There is something I have become exceptionally skilled at.
It’s not driving while giving what, I believe, are subtle life lessons to captive 15-year-olds, or ignoring work emails that are a waste of time. It’s holding things in.
I was in the shower the other morning, negotiating with myself over how to handle the fact that a boring domestic chore I’d given my two older daughters hadn’t been done.
Do I let it go? (Little voice says, ‘Do you really want to have an argument this morning?’)
If I do let it go, what is it teaching them about responsibilities and work and that sometimes in life you just have to DO things you don’t want to? (By now I’m not even feeling that warm stream of water over my body.)
What is it saying about my parenting skills that they haven’t done it? (I can’t remember if I conditioned or just shampooed twice or if I washed my face.)
As I hopped out of the shower and grabbed a towel that could have been a lot drier, I thought there is so much advice out there about life and teens and the majority sagely say things like, pick your battles, sometimes you have to let things go and my absolute favourite: remember you are the adult, act like one.
And that was when I was almost struck by a bolt of lightening in my bathroom. Except it was a thought. A radical, explosive, splitting thought. I came up with my Holding Things In Theory.
I'm a woman who, due to who I am, roles, expectations, stereotypes and other cultural studies buzzwords, has been holding things in for decades.
When I was a teen I was a good girl. I didn’t tell the boys what I really thought when they were obnoxious or insulting at parties. That made you difficult. That’s not what fun, good girls did. They went with the flow. They adapted. They morphed. They were easygoing.
So I held it in.
When I was in my 20s and started working at a big corporation and some male bosses said and did things – that would never be tolerated now – I didn't make a fuss. Only women who either lacked a sense of humour or couldn't hack it did that. I had a sense of humour and I thought I was capable.
So I held it in.
When I had three children under five, I simply forgot how to let it out.
So I held it in.
Now, in my 40s, working with two teens and a tween, I take that expert advice more often than not and I hold it in.
Which means I’m due to explode.
I mustn’t be the only one. I can imagine there are so many women out there who have held things in more than I have and I’ve got the feeling we are all like very thin, stretched balloons.
It's so ingrained in me, it's become a habit. As a grown woman I am the keeper of the peace, the one who doesn't make a fuss, the good mother who doesn't lose her dial over a load of washing not being done (that would just scar the children).
I do realise people may say you don't come across as someone who holds things in, but it's not as if we are holding our breath like Veruca Salt on the verge of a tantrum. We follow Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule: if you practice something for 10,000 hours you become world class at it.
I know so many women like me, who just as we are finding our voices - or we don't care so much about what people think - we are told we need to hold back for the sake of the teenage kids. Walk away. You are the adult. Pick your battles. Yeah. Yeah. I've been doing that for decades - with everyone. But sometimes you want to let it out. Why can't teens sometimes see their loving mother run the fall gamut of emotions between 8 and 8.10am, just before school drop-off?
Why are we responsible for everyone's feelings, from teens to colleagues, when we open our mouths?
The only solution I can see, is to let a bit out, every now and then - with everybody. Don’t let everything out all at once because that would be counter-productive and just scare people (maybe that’s a good thing?).
I think we should allow ourselves to acknowledge that our feelings are valid, too. That when we are with others we don’t have to always be responsible for the harmony of the situation. We don’t have to take into account everyone else’s feelings first. We can listen to our instincts and if that instinct says make a fuss — make it.
It's not about being difficult or humourless or fragile. It's also not about being grumpy.
My Holding Things in Theory came to a very obvious conclusion. There are times when you need to let a little bit out, show how you really feel, what you really think, so you don't burst.
You let others do it. Now it's your turn.