Mother, Martyr, Bitch?

BitchIt was a Wednesday night. I planned to take the evening off to relax and rejuvenate after a long week and weekend working. My man promised to make dinner so I could relax and I had a book picked out to read in front of the fire.

I was finishing up my work when I got the text from my man. It was 5:30. He was stuck in traffic and was getting a massage at our house at 6:30.
 
I texted him back, “Do you want me to get something started?”
 
“Yes,” he texted back. I asked what I should start. “Everything.” Alrighty then.
 
30 min later, he walks in. “Do you know how to sew? I ripped my coat.”
 
I quickly finished dinner, and we wolfed it down before his massage therapist arrived.
 
An hour and a half later, I had finished hand-sewing his coat and was finally ready to sit down and relax. Except that I was too exhausted to keep my eyes open.
 
Sighing, I gave up and got ready for bed.
 
By the time my man finished getting his massage, I was sobbing. I resented the fact that I whiled away my evening of rest do-ing. I resented the fact that I had to cook for him when he was supposed to be cooking for me. I resented him for getting a massage while I wasted my rest time mending his coat. Most of all, I was frustrated and angry with myself for yet again failing to keep a promise to myself and failing to take care of my needs.
 
“What's wrong?” He asked.
 
Through my sobbing I relayed my frustrations about spending my restful evening do-ing things for him.
 
“I never asked you to fix my coat,” he said. “I asked if you could sew. I was hoping you would teach me.”
 
I stopped and thought. He hadn't asked me to fix his coat; nor had he asked me to fix dinner, for that matter. Somewhere in my mind, “Can you sew?” had been translated to, “Will you fix my coat while I get a massage?”
 
He followed up this observation with a question, “What happened in your childhood to make you think you always had to do?”
 
It wasn't any one thing; it was everything. It was what was expected, how I was raised. I was taught that life was about being of service to others – at the expense of yourself. At the same time, I learned that people needed to be reminded – regularly – of your great sacrifice and service to them.
 
Mother = martyr.
 
That's how you prove your worth. That's how people know who you are and what value you have to them. It's sad, really.
 
Of course, the thing that really got me was that I have criticized and judged my mother for playing the role of the martyr many a time in my adult life. I even accused her of liking it, which she denied. Yet, there I was, playing out my role of martyr in the ‘mothering' years of my life.
 
Then it occurred to me: I have a choice. I don't have to be a martyr – or a mother, for that matter. Women in my generation have many more opportunities than our mothers did. We can choose to play out a different role, roles that our mothers never dreamed possible.
 
But if I'm not a martyr – if I'm not proving my worth by do-ing then what am I?
 
I learned growing up that I must be of service to others at my own expense. Anything less was selfish. So if I decide to choose differently – to not be of service at my own expense – then what does that make me? According to women who suffer the martyr complex, likely I'd be a selfish bitch.
 
Dictionary.com agrees: a bitch is “a malicious, unpleasant, selfish person, especially a woman.”
 
I disagree.
 
In her book, The Bitch, the Crone, and the Harlot, Susan Schacterle defines a bitch as, “A positive archetype of a Bitch at midlife is that of a woman who has become so comfortable with who she is that she doesn’t hesitate to take appropriate action in any situation. Her actions are no longer so governed by what others think, but rather by what she knows to be true. This is a woman whose intuition is so well-developed that she knows in her gut what to do. Part of her personal mission is to perform actions that are shaped by integrity, insight, and compassion. This woman can make things happen anywhere but, unlike the street-defined bitch, there is no selfishness, no unkindness about her; she takes action and creates results that are the highest and best for everyone involved, within a framework of wisdom and love.”
 
Now that's a definition I can aspire to! Who wouldn't want to be a bitch with that definition? Sign me up!
 
Yet, if you called a woman a ‘bitch', I'm guessing very few would say thank you. The negative connotation of the term is too powerful.
 
So what if we, as women, decided to change that? What if we hung up our Superwoman capes and said ‘no thank you' to the martyr complex? What if we embraced our inner bitch, understanding that meant saying yes to our intuition? Our compassion? Ourselves? What if, for once, we were finally and truly comfortable in our own skin? What if we felt free to speak our truth and walk in our power?
 
I'm willing to aspire to be a bitch. Are you?

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