I originally wrote this blog post on my (now defunct) personal blog a few years ago, following an exercise I had done as part of my therapy, looking at my versions of the “ideal” wife and mother. As I am now divorced and am now a business owner (which comes with its own pre-conceived notions) it feels like time to do an updated version.

All of us have deep-rooted “beliefs” that affect our lives.  I don’t mean religious beliefs, although these can be an influence – rather I mean the things that deep down, regardless of what we say, we really believe are true.  So we might say that we deserve to be loved and cherished as much as the next person, but deep down we KNOW that we are worthless and unloveable.  We might say that we are accepting of all races, faiths and sexualities but deep down we KNOW that some people do things that are just plain wrong.  We might say that we are no better than anyone else and that everyone’s point of view counts, but really we KNOW that we are, and always will be, in the right.

I think you have got the idea.  Give a moment’s thought and you may realise what some of your beliefs are.  They are often at odds with how we presently conduct ourselves, and many of them come from things that were drummed into us in childhood.  Not all of these beliefs are a problem, but as my examples above suggest some of them can be profoundly unhelpful.  And tackling them is often a way to make progress.

Back in the day, what did I truly believe made the “perfect” wife?  Let’s see what I had written down….

  • The wife should be the stronger partner
  • She should be quiet and supportive
  • She knows her man inside and out
  • She is loving and sexually available
  • She is soft and voluptuous
  • She inspires awe in her husband
  • She is someone her husband can be proud of
  • She is beautiful, elegant, graceful, discreet and classy

Hmm.  That doesn’t sound much like me.  I mean, some of those things yes maybe on a good day.  But all of them?  All the time?  No.

Let’s move on to the “perfect” mother.  What did she look like to me a few years ago?

  • Creative
  • Full of energy, running around having fun
  • Always willing to play
  • Calm and wise
  • Loving
  • Dressed in jeans and trainers
  • Laid back and capable
  • Good cook
  • Strong, patient and kind
  • Attentive but firm
  • Has a bag full of everything her child might need

Again, some of those things maybe.  All of them?  Well good cook is out for a start!  I can manage the jeans and trainers, although personally I prefer Converse All-stars.

Added to those two lists was what I believed it meant to be a good woman.  It meant not allowing myself to be treated as inferior or to be made to believe that I am somehow “less” than.  It also meant not allowing the world to view “women’s things” as marginal, less important, weak or pathetic.  And it meant having autonomy over my own body.

Putting all of this down on paper, I quickly realised I had a problem. There I was, trying to be a sexually available feminist, who was always willing to play with her children yet elegant and graceful at all times.  I needed to be creative, attentive to my children, an excellent cook and always having fun, yet somehow finding the time to inspire awe in my husband (in some unspecified way).  I had autonomy over my body and was a strong woman, yet was classy and discreet, whilst not allowing myself to be side-lined.  I needed to be quiet and devote myself to my husband whilst not believing I was less important than him.  I was beautiful but wise and knew that appearances were irrelevant to my worth.

Who even IS that?  Do you know anyone like the woman I just described?  Would you want to know anyone like her?  Does anyone want to be married to her?  Do my children want to be brought up by her?

I realised I didn’t even like the sound of her.  It doesn’t sound like she ever experiences negative emotions, which is going to make her pretty lacking in empathy.  She sounds like she spends all of her time on how she looks and on creating games for her children, which suggests she is quite possibly, well, boring.  She also sounds like she has much to recommend her, no doubt about that.

The point is, she is not me, and she never was.

So it is no surprise then that having these ideals locked away inside my head was making me miserable.  I was, subconsciously, spending my time trying to live up to something that I could never achieve.  Something that was, in many cases, far removed from who I actually was and who I actually am.  So no matter what I did or how I behaved there was a part of me that KNEW, absolutely KNEW, I was not good enough.

That way madness lies.

By writing down all of these expectations in an honest way, it enabled me to see them for what they were. Nonsense.

Years later, I am now a girlfriend rather than a wife and I am now a business owner as well as a mother, and there was a time when “girlfriend” and “business owner” would also have meant certain things to me, things that are not necessarily anything to do with who I am. I feel so fortunate to have been able to do enough of the work on my mindset and wellbeing over the years that I am comfortable being Helen Calvert, who happens to be someone’s girlfriend, someone’s mum, someone’s coach and someone who manages a team. Rather than worrying about whether or not I measure up to some arbitrary set of “shoulds” that come with any of those labels.

So I invite you to write down your own lists. For each of the roles that you play in your life, can you list out the standards you are trying to live up to, perhaps unconsciously? Can you be honest about what you think you “should” be doing just because you are a parent or a spouse or a business owner or a particular gender? If you are able to make those lists and then see the contradictions inherent in them, or the possibly laughable nonsense you didn’t realise you were carrying around, the next step is to decide which of those beliefs are no longer serving you and what you would like to put in their place.

For me, all I need to keep in mind is my personal values, which I figured out a couple of years ago as part of a series of NLP. The things that matter to me are freedom, passion, joy, emotional safety, adventure, belonging, friendship, helping others, self respect and owning my own story. If I am getting those, working on those, planning those, growing those, maintaining those then all is well and I am me.

I don’t know who that other woman is.  I long ago left her behind.  She certainly has too much class to listen to cheesy pop music.  But I don’t, I love a bit of 1990s fromage.  So I leave you with the immortal words of Chesney Hawkes:

“No one can be myself like I can. For this job I’m the best man. And though this may be true, you are the one and only you.”

Helen Calvert
January 2022