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Following Mother's Pattern of
Putting Her Own Needs Last

QUESTION: I am a 24-year-old wife and mother of a two-year-old daughter. My husband has returned to the military after getting his college degree. We focused on his graduating and put my last year of college on hold. I never put myself first. My life revolves around my husband's job. I would love to finish school but as a military family, we're never anywhere long enough. I feel very resentful sometimes that my husband is living out his dream, while I don't even know the real person inside me. I have no hobbies or friends. I'm a very outgoing person who needs to have a life of her own.

My mother and father divorced when I was 13, and my mom raised my two younger brothers and me by herself. She worked hard to provide for us, always placing our needs ahead of her own. I feel I've learned this behavior from my mom.

I recently got a full-time job with an airline. I haven't even started yet and I'm already feeling guilty about not being home for my daughter. I want to be a mother who is also a person. Why do I feel so bad about having wants and needs?

ANSWER: Your mother's role model was a strong one. It is also reinforced by our culture -- once you become a mother, you are a mother first and a woman second! With these two strong forces influencing you, and your present isolation from family and friendships, it is no wonder you feel "bad."

You are vulnerable to guilt, yet you clearly see your own daughter as the stimulus for change. Your yearning to express your needs is a sign of health. Now it will be up to you to put some "bite in your bark" when you discuss the future with your husband.

You are an equal decision-maker in the family. What happened in your decision-making process that left you in this current unsatisfying predicament? If you are not happy with a military lifestyle, speak up. Marriage is a "quid pro quo," which is a legal term for "two-way street" -- helping one another by taking turns. Why didn't you take your turn to finish school once your husband graduated?

If you always defer to your husband's wishes you will be left with resentment, and he will lose intimacy in the relationship as a result of your feelings. Tenderness suffers when partners feel their sacrifices have not been reciprocated.

Parenthood does require some sacrifice, but this sacrifice will not make you an angry martyr if your husband shares equally. You and your husband took on the responsibilities of parenthood together. You didn't agree to forfeit your own development or always place your needs last.

Your guilt for taking a full-time job could be because you feel your daughter might be better off in less-than-full-time daycare. If so, listen to that voice. This time, ask your husband to make a change. It is possible that you are unintentionally mimicking your mother's role as a single mother, keeping yourself from using your husband as an available resource for your own growth.

If you wish to work or go to school, does this automatically imply that your daughter will be in full-time daycare? Do you and your husband discuss your needs and consider how he will contribute to the care-taking of his daughter? Should men never be asked to curtail their desires in order to share in parenting?

Although your mother seems to have done everything, this is your family and you have a right to create it differently. Talk with your husband. Make plans that keep your and your child's best interests at heart.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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