- Women juggling multiple roles and responsibilities often feel guilty making themselves a priority and feel exhausted and overwhelmed.
- The modern feminist enemy is unequal expectations of productivity and unequal access to rest.
- Restorative feminism is a framework to help women recover from life circumstances and mindsets that keep them stuck in unfulfilling situations.
I am a clinical psychologist, college professor, entrepreneur, holistic coach for women, and mother to three young daughters. I’ve always considered myself a fierce feminist with the goal of “having it all.” I have two sisters and a brother, and our parents raised us all to know we could succeed in any endeavor we pursued. I have a close-knit network of badass successful women who “have it all." But do we?
Like most of the professional women I know, I've always overworked, overproduced, and under-rested in pursuit of "having it all" and being "successful" in male-dominated institutions. I’ve proven that I can do anything as well as (or better) than male peers. I've played the game, and I've played it well. But at what cost?
Over the past few years, I've become painfully aware of the ways that I have pushed myself aside and delayed my life balance to serve systems that don't serve me—to "take one for the team," to "make the safe choice," to develop "stability," to "put my kids first," or the help the "greater good." I see the same patterns with my clients, friends, relatives, and colleagues.
Women juggling multiple roles and responsibilities often sacrifice their own well-being, feel guilty making themselves a priority, and feel exhausted and overwhelmed. The goal of "having it all" can have lasting effects on women that can show up as:
- Insecurity and low self-worth.
- Guilt, shame, anger, and resentment.
- Anxiety, depression, alcohol overuse, addiction, etc.
- People-pleasing and unhealthy boundaries.
- Toxic relationship cycles.
- Chronic pain, insomnia, illness.
- Persistent pressure, stress, and exhaustion.
We feel like we aren’t doing enough, that we need to “earn” our breaks, that resting is wasting time, and that we have to constantly check things off our to-do list. Stay-at-home moms and women who choose not to have children often feel guilty about those choices, as if they have somehow disappointed their fellow feminists. We are exhausted and underappreciated, but grateful for our success and opportunities. We are surviving, but not quite thriving. Why is this “having it all”?
I have seen the pervasiveness of this struggle in Glennon Doyle’s Untamed and Tricia Hersey’s work on the importance of reclaiming our right to Rest as Resistance to systems of oppression. Because when we talk about “having it all,” we are usually talking about career, family, money, happiness—ideals that are perpetuated by capitalist, patriarchal, and white-centric systems. We aren’t talking about rest, peace, calm, life balance, or being content in the moment.
But what is feminism if it isn’t about living the life we choose based on our own values, beliefs, priorities, and pleasures? Why isn’t being a stay-at-home mom viewed by all with as much reverence as being a working mom? Why do women feel validated by how busy we are, how little sleep we get, how stressed we are, and how overwhelmed we are? Why are those modern feminist badges of honor?
In a podcast discussion between Tricia Hersey and Glennon Doyle’s team on We Can Do Hard Things, they discussed the seemingly opposite goals of white feminism and rest as resistance. While I was listening, I was battling morning traffic on my more than one-hour commute from daycare to my office. I was stressed about running late, feeling guilty about leaving my crying toddler, and worried about how my undergraduate students would receive the material in my upcoming classes.
I was the quintessential badass professional woman that morning, successfully battling the daily grind. And that podcast gave me clarity and the empowerment to embrace it—why was I working so hard in all domains of my life? Why was I so focused on working hard today to enjoy life tomorrow? Why was I delaying rest, hobbies, and other goals?
That day, I started rethinking my feminist framework. I started viewing typical feminist drive as something necessary to establish women’s legitimacy in the workforce, but a barrier to true equity. Why do women still work so hard to succeed in male-dominated white-centric systems that thrive when we serve them before ourselves?
My conclusion: If I want true gender equity for myself and my daughters, I have to exercise my right to rest, recharge, and make myself a priority. I can’t be a martyr to grind culture or a martyr to my motherhood.
In Untamed, Doyle writes:
“Every generation of parents receives a memo … Our memo: Here is your baby. This is the moment you have been waiting for your entire life: when the hole in your heart is filled and you finally become complete… Parenting will require all of you; please parent with your mind, body, and soul… We got a terrible memo. Our terrible memo is why we feel exhausted, neurotic, and guilty.”
That profound declaration resonated to my core. But I didn’t start implementing it fully until Hersey helped me see the critical role that rest has for equity. I am extremely proud of and grateful to my mom, stepmom, mentors, and all the women before me that worked so damn hard on feminist progress. And I don’t want to work so damn hard myself. I certainly don’t want my daughters to feel they need to continue proving their worth to the world by overextending themselves.
I have grappled with this idea—that traditional feminist ideals don’t promote true equity in today’s society. I want a framework that equally values professional pursuits, motherhood, productivity, innovation, success—and stay-at-home pursuits, choices to not have children, rest, balance, self-nurturing, and rejection of systems that don’t fit our personal values. The first feminist enemy was unequal access to rights and opportunities. But the modern feminist enemy is unequal expectations of productivity and unequal access to rest. As the enemy has changed, so must our tactics to defeat it.
I’m making the case for restorative feminism, a term I think denotes the much-needed focus on women’s rest, self-nurturing, and holistic life balance. I view restorative feminism as a framework that can help women recover from life circumstances and mindsets that keep them stuck in unfulfilling situations so they can reconnect with their true values, self-worth, and priorities to live their best authentic fulfilling life.
Personally, I am recovering from toxic sociocultural ideals and expectations that don't match my core values. I am rejecting the systems and expectations that don't fully align with what I want for my best authentic life, and I am fighting the insecurity, imposter syndrome, and guilt that have been imposed on me. I am reconnecting with my true self and my true power. I am maintaining healthier boundaries and I am embracing a “good enough” mentality. I am not raising my daughters to be "good girls" who fall in line and blindly follow rules/norms. I am raising them to demand equal access to rest as a human right.
But that is my journey based on my personal values, history, experiences, and goals. Every woman’s pursuit of restorative feminism will be unique as they reset, recharge, refocus, and rebalance.
Copyright 2023 Kelly E. Green, Ph.D., and The Center for Recovery and Reconnection, LLC.