The Curse of the Capable Woman

Last year my husband started an Executive MBA program. He goes to work in the day, studies most nights and is in class many weekends. This is a big departure from the routine we created in which we co-created our family time and shared household and parenting responsibilities.

Fast forward several months and I realized that just because I could take on more, doesn’t mean that I should. All the stuff related to my house, coaching practice, and kids was getting done, but it was taking a toll on my outlook. I was becoming more more irritable with my kids, more distant from my husband (when he was around), and just generally feeling victimized by my great life.

Before he started school, we discussed at length how our family would shift to accommodate his investment in school. Together, we delegated out some of the household stuff that he normally does, we planned in quality time for him with the kids, and we increased our outside child care so that I had enough time for work and some self-care. Knowing that he was working hard to grow himself and his professional future, I was willing to take on more parenting and household duties. I know myself to be a capable, caring and efficient person and I was confident I could do it all.

Of course, my first instinct was to blame my husband (I am human, after all!) But the truth is that I am the one who raised my hand to take on so much. And I am the one who kept picking up and putting back together all the pieces of our life as things got busier and more complicated than we ever expected.

Honestly, it makes me feel important and needed and strong to do so much for so many.

I’ve come to call this The Curse of the Capable Woman!
You CAN do so much, so you DO, but what gets lost is YOU.

Fortunately (and aided by years of investing in this kind of mindset-shifting work) I went quickly from noticing my grumpy resentment to realizing that my husband and kids were:

  1. not doing this to me. I was doing it to me.
  2. they wanted and needed a sane, positive, grounded, cared-for ME more than they needed all the stuff I was doing for them.

I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by allowing myself to fade into the functional background of our life.

I sat my husband down and had the hard conversation that I didn’t want to have. I told him that, although I appreciated the heartfelt thanks he regularly offered for all that I was doing, what I needed was for him to carve out time and energy to invest in me, and in us.

Old fears around asking for too much, being too needy, not being satisfied or grateful enough came up (big-time!). I felt embarrassed and weak at the thought of asking this hard-working, kind-hearted man that he needed to add more to his already demanding schedule, and that the more was me.

Ultimately, I felt so proud of myself. By advocating for myself, I was also advocating for our relationship, and trusting that what my husband (and everyone who cares about or relies on me) wants is for me to be whole and loved and supported; that is the source of my strength and capability.

Now my husband goes to work a little later a few days a week and we spend that time before the kids are awake chatting about life. We’ve created a schedule of times in the upcoming months when we can get away together and we trade who plans each adventure or date. It doesn’t matter much what we DO, what matters is that we are investing time and energy both in our relationship, but also in each other.

Do you have your own version of The Curse of the Capable Woman? Is there an area in your life where you’re doing more and feeling resentful about it?

If you are someone who habitually gives more than you receive, I invite you to take a minute and reflect how your energy might shift if you were to acknowledge your true feelings, and then ask for what you want, regardless of how scary or impossible it feels. You are more than what you do, and the world needs your beautiful being!