This is the problem that I see myself, and most women I know, struggle with: tolerating what is in fact unworkable and ultimately, intolerable.
The job with the boss who asks that we come in late even after we’ve already said that coming in late has compromised our family life, too much. The partner who finally agrees to start communicating with you more respectfully, but who acts so sulky about it that you give up and stop trying to fight for a better relationship. The children who slowly siphon away every last ounce of energy, without meaning to, while mothers quietly pile more onto themselves, endlessly self-sacrificing.
The bigger problem becomes the culture that is bred from a conspiracy of silence: since everyone is over-working, and everyone is quietly pretending that their marriages don’t encounter serious bumps in the road, and everyone is buying into the idea that endless self-sacrifice for your children is how you show them love, it starts seeming like “that’s just the way it is.”
Everything that is unworkable will eventually become…intolerable. Sometimes, these things become intolerable in ways that don’t feel like a choice: your body totally shutting down, for instance, or you wake up and suddenly, all you see is white-hot rage or feel crippled by depression.
There’s a better option than that, however. You could decide that you’ll start paying attention to what you feel through accessing the body and deciding that the things that don’t feel great need to be examined.
And once you start to examine things, you’ll need to raise the bar for what you will allow .
Examining: Reframe Limiting Stories
“That’s just the way it is” is your red flag that something is amiss and you are under the spell of a limiting capital-s “Story,” an internal narrative that needs to be reframed. When we make assumptions about what’s possible, we limit ourselves.
This is not a rallying cry for reciting positive affirmations like a zombie and ignoring socially ingrained privilege. “That’s just the way it is” is a signal to pay attention to, because it points the way to where we need to take action to change the culture, starting by changing our very own lives (as the saying goes, you can’t draw water from an empty well; we don’t change the larger social issues at hand without first examining how we as individuals are limited by, or complicit in, the systems that have created those social issues).
And with women in particular, what I see are limiting Stories that are all about accommodation: accommodating unrealistic expectations, at work, at home, and from society.
I see women accommodating over-work because “this is what you do, to be a good employee.” I see women accommodating unsupportive partners because embedded in accommodation is “this is what it takes to be a good partner, myself.” I see women tolerating ridiculous behavior from their children because, “this is how a good mother behaves.”
Accommodation is tied to “this is just how it is.” We accommodate when we believe “this is just how it is.” We accommodate when someone has fooled us into believing that it is what you must do, to be “good.”
And I say…no.
And you can, too.
Raise the Bar For What You Will Allow
To raise the bar of what you will allow, you will need to question the limiting Story that “goodness” is tied to accommodation. Then you’ll need to start saying…no.
Truth: is difficult to say “no” after a lifetime of practicing accommodation. It requires courage, because the social consequences for not being accommodating in a society that expects accommodation from women are real (and for some women, and in some parts of the world, it’s deadly).
Nonetheless, I’m going to take a chance that you, the person reading this, might be willing to unhook from the culture of silence that surrounds accommodation, and start looking at your own life for where you will raise the bar of what you will allow, by not being quite so…accommodating.
Identify the top three areas that feel ridiculously stressful to you (I’ve might’ve already highlighted them, here: the job-partner-kids trifecta, anyone?).
Where are you lowering some basic standards, in order to be accommodating? Where is behavior that’s truly unworkable taking place, and where are you playing along?
Again, the work of saying “no” after a lifetime of accommodation—and especially in a culture that expects any answer but your “no”—is difficult (so hey, blame isn’t helpful, here).
The thing is, no one else is going to raise the bar for what you will allow , for you. No one else is going to hand you better standards.
Jobs who consistently demand too much from their employees don’t just say, one day, “Hey, let’s see if we can get Sally Sue Jones some more reasonable work-life balance.” Partners who are entrenched in dysfunctional relationship dynamics don’t typically wake up one day and offer to do things differently.
And your kids? Well, they are the ultimate boundary pushers, and without an adult willing to say “No” and stand firmly in it, they are unlikely to do anything different. So if you don’t like being a short-order cook, having no time to yourself in the evenings because the kids won’t go to bed, or being hit/kicked/yelled at, then it’s time to stop assuming that kids can’t understand not to do these things–because even two- and three-year-olds can understand, I promise you–and start saying “No,” over and over and as many times as it takes.
It takes two sides, to perpetuate the things that are unworkable: the side that makes demands and the side that accommodates the demands.
To live courageous lives will require asking ourselves where we have become conditioned and habituated to accommodate that which is unreasonable, unworkable, and intolerable—before these unworkable circumstances overwhelm us. Raise the bar for what you will allow .