Not that long ago I’ve seen a post on Social Media asking ‘What’s your favorite lie?’ I did not answer at the moment, but I know that my favorite one has always been I’m fine. It is the lie I’m telling most of the time, and even if I know I should not, I keep telling it even when I’m anything but fine. Or especially then.
It is bad, yet a deeply rooted habit, and a costly one in terms of mental health and general well-being. But it is far from being something special. In fact, this is part of the factors leading towards what is known as The Caregiver’s Burnout. This is a common condition amongst the caregivers, manifesting as anxiety, depression, physical and emotional fatigue.
But here’s the catch: there are way more caregivers than we tend to admit. The caregivers are defined as persons caring usually for family members suffering from a disability or a chronic disease and are mostly associated with adults caring for their family’s elders. They are not.
A caregiver is also that friend who is always catching and trying to support and lift the others. That friend taking everyone else’s hand during their mentally challenging times and never talking openly about its own. It is that one person that always seems to have their life together, to know exactly where they’re going and what they have to do.
Because not every suffering is visible. Some of us face mental health challenges, others are facing losses, grieving times, there is a lot going on in every person’s life. And, every here and there, it is at least one person being the safety net of their social group. That one person who got the others coming to them for guidance in their tough times. They are caregivers as well, highly empathetic people that care and feel deeply responsible for those guided by them, even if not witnessed as caregivers by society.
And that leads them into a very dangerous trap. It makes them feel like the time for them to talk about their struggles is never now, always later. Now there are others that need their help and support, loved ones that need to receive their best in order to recover or get through the darkness. And this is how they get used to answering I’m fine when they’re asked about themselves. Because they are not a priority on their own list.
This also comes from a strong belief that places bad times as a thing to be kept private. As if, once admitted that you struggle as well, your ability of supporting others would vanish away, making you as weak as they are. Because the strong ones don’t make their dark times public while happen, but only talk about them later, when there are only the scars without the pain. However, truth is we all can struggle at the same time, but not in the same ways. We can (and we do) struggle in different ways, due to different reasons, and at very different intensities. That’s not what matters. What really matters is the ability to manage struggle, frustration and pressure. Because, as an informal caregiver, there’s a different kind of pressure on your shoulders: the thought that you’ve been trusted. That your close one, your friend, the person who asked you for help, did so because it knew you can deal with the situation without being overwhelmed. That you will lift them up, not that they would drag you down. When it comes to a family member that needs to be taken care of, there is a slightly easier burden to carry: you’ve had no actual choice, other than caring for them.
And just like that, the story of I’m fine begins to unfold: with the desire of not being a disappointment to the people which have seen the best in you, and with the belief that there will come a day when you will be free to talk openly about your struggles and allow yourself to ask for the help you need.
Because at the end of the day, what makes a caregiver fail those who trust them by failing themselves is the mix between empathy and fear. You know how it feels to be let down, so you fear that, by saying that you are struggling, you will let the ones that trusted you down. But you’re not. In fact, you would only be helping them more, as they see that it is fine to talk about your bad times. That you can only grow stronger when you learn to be honest. And, the most important lesson one could learn, that it is an act of self-care and self-respect, proof of generosity, as no one has ever been able to pour into other’s souls from an empty cup.
This week’s latest events have brought up to my mind a question I was put by one of my exes, in an obviously annoyed tone of voice.
The answer he got was just as obvious as his question: because I am. But today, there is needed a much wider answer than just that.
I’ve been a feminist way before I even knew that I was one, or that feminism even existed as a movement. Living mostly with mom and grandma into our village home, I’ve learned a lot about being strong on your own: dad was home too little to actually make a real difference when it came to the household’s chores, and grandma was a widow for too long. This was the first thing I’ve learned in my journey: that a woman can want a man by her side, but she will never really need him. Not for other than emotional comfort and accomplishment.
The women in my family, the close family, and the extended family as well, taught me this really valuable lesson that no matter what a man can do, a woman can do it just as fine. That independence is the shortcut to owning who you are, and that being owned by a man is, by no chance, a goal. Or, how grandma used to put it, If all you have is a man, you have too little.
I am a feminist because I believe in it. I believe in women’s power of being whoever they want to be, without needing to justify their choices. Because I like freedom, and feminism is about freedom. About being free to choose if you want to get a higher education, if you want to marry early or late, or maybe you don’t want it at all if you want to be a mom or you don’t. It’s about all these things, and many others, too.
But I also am a feminist because I’m sick and I got tired. I’m sick of being made to feel less than I am, based on my weight, my height, my age, my relationship, career status, my long term priorities. I’m sick of having to be on a constant guard so that I don’t get unwanted attention. Of not being able to walk out and explore cities at night, by myself. By having to explain whatever life choice I have that is not fitting the socially accepted behavioral box.
And I’ve met that box really early during this lifetime. A young lady doesn’t act like that. Don’t swear, you’re an educated young lady! You’d better pay more attention to the household chores, as a woman, they will be your job! have been heard really often, especially when dad came home from his job, or relatives came to visit.
I never cared, as I have always done things my way. But I know for a fact that for many young girls, sentences like these were axes cutting their wings. Their sense of self-worth. And that, too, is a form of abuse.
Talking about the abuse, that’s another topic that drives the feminist me mad. Because I know at least one woman, one young woman who can tell a story about: how she’s been harassed at her workplace, discriminated based on her aspect, catcalled, threatened, blackmailed, physically, emotionally, financially abused, raped. It happens online, it happens offline, it happens everywhere. Because a woman is not a man. Boys will be boys turn in Whores will be whores when it comes to women.
And injustice has never been something that I would tolerate. Not when I was a kid witnessing the rich kids bullying the poor, and either now, when I witness men telling women how to dress, eat, sleep, work, go out, have sex, have families, have babies, as they would know better.
I’m a feminist because I’ve managed to be the woman that I am now due to the women around me: mom, grandma, my first-grade teacher, my French teacher from the gymnasium, my doctors, every woman that had enough faith in me to recommend me for a project or job, or simply be my friend and listen to my dramas. I have nothing but respect and endless love for them, and for all the other women I’ve not met yet. And we all know that you can’t love women and hate them at the same time.
I’m a feminist because I can’t look at the way women try to tear each other down like they’re in some sort of competition without my heart breaking in million tiny pieces. Being solidary with other women will never take what’s yours. You won’t become ugly if you admit that another girl is prettier, nor will you become dumb if you admit that other girl is smarter than you are. Women, as men, are not supposed to be all the same. We’re only humans, after all, and that makes us different and special, why ruin it trying to be as similar as possible? Teaching girls to be united, to genuinely appreciate and defend each other, will lead them way further than knowing how to wing that eyeliner or walk on heels, as strong women nail all of these.
My feminism might not be radical, as I’m too shy for being a real activist. I believe in a feminism of the small yet kind gestures, as telling a strange girl that she is pretty while you two are waiting for the bus, or stepping up to defend a girl being bullied. It doesn’t matter that much what’s the gesture you’re doing, it will always brighten someone’s day.
I’m a feminist because I’m sick and tired. Because of the socially-agreed scenario, where a successful woman is a wife, mother, great employee, supportive friend, always happy and good looking, has led a lot of women to chronic burnout. And how on earth could a woman that is suffering from burnout be a good mother for her children? Let alone all of the things on that never-ending list.
This is why I am a feminist. Because the alternatives feel like prisons to me, and I still have faith. I have faith that the men of my generation know to appreciate and support the women around them to be whatever they want to be. It is what makes them be men, standing up for women’s and children’s rights and protection, standing up against the injustice manifested upon the vulnerable categories. And, in some of the countries, women still are a vulnerable category.
So, the next time when you will meet a feminist, don’t ask her why she is a feminist. Ask her how could you be genuinely supporting the women and young girls you know, in order to make their lives be better. And you will, I promise, have a conversation to remember for a long time after it’s done.
Ladies and gentlemen, but especially ladies, welcome to the teenage years! Not yours, as you’re, already, a responsible adult, who’s got everything together (as if!), but worse. Welcome to your daughter’s teenage years!
I know, from my not so far away experience as a teenage girl, that nothing (and I really mean nothing) has prepared me and my mother for that kind of trip. Nothing. So now I’ve decided to write an article with everything I wish my mother knew back then, with everything I’ve needed, but I didn’t know I need or, worse, I didn’t know how to ask for.
Lower your expectations.
You might be in your 30s, or even your 40s when your young one arrives on The Totally Drama Island. Which is fine. What is not that fine, however, is to treat her like she would also be in her 20s at least. She’s not. She is somewhere between 13 and 19 years old, and she thinks, acts, and feels like it. Learn to respect her and adjust yourself according to that. If we’d think in our teenage years the same way we think in our late 20s, or even in our 30s, no one would ever take a bad decision. Ever. Somehow, we don’t, so we have to act like we understand this.
Bond with her.
Yes, I know, she’s your precious little daughter, and you’d like to protect her from any possible harm. I guess all the mothers think the same. But you can’t. Your daughter will make mistakes, will trust the wrong people, and will end up disappointed and heartbroken, more often than not. You can not protect her from all the mess that comes with the passport to ConfusedLand. But you can, and that’s crucial for tour future relationship, bond with her. Remember how you felt when you were her age. All the insecurities, the peer pressure and, oh, all the drama and the secrets. All the oh, my day is ruined, look at this hair, and the make-up is not the best, either! and Those girls are so cool, I’d like so much to get closer to them! What would they say if I’d ask them to get out for a coffee and a chit-chat? problems that rule the teenage universe. Yes, in your 30s or 40s they certainly sound like a foolish game, nothing important, but can you remember how important they used to be when you were her age?
Tell her your story, show her how was that period back then, when you were in her footsteps- how you used to have fun, what having style meant back then, who were the cool kids of your generation. Tell her about your young and insecure self, and about all the drama you used to care about. And allow yourself to see her blooming and telling you the updated version of the story. Build up some personal routines to help you tighten your relationship- maybe you will have a boardgames night, or get out for brunch on Saturdays and talk about how your week went, or you teach her some homemade beauty tricks, it doesn’t matter that much what it is. You can even get her friends involved, as well, if it feels right for both of you! The whole point is to make sense for the two of you, and help you know each other. Be her confident, rather than the never-content general.
This means, once again, to talk to her. To let her know that you’re there, ready to listen, without judging her. Don’t forget that this is the time of her life when she learns the most about herself. She knows for a fact that she’s not a child anymore, but she’s not a woman yet, either. And that is one of the most confusing situations a girl can see herself in. Don’t expect her to know how to handle this by herself, she’s only human, after all.
Of course, when you’ve met her for the very first time, you’ve pictured in your mind the kind of woman you’d want her to be. Don’t hold on to that image. Let her learn, and understand that she will be her very own type of woman, not the one you’ve desired to be, not the one you or your mother are. Be by her side when she discovers the kind of woman she wants to become, encourage her to take action in that direction, and listen when she tells you about her struggles.
Talk to her about the important topics of her time. Let her know about feminism, about sexuality, about the relationship with her body, about social media and bullying. Teach her the rights and obligations she has, and support her if she wants to get socially involved, as a volunteer or however she feels like. Find out about the women which inspire her, and what is she finding inspiring about them. Teach her about solidarity with other women, about the ways she can build other women up, instead of tearing them apart and about mental health and how it changes her life course. Most important, teach her that it’s fine to ask for help when she needs it. Even if she will ask it from you, the school counselor, or whatever reliable source that she feels could be helpful, the point is to ask for it, not to bottle things up inside her.
I know, some of these are uncomfortable topics, but the thought that your daughter will find out about them from questionable sources it’s causing more discomfort, I think, than talking with her.
Be aware of the pressure.
Now, more than ever, the pressure put on young girls is exhausting. They’re expected to be good friends, good students, to know what they are going to do with their lives in the long term, look nice, be popular… All the struggles you’ve had, as a teenager, too, but with some extra peer-pressure from social media. They will constantly be exposed to fake perfection, and they will be told that, if they work hard enough, they will reach it too- they will have the perfect social life, the perfect body, relationship, and prizes at scholar competitions, some volunteering too, perhaps. All at once, without getting tired or sick of it.
It is your duty, as a parent, to let her know that she’s doing her best and that what she’s seeing on social media is rarely the truth. The most important thing my mom told me when I was a teenager was I am proud of you, you’re doing great. I trust you that you will find a way to change the things you think you could do better so that you will be happy with the final result. But I am proud of you for being my girl and I love you either way. That easy. She knew I wasn’t happy about the way my life was, and she was aware that the whole situation made me insecure and anxious, so she thought like it would be a good moment to remind me that I am capable, worthy and loved. And her intuition was right at that time, as it was many times after that one, too.
It might be tempting to fall into the old trap of You’re not doing enough! Your best friend does this, and that, and she’s not complaining that much! I’ve made so many sacrifices for you, and you’re disappointing me with every chance! I can’t believe you are my daughter… but don’t. Please, don’t. Maybe you’re just angry, you have a bad period, you’re under pressure, it’s understandable. But she will not dig that deep into it. Do you want to know what will stick to her? I’m not enough. My best will never be enough, whatever my best will be. I’m a disappointment, and that’s it. I will never be good enough for her…
Don’t kill her self-esteem like that. She is, before everything else, your daughter. The person you love most. Don’t cut her wings with your anger, they will never grow back. And no material gift will make up for the things you told her when you had a bad period. Never.
The not good enough is, as you already know, a hard to bear weight, so why put it on your child’s shoulders? Not always easy is good. Mostly, it isn’t.
Admit when you’re wrong.
You might be her parent, but you’re only human, after all. And that means you’ll make mistakes when it comes to your relationship, as many as her. Be the better person in the story, and show her the right way of doing things, by apologizing when you’re wrong. Maybe it proves that she was right about something, or that she knew better. Tell her. This will only make you grow in her eyes, as not that many parents admit their wrongs in front of their children. If you want her to admit her mistakes, the easiest way is to show that you’re making mistakes too, that you’re an older human, not a god who’s always knowing the best about everything and anything.
Allow her to make mistakes.
When we’re young, we all make mistakes, this is how we learn. But if you’re making at 40 the mistakes typical for a teenager or a young adult, it only proves that you haven’t learned a thing, my mom used to tell me. And she was right. We rarely learn from our close one’s mistakes and this usually happens only after we have our fair share of personal bad decisions. It’s only natural to happen this way. If you see that someone is not fitting into her social circle, or that a boy is not a good fit for her personality, do your job and tell her. But don’t go to forbidding her to see/communicate to that person. Of course, you’ve probably seen that movie countless times before, but keep in mind that it’s her first one, so don’t spoil the ending for her.
Somehow, if you know that she’s slipping on a dangerous slope, be the grown-up of the story and stop her as you still can. But when we talk about the typical teenage misfittings, let her do her thing, and just make sure that she knows she can count on you whenever things go south. Let her know that the family will always be her safe space, even if she was wrong. That will make so much more for your teenage than a long list of interdictions- by the way, do you remember how much you used to hate whenever the grown-ups were busting into your life and not respecting your limits? Great. Don’t do it, until it’s really needed, in this case. Otherwise, she’ll never learn.
Be your most authentical self.
Yeah, the common narrative tells you that you should always be responsible, severe, and the one who knows best. Somehow, the teenagers have some secret sensor for fakeness, especially when it comes to their close ones. So be who you are. Share with her your real opinions about the hot topics- music, fashion, pop culture, hobbies, whatever little things make her tick. Show her what makes you tick, as well- maybe she will like ABBA as well if you showed her their music! Don’t try to be the picture-perfect role model, who always has her life together. Try to remain curious, though: learn about the things that matter for her generation and ask her why.
Keep always in a corner of your mind that you are the teacher of the most important lesson, which is the way she should treat herself. You are teaching her this chapter since forever, by the way you act, talk, walk and dress, but now there came the moment of a new paragraph: the one about setting up the boundaries for other people. Be honest with her and yourself about how you managed to learn this skill, and let her know it is fine to say no. Even if this means she will tell you no sometimes as well.
It’s okay to admit that you don’t understand some of those things, but the key is to show real interest to them. This will build a stronger bridge between the two of you.
Pay attention to the little things.
The teenage years are a tricky period when the way we see ourselves changes as the days go by. This means that you have to pay some extra attention to the details of your teenager’s life. Be careful with the way she talks about herself, her sleep, eating, and social patterns. If any of those are changing in a noticeable way, you two should talk. Make sure that she doesn’t have some unknown emotional struggles that might affect her. Emotional suffering can be translated into modified sleep, eating, and social patterns. If she’s sleeping too much, or maybe she’s got insomnia, if she eats too much, or is always on a diet, if her scholar results are poor and she is giving signs that she can’t focus on her homework the way she used to, if she goes out almost always, or maybe not at all, even though she used to love going out with her friends, you should talk to her. Not to read her diary, not to talk to her teachers or her friends, but with her. Tell her that you’ve noticed the changes and that you worry about her, remind her that she’s worthy, loved, and you will help her manage whatever it is that is stressing her out.
I cannot tell how important this is. Not when so many teenage girls struggle with depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders. Not when so many teenage girls hate their bodies, feel unworthy, and are even harming themselves. In this context, being your girl’s safety space can make a huge difference. Maybe even between life and death.
The teenage years are hard to put into words. I still battle some ghosts from mine, even if mom was a huge support figure of mine. It is understandable that no book, workshop, or coach could prepare you for those years and their challenges. Somehow, being human and remembering that you used to be a teenager too might be a good start, even if it will be still a rough one. These are the most important things I could possibly think about. Of course, I’m not a parent, but I’m not that far from a teenager’s point of view, as I am still young. And their perspectives should matter to you more than any outsider’s word. Just take a look inside yourself and you will see that the knowledge about how to behave properly during this time of your lives has always been there. Just open up and enjoy the ride!