Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
Growing up in an African household. I was taught how to behave in a manner that always saw partner, child, family and community obligation before self. It is no surprise then that when it came to working and raising a family of my own later on in life, I always put that first. I remember how much my mother did. Not only did she have a full-time job cleaning a house for a wealthy family, cooking and helping to take care of their children. But she also had my two sisters and me to take care of afterwards. Not to mention helping her own elderly mother and her brothers and sisters. I often thought this was the trade-off of being a single parent.
But once I spoke to my friends from two-parent households it seemed the lives and jobs of their mothers were not that different to mine. Somehow, women, irrespective of marital status were expected to do it all. Fast forward to today and after trying to reenact my “take care of everything yourself” attitude of my mother and the women of her generation. I found myself on a therapists couch crying as the therapist, after just five minutes, diagnosed me with chronic anxiety and burnout.
Having moved continents, given birth during a global pandemic and pushed through working almost all 9 months of my pregnancy and then soon after giving birth, I was beyond exhausted. And in all honesty, I still am almost two years into my daughter’s life.
All because I was unaware, or at least didn’t want to be aware of what I was going through. I had put my mental and physical self through a lot and not taken time to recover. Because in many ways, cleaning a house, aiming to be a “good” mother and wife. All while working and trying to achieve my personal goals of happiness and mental fortitude. Is what I thought was expected of me. And something I should excel at, otherwise, I was failing. It also didn’t help that everywhere I looked ad’s, friends, family and the like saw nothing in my struggle. Because whilst being tired with a baby and toddler is somewhat “normal”. The rest isn’t. At least it shouldn’t be.
Looking back, I realize now how naive and destructive I was to think I SHOULD do it all. This is why whilst at She Evolves we had taken on Bossing Up in November last year. I silently had to tap out and boss up a completely different way. From sleeping more than usual to letting the dishes, house and indeed laundry pile up. I even had to forgo the workout subscription I had just signed up for just days before to take care of myself.
Which should also be seen as a way of bossing up. Because what bigger boss move is there than to choose yourself? To say no. To stop and slow down when everyone and everything is telling you to speed up?
I have a lot to learn and even unlearn as I continue on this journey of motherhood and other-hoods that exist. But if there is one thing that is sure, and that my therapist and countless others have said before. True balance is sometimes letting go. Of focusing on the family one week over friends. Or choosing sleep instead of working another and figuring out and shuffling around as you need. Because if looking back at my mother’s life has taught me anything. It is that doing it all can be taxing.
And that if you sit and ask them. Most women wish they did less and not more. Less worrying about laundry and more focusing on what makes them happy. Less concern over being a perfect mother and more on being a present and loving mom. And of course just more time for themselves. Something we all need and could use more of. So this year ladies as we tick off our to-do lists. And venture into the new year, let’s remember that we matter too. That our own mental health translates into the health of our families. That saying no is ok. And that we do not need to do it all. So this year my wish for you is to ask for more of what you need. Sleeping in more. And taking the time you need to be fully present in your own life.