something I need because I’m over-sensitive.”
Or, “The problem is not that the baby is getting up 67 times a night and no one will help me with the nighttime parenting, the problem is that I can’t seem to get used to functioning on 20 minutes of uninterrupted sleep.”
“It’s not you,” we say, “It’s me! I’m too needy! I’m overreacting! I am the problem, not this life full of denial and demands and way too little fun!”
Listen, you have got to take care of yourself for your sake and for the sake of your loved ones. They need our full, present, fulfilled selves more than they need our ice cream.
(By the way, the quote is from this video.)