Read an Excerpt
Too Good For Her Own Good
Breaking Free from the Burden of Female Responsibility
The Woman'S CodeOf Goodness
Our friend Janet had a dream. It came during a period of greater than usual stress.
"As the dream began I was trying to completely renovate a building a major apartment building. I was doing the whole thing by myself. The next thing I knew, I had to go to Africa for a business conference. I didn't know where I was supposed to go, to Capetown or Johannesburg. I was uneasy, frightened. My best friend just kept telling me, 'Get on the plane and go. You can do it, somebody on the plane is certain to know.' Then the dream shifted to home. I was trying to get Jimmy to bed. I kept saying to myself, I have to get this child to sleep. But Jimmy was screaming, he wouldn't go to bed. He screamed, and then Adam started yelling at me because Jimmy was screaming. Finally, I started screaming. I just put my hands over my ears and screamed. The screaming was real. Adam woke me up. I realized I was dreaming, or screaming, the story of my life."
Janet is a woman who worries continually, never feeling good enough about who she is or what she does. She ministers to her family, she does her best to be there for her many friends, and she pushes herself to achieve more and more in her business. What seems obvious to us is totally hidden to her: She's too good for her own good. Yet her response is to try frantically to do and be better. When we try to tell her what a good person she is, she says, "Yes, but you don't see me when I get mad.
"A few nights after the dream I woke Adam up at four in the morning. I was feeling overwhelmed, and Ihadn't slept at all. I said to him, 'You've got to give me more help. I can't get up this morning and, if I don't get up, you won't know what to give Jimmy for breakfast or what to pack in his lunch.' Adam looked at me and said, 'You must be depressed or something.' For a minute I thought, maybe that's the problem. I'm just crazy. Then I got mad. I said, 'I'm not crazy or emotionally disturbed, damn it, I need more help. You've got to do more!' He turned over and said, 'I'll try.'
"You have to understand, in my family, being good meant doing what was expected. If you complained, there was something wrong with you. It still feels that way to me. When I do anything for myself I say to myself, 'this must be bad.' When I get mad, I feel crazy. If I need anybody or want anything for myself, I feel bad."
"Does anything that you do ever make you feel good?" we asked her.
"I only think about how good I am as a mother. But it doesn't run through my head to think I'm a good person. Like in the dream, I'm always feeling panic that I can never do enough, never get it done. Sometimes I get furious about all this pressure that's on me. Yet I know if I express that, I'm going to make more work for myself. So I just keep doing what has to be done. I feel I have a moral obligation to see that certain things are taken care of."
"Doesn't Adam help at all?" we keep asking her. "Certainly he would do more if you did less and expected more from him."
"Sometimes it's hard for me to took to Adam for emotional support or help. It's hard for me to trust that it will really be there. Often I'll send Jimmy to Adam for something, and he'll run back saying, 'Daddy's too busy, Daddy doesn't want to do it.' Adam is busy. But sometimes it's just hopeless with men. One day I was entertaining people from his office. I was getting ready and he was out playing tennis. When he got back, I asked him if he would make the coffee. He said, 'I don't know how to make coffee.' So I said, 'Well, then, go down and put the wash in the dryer for me.' He said, 'I'm not sure which clothes go in which load.' A few days later, I'd decided I'd had enough so I showed him how to make the coffee. The next morning I waited for him to do it. He put the coffee in the pot without a filter, so what did I get for my efforts? Grounds in my cup. I get angry and then I feel bad, sorry for him.
"On days that I'm particularly busy with work, sometimes he'll push himself to do things he wouldn't ordinarily do. He likes it that I'm competent. And when I work I feel very competent-it's much easier
than the rest of my life so the tendency is to work all the time. You can get a lot of positive strokes for working."
"But does that make you feel good about who you are?" we ask again.
"Well, I think I have a good life. I do many of the things I want to do. I love my work and I enjoy my family. When I finished graduate school and took on a new career I felt wonderful about myself. But truthfully, since that dream, I keep wondering what price I've paid. There's little time to think. You can't even count on having any time to yourself when you finally get to bed. You never know when you're going to feel a small hand on you in the night saying, 'I need you.' The week when I had the dream I did think I could just leave them all and move away. I'm just so tired."
As it does for Janet, when you're a woman, being good comes almost by instinct. It could be said that to be a woman is to be good. Goodness consists of all those small things you do each day from the time you plant your feet on the floor. The gestures are simple, and because they are you barely notice them and neither does anybody else.Too Good For Her Own Good
Breaking Free from the Burden of Female Responsibility. Copyright © by Claudia Bepko. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.