I just watched the riveting film Before Midnight starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke and directed by Richard Linklater. All three share writing credits for the film that is set in Greece. It's the third in a series of films about two people's relationship that is jarring and poignant. I don't want to give away the plot, but I also must share a part of the film that struck a chord. So, read on if you don't mind hearing about a speech late in the film.
The main character, a woman who was at one time a free spirit, now in her forties, is talking about her sacrifices that comes with her long-term relationship and children. Her famous author husband stays with their twin girls while she works at a job she is not passionate about. He also tours around Europe and America on book tours and leaves her with the kids. She has made the usual sacrifices in terms of caring for all the details of the household. Those include being chief cook and bottle washer and helping to care for his son from his previous marriage when he visits.
The truly fascinating part of the movie, for me, was her outrage at being overwhelmed with responsibilities. She is frustrated by caring for him and their kids, but it is more about the dilemma of self-care for all women. Celine, the female protagonist, quotes a refrigerator magnet to him: "Women explore for eternity in the vast garden of sacrifice." All this goes on during what is supposed to be a romantic get-away night from their kids. It escalates because they have uninterrupted time away from childcare, work and writing to be with their feelings. Well, at least to be with her feelings. He seems to be floating along, somewhat distracted. Clearly, he loves her, but he is not interested in exploring any serious relationship issues during their rare romantic night together. While he ponders the complexities of his son going back to live with his mother in the States, we are left to watch an explosion, or perhaps an implosion, by Celine.
In one of the most telling moments in the film, Celine's partner, Jesse, responds to her plea and complaint that she needs more self-care. He looks at her, listens and... agrees. At this point she storms off. This is the part in the film that resonated with me. Because so often, it seems women choose to martyr themselves before they will jump into self-care. When an entire infrastructure (your family) relies on you day in and day out, you don't always get a partner who agrees that you need self-care. But the worst thing is, sometimes, you can't even see the need yourself, much less find the time to schedule it into the family calendar. In this scene, Celine gives up on the notion of self-care before Jesse can even take it away from her. You could argue that his needs may often come first when daily demands are met. But it is telling that she walks away at that very point in the conversation when he is suggesting she does need to put herself first more often. He goes on later to argue that if she spent more time taking action with her hobbies and desires than she did complaining, she would be an amazing musician. Jesse has a point.
I work with a lot of women, especially stay-at-home artist moms, counseling them to follow their feelings and intuition and take steps towards self-care. It's often a conversation stopper when I ask them what they do for fun. Knowing the answer for yourself is a good bet that you understand and practice self-care. Celine is correct when she asserts in the film that most women seem to be hard-wired to care for others. That is a theme that runs throughout the movie. In the film, Jesse takes care of his art, which in this case, is his writing. While his wife's art (music) has fallen by the wayside as she cares for their children.
Speaking as a former career woman and current stay-at-home wife and mom, I've always naturally enjoyed having fun and sought it out. But, i definitely have gotten bogged down in caring for the family. I credit my husband with helping to expand my hobbies. I became mesmerized by a Ducati sport bike after a woman friend told me she had one and loved it. My husband bought me a Ducati on credit and surprised me with it. This month, we paid it off. When things get crazy around here, I go for a ride.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, they have the acronym H.A.L.T. It means don't let yourself get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired. My acronym is M.E.W.S.E.R. That stands for meditation, exercise, writing, sex, early (bedtime) and riding. When I'm out of whack at home with the husband and the kids, that means my acronym is missing a few letters!
Do you have a self-care motto to follow? An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If Celine had been doing her self-care in Before Midnight, we might have actually seen a hot sex scene in the film.
The calm moms I know tend to be irreverent, on the war path for fun and follow their creative passions. Of course they get frustrated with the demands of daily life, but they also seem to keep their sense of humor. I'd argue that if more of us women did our self-care with wild abandon, our home lives and our romantic getaways would exceed our expectations for happiness. As my kids' principal once told me, "Happy wife, happy life." Indeed, when we dare to go for what we really want as women, everyone wins.