Wife. Mother. Stay-at-home mom. Volunteer. Daughter. Sister. Student. Believer. Cook. House Cleaner. Those are all the roles I am, or have a history of, putting before my most important role: Kristin. There is nothing wrong with any of those roles. They’re all important, and I love being in them. The problem is that I’m more comfortable in those roles, and feel they all have more worth, than being simply Kristin.
Somewhere along the way, I started believing that just Kristin was not enough. That I needed to constantly be “doing” to prove my worth. “Kristin” was not valuable, but “straight-A student Kristin” was. “Kristin” was ignorable, but “wife of Matt Maher” was someone people would feel was interesting. I had to be constantly filling one of these roles to justify myself to the world: It’s OK that I am here. I belong because I am doing this, this, this, this, and this.
But if you’re only performing roles to prove your worth, you can lose the joy in them.
Volunteering becomes less about helping other people and more about having to work to be loved. Playtime is less about enjoying the moment with your kids and more about “This is what they expect and need for them to love me.” I hope you don’t know the exhaustion of believing that you have to earn your love, but I think many of us do.
I was with my therapist the other day, talking about how anxious I feel when I go to a coffee shop to write. When I plan out my day and plan that hour of respite, my brain starts ticking off how much there is to be done at home. I could be playing with my kids, cleaning the house, doing the dishes, folding laundry, training my dog, meal prepping for the week — anything but taking time (selfishly, I think) for myself.
To turn off those lists, I sometimes have to change the context: “But you may be able to help someone not fall into the same traps you did!” It’s silly because by taking this time — plugging into my “Peaceful Piano” Spotify playlist, eating some gluten-free or vegan baked concoction (that I probably couldn’t match even if I had stayed home), and writing actually fuels me to do all those roles. I am a better wife, mother, stay-at-home mom and volunteer when I have taken the time to do something Kristin likes, purely because Kristin likes it.
I’m working on the role of Kristin now — trying to find and acknowledge my worth and value, even when I am not “doing.” It seems silly because if you asked me if my son needs to be a straight-A student, or have the cleanest room, or be able to perform the perfect floss for me to love him, I would say, “Of course not!” When my daughter throws a temper tantrum and tells me she doesn’t like me, do I love her less or think less of her because she’s not being a “perfect” daughter? No. Never. So why, when I think of myself, do I expect those things?
Rationally, I can see it, which I’m hoping is the first step. Emotionally, I’m still not there. But I hope the more I try to become aware of it — the more I hold up my big stop sign and say, “Nope. You do not have to do that in order for people to like you, in order for you to like you” — the closer I’ll be to actually believing it.