“Growing up, I never knew a relaxed woman.”
I saw this post the other day and that first line hit hard enough to prompt me to read the entire post. I reflected on the main women in my life: my mom, my grandma’s, my aunts. When I think of them, my first thought is that they are successful, productive, and busy women.
Growing up, most of my classmates had stay at home moms or moms with flexible schedules. Those were the mom’s who volunteered for every field trip and activity day, the ones who were front row at every concert whether it was midday or in the evening. I had a working mom. A mom who got up, got me ready for school, packed my lunch, and worked full-time. When she came home she made dinner, took care of me, and probably did a lot of other things I was oblivious to as a child.
I'll give an honourable mention to my dad was also a full-time working parent, but in this case I’m just reflecting on the women in my life.
Both my grandmothers were hard workers. On my mom’s side, my grandparents divorced after several years of marriage, and my grandma took on the majority (if not all) of the responsibility to take care of her three daughters. She worked multiple jobs, cooked fresh food everyday so everyone had nutritious meals to full their bellies, and when I came along, she helped take care of me too. I remember the days when she would pick me up from school, take me home and feed me dinner, give me a shower, and then with my aunts around to babysit, she’d leave for work.
On my dad’s side, my grandma was an entrepreneur, a woman who took charge of just about every aspect of her life. She and my dad’s stepfather owned a restaurant in 70s, which they ran all while trying to raise a young child in a new country. After they sold that business, she moved on to other ventures, and found long term success that allowed her to buy a property and life comfortably until she retired. In between her busy work weeks, she found time on the weekends to have me over for sleepovers, taking me out to mall or the park and cooking enormous amounts of food for my family.
As an Indo-Caribbean woman, I find this pattern all too common in our community. What I also notice is that after a lifetime of being busy, our women struggle to relax, to truly take time for themselves. Truthfully, I think most women don’t really know how to do that because it was never modelled to them, nor did they ever experience it. Sometimes they resist it.
My grandma (my mom’s mom) retired in 2019, not out of choice but because her health called for it. For the first time in decades she had to take it easy and not be on her feet for multiple hours a day, and she completely resented it for the first couple years. My grandma is a woman who kept herself busy at all times even after my mom and her sister moved out and started their own families. An early riser, she’d get up, clean her house, go do her errands, cook multiple dishes that she would distribute to all her daughters families, and go to work. When she retired and found herself home all day, she was bored and didn’t know how to spend her day. It’s taken her a few years to settle into a routine and find herself in this new season of life. Despite that, she still vocalizes that she doesn’t like to sit still all day, and would gladly fall back into her old routine if she could.
I’ve also watched my mom learn to relax over the past couple years. While the pandemic was a scary time for everyone, I am grateful for the fact that it allowed so many parents the opportunity to relax. For the first time in years, without work or school to keep my mom busy, she relaxed, discovered new hobbies and interests, and in doing so, she now prioritizes her personal time to indulge in those things. It's been an adjustment to see her shift her time away from family care, but I've also realized that it's selfish of me. Considering my parents married and had me young I'm glad my mom can dedicate time to explore things she likely didn't earlier on.
Naturally, I think there are many factors that influence this mindset of productivity and constant movement. Our mothers and grandmothers have always been under pressure to perform whether it was from their own parents, cultural expectations, because they immigrated to countries where success was expected, because rest was considered a luxury and something that was only allowed to people with privilege, because they had bills to pay and mouths to feed.
Sometimes I find myself sinking into that feeling too. The pressure of being a first-generation Canadian, and having access to opportunities my parents and grandparents didn’t, I feel like I have to succeed not just for myself, but for them. For everyone before me who didn't get to live with the level of freedom I do.
We live in a society that glamorizes grind culture, the hustle, being a “girl boss”. While all of these things can be great motivation, I personally find myself struggling when I’m in a “slower” season of life. When I can’t list multiple recent accomplishments or the ones I can think of are from months or even a year ago. I go into overdrive thinking what's next, what's my next project or goal. Learning to not equate self-worth to accomplishments is honestly challenging. Especially when for so many of us we are experiencing a version of life that has never been modelled or allowed before to the women before us.
That being said, I am a woman who loves to relax. I love to spend time lost in my hobbies, my brain shut off from thinking about deadlines or projects. I like to enjoy the parts of life that have nothing to do with my career. But as I’m currently in a busy season of life, I struggle to find a balance. I feel I need to check a certain number of boxes on my to-do list in order to earn and enjoy the down time.
As I inch deeper into adulthood, into womanhood, I look to the women around me for examples of who I hope to become and what habits I want to develop. A line that's always stuck with me is "our parents did they best they could with what they had". The women in my life are amazing in every way. Now it's my turn to set examples. The ability to rest, to model self-care and being in a state of relaxation is part of who I want to become. I can model that to the women in my life and to the younger girls in my family.
We should know that we can show up in the world ready to kick ass, but also slip into comfy pyjamas and binge our favourite shows. Because you know what, that’s just as valuable too!!