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Selfless or Less of Self?

2 Comments 15 June 2010

As I said early this week, my post on Peaking Early provided me with great feedback from several readers and I have enjoyed ruminating over their ideas and reactions a great deal.  One in particular that I think speaks to so many issues came from yet another friend of mine from college.  Her comment is below:

Jorja, you are living the real life, your Big Life, is the impact you are making on those that live in your home every day. You were the star at SU, my hero and someone who seemed to understand folks and their struggles, even before a word was spoken. You are still that today and I sit in awe of what you handle daily. I think all of us who are stay at home mom’s, think we could have done more, but at what price? I would love to open a children’s book store some day, will it happen? Maybe, maybe not. What will my children remember, when I am gone? I hope that I helped them be all that and will keep them out of the therapist chair. You rock.

This was my response:

The risk of a blog like this is of course that you can’t say it all. I am well aware of my impact on my children, it is by far my highest and greatest joy. However, when I am writing about my experience, and it is uniquely that, mine…I am writing about how I laid down my passions and pursuing my gifts even in the midst of the early years of raising my children. I am a firm believer that having a life that nurtures my soul is not mutually exclusive to being fully committed to my family. What I have seen over the last two decades in my own life and the lives of countless women is the idea that being self-less has been confused with the equivalent of being less of self. I have come to a different point of view and attempted to express that view with this blog. I know my children, now 15, 13 and 10 have seen me give my life to them, but I also want them to see a mother who has a life outside of being a mother. A woman that God created uniquely with gifts and talents to reflect Him and His glory to a world in and outside of her home. I especially want this for my daughter. Life is not always what we expect it to be and there a many women who wanted nothing more than to be married, raise children and have lives in their homes. However, many of them, my dear friends, have found themselves in mid-life without a spouse to support them due to a painful divorce or unexpected death and the lack of a life outside of motherhood has left them wondering. So, don’t misread my comments about my “Big Life” to mean that I don’t value it, life has just lead me to believe that it is not the sum of all that I am. Love you girl! (& p.s. – I am pretty sure that therapy is inevitable for mine…I just hope that I am not scarring them too badly! ;) )

I wanted to put these two comments front and center today because I think there is a true struggle here for women.  I am not so naive as to think that women can “have it all.”  There are few women left today who would argue that a full-time career can be had while raising a family without tremendous sacrifice.  That is not the issue I am tackling here…I am talking about the propensity of women to lay down everything, all of who they are and be absorbed…to disappear…into their spouse’s and/or their kid’s lives.

Just ask yourself, is this about being selfless or is it just easier to be less of myself and get my identity from being a wife and mother?  That may all be well and good until something unforeseen happens and those roles either change or disappear altogether.  I fully believe that women not only need to have a life outside of their roles of wife and mother, or job and career for that matter, for their own health and sanity, but I believe they need to for the health and sanity of their children.

I have really enjoyed reading Sue Monk Kidd .  I know a lot of people know her for her works of fiction, especially The Secret Life of Bees, but I have found much to ponder from reading another book of hers. When the Heart Waits is a non-fiction book that considers the spiritual life and the questions that we must struggle through in the midst of mid-life.

I found When the Heart Waits to be particularly helpful and I am getting ready to read it for the second time. Kidd writes about her own spiritual journey and since I am a huge fan of personal stories and how we see so much of ourselves in the stories of others, I can’t wait to start again.

Kidd mentions Carl Jung in the book and I came across this Jung quote in another one of his writings.  I believe that Jung hits a nerve on this very topic that I am rambling about today.  (While I do not espouse all that Jung wrote or thought, I do believe we can learn great things from great minds, of which Jung was one.)  Jung wrote, “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”  This idea of an “unlived” life of a parent is worth considering.

I don’t profess to have any answers here, and I don’t want us to get lost in semantics.  Let’s just consider this the beginning of a discussion.  I would love to hear your thoughts.  I can be a loving and selfless mother and still have a self, can’t I?  What do you think?

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2 Comments so far

  1. Ginny says:

    Again, you must be psychic. . . I’ve been enjoying your posts and my five minutes of blog fame a few posts ago. :)Speaking of valleys, I think I’ve stalled out in Death Valley more than once. But I’m afraid I find the Jung quote unsettling perhaps because, as Kierkegaard writes, “There is nothing with which every man is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much he is capable of doing and becoming.” But as for the question of the day, are being selfless and having a self mutually exclusive? No, I don’t think so. God created us to be in relationship and to have relationships we must have a self; again this brings Kierkegaard to mind. In Sickness Unto Death, he argues that trying to escape from who we are is trying to tear ourselves away from what God intended for us to be. In fact, he says that to want to be who we truly are is the very opposite of despair “because having a self, being a self, is the greatest, the infinite concession that has been made to man, but also eternity’s claim on him.” We can’t hide behind our children, husband, or housework or disappear into them. Well actually we can, but not for long. God desires to fellowship with me, Ginny– not Stan’s wife, the pastor’s wife, the mother of a special needs child, the mother of two preschoolers, the daughter of Ed and Virginia, but Ginny, the one juggling the many hats of mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, advocate. Now, the challenge is to live that self! 🙂 Just one more K. quote: “To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.”

    • Jorja says:

      Ginny, as always, very thought provoking. Thank you for taking the time to think outloud and to bring K to the table…great stuff lady!

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things to make you wonder~

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...” Annie Dillard

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