Take a Backseat, Mrs. Should Be

Week 28

Take a backseat, Mrs. Should Be

Some time ago, I started a reflection-driven practice of rereading diary entries for the same date as “Today’s entry.” It’s not as cumbersome as it sounds; I’ve only been journaling with some consistency for about five years going on six. I’d made too many attempts over the years since I learned to write, but something in the form of a family crisis in late March of 2010 writing in a diary/journal stick. I’m not going to describe the crisis in particular because I think there’s enough whining online (and yes, I acknowledge I have done a fair share of it). The point is, when I sit down to make an entry, I scan back over the years to see what has changed, if anything, and what remains the same. I’ve found some pleasant surprises and some self-destroying patterns, all repetitions of lessons unlearned.

In her wonderful book, Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much1 (the book I read and consult daily), Dr. Anne Wilson Schaef notes that I am confronted with lessons over and over again until I learn them. Not merely acknowledge them, not bulldoze them with convenient sound-byte B.S., not look away and hope they will take the hint and leave. I have to deal with the lessons and learn from them. Otherwise, they may drift into the back of my mind, but they always come back stronger and harsher, usually when I am most vulnerable.

SO! Joining these two with some excellent advice from a therapist, I’ve identified the problem (I think): somewhere in the morass of parents’ and spousal and children’s and colleagues’ expectations, I inflated my own expectations and lost me. Some of that has abated with time and distance and sheer self-defense, but there are the nagging things I’ve had to leave undone or partially done because of that failing. And there is a voice in the back of my head urging me to continue to leave those things undone or partially undone because who am I to do such things, to write such things, to have such unladylike, immodest, in fact angry opinions? I should be the Perfect Wife, Housekeeper, Mother and Career Woman. I should be the pious Balabosta who runs the perfect house, raises pious children, and devotes herself to living a pious life. I should be the Wise Crone who knows all, cleans all, and arranges all, and so on and so forth until a sane person would run mad into the night. So, following in the human tradition of giving what ails me a name, I gave that voice a name: Mrs. Should Be.

And now, with the soul-destroying hoopla of commercialism and trumped-up wars on nothing that has become the Holiday Season, I’ve had enough of her. And, true to my paralegal training, I wrote this notice to Mrs. S.

Dear Mrs. Should Be:

We’ve known each other for quite a while now. In the main, you’ve been a pretty consistent if nagging advisor, making sure I know what a “good wife” and “good mother” should do. You’ve set me ideals and rather high bars to meet. I appreciate the thoughts and ideals, and I am grateful for that; but it is time I walk my talk of “making peace with myself somewhere between my ambitions and limitations” (“Teahouse of the August Moon” 1956). It is time for the nagging to end.

First of all, the kids are grown. Even if I was not the perfect mom, they turned out pretty well. Not perfect, but they are all people I am proud to know and spend time with.

Second, my husband stopped expecting his mother’s level of perfect housekeeping many years ago. I can’t say precisely when, but I believe it was the year I first had to travel for work and he had all three children and the house to tend for a week. He’s only mellowed more and more in the years since then. So, really, the only person you’ve got nagging to clean and keep the perfect house is me.

You also put before me the portrait of the woman who “did it all”: worked full-time, kept a perfect house, raised perfect children, maintained the perfect weight, etc., etc. Well, I’ve tried. Life did get in the way with moving and starting over more than a dozen times, and, frankly, even if we are not wholly settled now, I’m tired. I’m tired of trying to match an unrealistic portrait. I’m tired of searching for my ideal and perfection outside of myself. I’m tired of being tired.

I’m nowhere near perfect, but I am more interested in living my life (that’s my life, not the ideal life) than in being perfect. There is more than enough room for me to grow and learn and still “grow up,” but it’s time for you to stop the nagging. Suggest you may. Reminding is OK, but not nagging. My physical, mental, emotional and, yes, spiritual health require a stop to the nagging.

I’ve walked a number of job paths and taken what rare joy I can in them all. Now that I have the proverbial “empty nest” and a good deal of time to myself, I think it is time I eschew the Perfect Woman portrait and work towards just being happy. That will be a path I have to walk and work to walk probably for the rest of my days. You are welcome to join me as a familiar voice and occasional reminders, but please understand that is all. Your authority has become advisory only.

For me, my travels will be as internal as external now, because I need to look inward for what I have lost now. If it ever was “out there,” it ain’t no more. There are other stories to tell and lands to explore that might not be on you Approved List. If you wish to come along, you are welcome, but prepare take a backseat.


J.T.K. Gibbs

1 Schaef, Dr. Anne Wilson. Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, rev. New York: HarperOne, 2004.

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