Toby Green publishes articles in the Body and Soul segment of major National Metropolitan Newspapers each Sunday. Read her latest articles here.
Mum's the word — February 24 2008
Loren was a successful single career woman. She loved her life and was ambivalent about giving it up for a domestic existence until she reached 37 and saw her options running out.
She chose Zach because he was committed, wanted a family and she loved him. They married and in the interests of time Loren had three children one after the other. By the time the third was out of diapers Loren was lonely, depressed and miserable. The life she imagined, looked nothing like what she was living.
Zach’s company was succeeding but not without hundreds of hours of work and travel. He was hardly there and little support. Then there was Zach’s family who she found boring and unworldly. The women talk consisted of babies, recipes and household tips.
Her single friends who she counted on as a balance to her suburban existence rejected her as they now thought of her as a ‘mum’. Or they were jealous. The outcome was the same.
She complained that mothers she met through play groups were also loath to talk about anything in depth. Everyone seemed to have ‘wonderful satisfactory marriages, children and life-styles’. There was no one she felt she could relate to as Loren the person with a passion for reading and philosophy, international politics and business. The idea of her sole identity being wife, mother and home maintainer for the next twenty years depressed her and made her feel ripped off. She feared she’d lost her real self.
Loren’s plight is secret women’s business. So secret, women rarely even discuss it among themselves. The code of silence especially about disappointing expectations of motherhood is tacit.
In order to get her real self back Loren needed to take pro-active steps starting with the realization that her happiness wasn’t going to come from anything exterior to herself. It was what she brought to her career and single life that made it fulfilling, not vice versa.
I advised Loren to seek an interest, hobby or academic course separate from anything domestic where there were likely to be other females. It would give her another introductory level upon which to form friendships.
She should lighten up on Zach’s family. If she were in a stressful job, family gatherings where only chit-chat was called for would be a blessed relief. If she gave them permission to be who they were instead of who she thought they should be she could visit with them having had a nice time. ‘Nice’ is good.
She should re-assess her ‘mother’ friends. There could be one who, like her, would appreciate being related to as something other than ‘just a mum’. By sharing something intimate she could teach/invite the other woman to be intimate back. The universal relief of ‘You too!?’
She should budget for a babysitter once a week for a ‘date’ with Zach where he sheds his business and ‘dad’ hat. He is ‘man’. And Loren sheds her domestic and ‘mum’ hat. She is ‘woman’. The relationship will benefit from the intimacy, and create time for Loren to express herself to an adult who knows her and will help put her back in touch with herself.
She had to let go of her anger at Zach and the children for not supplying the fulfillment she held in some mental photograph. That wasn’t their purpose. She needed only to be a responsible mother. She didn’t have to love it.
She should be able to say, ‘I am Loren, wife of Zach, mother of Annie, Barbara and Sam. I live in a two story house in Dover and drive a white Toyota.’ If everything after ‘I am Loren’ disappeared, that statement should be enough on its own.
Q. My relationship seemed to be going really well when suddenly my boyfriend said he needed a break for time to himself?
A. Maybe the relationship was going too well. He may have only felt safe in the development stage. If he’s afraid of commitment he may have intended to keep it casual. If he started to feel too much he could have felt threatened and needed time out to get control over his feelings again. If he returns make sure he knows what he wants.