I lived in Sri Lanka for many years and always found myself so curious to see the way their family setup differed from our Western family dynamics.
Like with everything, there’s pros and cons to the family set-up, and how that set-up speaks volumes about the nature of the culture itself. I'm speaking from the witnessing standpoint and can't generalise for an entire culture, but there are a few consistent things I have noticed over the years.
For example, I love how they respect and revere their elderly, how the grandchildren look to the elderly for guidance and wisdom, how when the elderly become incapable to perform every day tasks, or their health deteriorates, they aren’t carted off the nursing or retirement homes as in many western cultures. They’re not an ‘inconvenience’, they’re the centre point around which the entire family revolves. The family will take it in shifts organising care, being present to provide aid.
However, there are also sides to this culture that I can’t help but lean away from.
South East Asian men adore their mothers, that is without a doubt... but when I read those posts on Facebook on mothers day, or their mothers birthday (which is meant to be a celebration of them)… I see something very different.
The woman is amazing…. because she sacrificed everything for her children.
The woman is a ‘good’ woman… because she always put the needs of others before her own.
The woman is a 'good' woman… because she endured the bullshit from her husband, her boss, her culture, for years and wore a smile to cover the emptiness.
It’s never praise about the woman herself. It’s always how much she sacrificed herself that determined her worth. What she endured. How she served others. What she gave up. The parts of herself she lost.
I can’t really accept that this is what makes for a ‘good woman' because then what is a woman who meets her own needs?
A woman who will tend to herself before she tends to those around her? A woman who decides not to put up with the bullshit… and confidently says “screw it, I know my worth.” when she feels mistreated, undermined or taken advantage of?
Is she… a bad woman?
For years I put myself under these similar conditions of external ‘worthiness’. I worked a shitty job that consistently pressurised me to fight for the same paycheque as my husband - in the name of feminism. I let the culture I lived in determine how I should dress (you can't just wear what you want in Scandinavia), how many hours I should put my kids in daycare (the more the better) and what the ideal neighbourhood would be best for me and my family (which happened to require said two full time incomes...)
Worst of all, I allowed myself to believe what my husband had been conditioned to believe - that personal fulfilment and dreams were just something I had to grow out of because I was now a mother.
I was a good, good woman. But that made me a bad mother- a terrible wife- and a neglected soul- because I lost what made me feel truly alive and truly me.
So let me be a bad woman.
And I invite you to allow yourself be a bad woman too.
Because you know what I have found?
I’m actually my best woman, when I’m a bad woman.
I just read that out loud three times because it felt so good.
Let's do it together.
Repeat, out loud, after me...
I am my best woman, because it means I’ve tended to myself, I’ve dealt with myself, I’ve put in all the legwork to make sure I feel as okay as possible.
So when I enter the world with the people I love, work with and coexist with, I’m better. I’m not looking for them to make me feel good. I’m not searching them for the answer of who I am. I’m not resenting them for making me do or be something I didn’t want to do, or didn’t want to be. I meet them full and happy within myself, not empty and resentful at how the world made me.
How do we know when to sacrifice and when to say ‘no more.’ Or ‘not today’?
Well, this is the practice. And we’re probably never going to get it perfect, especially as mothers with all the needs and demands life throws at us. But today I invite you to just start noticing. The next time you say yes to something you really don’t want to do, ask yourself whether it is coming from a place of wanting to be loved, or liked? Or do you want to be seen as a good mother?
Or is it coming from a place of wilful sacrifice? Is it a compromise for something you will enjoy? That can be a great indicator of where your self-love tank is at. Every day will be different. Adjust accordingly.
Because to me, good mothers are women who take care of themselves.
They do not selfishly take time for themselves so they can just get away from the chaos - they take time for themselves so they can be alone, and return to themselves - so they can then replenish their children and partners too.
I know I am privileged enough to look after myself - and I also know, from the many Sri Lankan women I talked to on this topic, that they too, make small rebellions. A cup of tea in the quiet dawn instead of getting straight to cooking - A detour around the village just to smell the jasmine hedge beside instead of going straight to the market. An especially long prayer session at the stupa instead of lighting the incense and getting back home... because secretly, this is what makes women feel most empowered.
So next time you put yourself first and your inner critic starts going “bad woman, bad woman, bad woman…”
Say “F*ck yeah! Thanks for noticing.”
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