In the U.S., it is Mother’s Day weekend. On a day that is (ostensibly) about us, there is nothing so important, I think, as knowing ourselves and being able to ask for what we need.
I started writing this post wanting to talk about how important it is to be able to *articulate* our needs and desires to others. About how much healthier our lives are when we are able to state what it is we want clearly. Without fear. And without any passive aggression.
I recently had a milestone birthday. And I admit it took courage of sorts to say out loud that I wanted to celebrate the event with a weekend away. With just with husband. I managed to find the words, though. I didn’t hint at it or imply he should know what I wanted. Rather, I stated simply that I wanted to wake up at the beach on Amelia Island, FL, on my birthday.
Yes, there were the stray voices in my head telling me that the ask was “too much.” That my kids wanted to celebrate with me. And that the trip would be expensive. (For what it’s worth, we used hotel points. Got cheap flights. And then spent a small fortune on a babysitter for the weekend.) Yet in the end, I said exactly what I wanted…and the 48-hours away on a beautiful beach was glorious.
I grew up in an environment where parental personal wishes – particularly on days intended to be celebratory – were unasked, unanswered, and loosely declared with a passive-aggressive “you should just know what I want” animosity. It was the water I was swimming in.
Getting older, going away to college, and setting off on a professional path gave me the time and space, more and more, to find my own voice. Motherhood throws curve balls in the direction of voice-finding, though. Identity gets mixed up in family wants and needs. And as kids climb over and on us at all hours of the day and night, we tend stop asking for what we need, to be healthy and fulfilled.
So although I started off wanting to talk today about the importance of articulating our wants and needs, where I’m landing is somewhere more fundamental. Do we even know what those wants and needs are?
I couldn’t have articulated my deep desire to go to Amelia Island, if I didn’t first ask myself the question: “What do I want?” Or if I hadn’t paused to be still and listen for an answer.
I took a course I took last year with Sara Avant Stover, author of The Way of the Happy Woman. In it, Sara taught us that asking ourselves something as simple as “what do I really want from this menu” when we go to a restaurant, can help us grow the muscle of thinking deeply about what we, ourselves, really want and then ask for what we need. Pausing to think for ourselves, rather than simply deferring to others around us to decide or going with the majority. If you’re unaccustomed to taking the time to identify your own preferences, it takes some practice to have an opinion.
There is also the mental jujitsu we must do to combat the idea that it’s somehow “selfish” to think it’s okay to have a preference, desire, want, or need. And to articulate it. One approach that has helped me is to remind myself that I am just as much of a being with wants and need as those around me.
Also, it helps me to remember that this idea of “selfishness” stems from a scarcity mindset. If I believe there’s only so much joy to go around, and that I shouldn’t claim “too much” of it for myself, then I could get locked into thinking I shouldn’t make certain requests. The opposite is to adopt a mindset of abundance. In other words, that more and more joy is always possible. And that no one holds a stake on a certain amount of it. Like love.
Going to Amelia Island and doing that thing that made me happy on my 40th birthday in turn rippled to my husband. To my kids. And to my community. In coming back a more well-rested parent, with fresh perspectives, and a feeling of a birthday well-spent, I was able to grow, not shrink, the well-being pie.
Back to Mother’s Day. I know the day this blog is being published is the day before the actual event. So there’s admittedly not much time to make elaborate plans to fulfill your heart’s desires by tomorrow. But that’s not what I’m suggesting here.
Tomorrow, on Mother’s Day – or any day you make a decision about anything – can you pause and think “what do I really want here”? Start tiny. Because tiny is powerful. And observe for yourself the joy that comes from noting your own desires and making clear requests. Watch that joy ripple outward, too.
Happy Mother’s Day, dearest mamas.
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