My mother is a good woman. She taught me a lot of things, like how to sew and how to drive a car, how to apologize, and how to sautee mushrooms really well. But she also taught me a lot of lessons that I'm still unlearning, like how pretty girls get the best in life, how self-recognition isn't important, how to want to be skinny, and how to self-sacrifice.
My mother is a strong woman. She's been through a lot. She's given up a lot for her children and for others around her, and I respect her for that. She tried her best to provide what she felt we should have. She set an example of self-sacrifice that I have ingrained into my life too deeply to root out. She taught me that my actions are always in the sight of others and always for others, two realities I am painfully aware of and often incapable of balancing.
But she didn't teach me self-love or self-respect, because she didn't have it in herself. It's hard to model what you don't believe. She didn't teach me how to ask for a salary I deserve, because she didn't know how -- she knew how to sacrifice, but not how to demand and negotiate. She didn't teach me to take care of my health and my body in positive ways, because she didn't know how to do it for herself. She didn't teach me how to live within a budget, to financially sustain myself, because she didn't know how.
These aren't the lessons that all mothers teach, but these aren't unique experiences, either. So many women teach these same lessons and learn these same lessons. I know that many of my actions are motivated by my wish to support, sustain, and take care of those around me -- that's how I spend my money, my time, my career, my relationships and friendships, and often whatever else I have. It's hard for me to justify doing something for myself, whether it's buying clothes or going to the doctor or having a hobby. I know I give much of my time in unpaid labor, and a part of that is because a) I haven't learned to value what my time is worth and b) volunteering satisfies my need to give in a very specific way. I know I hesitate to ask for things I need -- whether it's from a supervisor or from a friend -- because I don't truly believe my needs are important enough. It has and will hold me back in a workplace, where I have forgone recognition or a salary request or place at the table because I felt like someone else, something else, was more important. It holds me back in relationships, because I hesitate to ask for what I need, and I doubt that my feelings and my needs are important. It shows up as passive-aggressiveness, and I hate that. It holds me back in my ability to take care of myself -- the way I eat and sleep and how I abuse my body and take on stress because I don't view those things as important enough to change my behavior.
I want to unlearn these things, at least, enough not to pass them on.
I do think strength and sacrifice are important -- in moderation, not in excess. I don't want my friends, my children, to believe that they only way they should take care of themselves is for someone else. My mother never bought new underwear because she spent her money on the best toys and clothes and gifts for us. She ate once a day, because she believed it kept her skinny. She never went to the doctor, and when she did, she did so out of fear that if something happened to her, we'd have no one to rely on. It is about self-worth. It is about self-love. We learn the things our parents model. And don't get me wrong, my mother was not the only source of education I received. I learned these lessons from TV, from friends, from family members. I learned them from teachers and school, from the pervasive ideas our society has about gender and bodies and sexuality, from the people I looked up to most.
I want a healthy attitude on this. I want to know that I can sacrifice when I need to, but that my needs are important enough for me to express them and ask for them to be met. I want to take my medication every day not because everyone around me needs me to function for them, but because my health and my life matter to me. I want to exercise and eat well not because I'm afraid of what other people think about how I look, but because having energy, feeling healthy, and taking actions to improve my health improves my life. I want to teach that love isn't always sacrifice. It's also about empowerment. It's a gift of offering someone the model to do for themselves, to take responsibility, to act out of self-love. That is a form of strength -- not the quiet, suffering kind, but the pro-active kind.
I don't want to pass on these feelings of guilt and a lack of worthiness and a fear of not giving enough, not being enough. Those feelings suck. They're not motivating; they're restrictive and negative and harmful.
As someone very wise once told me, "Self-care is sexy."
It's so fucking true.