I am a very family-oriented person. I love my family. Although I live at least six hours away from most of my immediate family members, I try to see them as often as possible, despite the wear and tear on my little car and on me.
Most times when I visit family, I enjoy the time I spend with them. However, sometimes I do not necessarily feel as if my presence is considered valuable or relevant, even when I make the sacrifice to travel so far. I'm sure my family doesn't deliberately try to make me feel this way; I'm sure they don't even think about it. It's difficult to relate to someone who isn't around all the time, and they often treat me as the person who left New York City back in 2000. Actually, sometimes it seems as if they treat me as the child they grew up with, not the woman I have become.
As the youngest in my family, I was often known for "needing attention" and for being a "drama queen". Truthfully, depending on whether you see those traits as negative or positive, I could possibly be both. Growing up, I often was told to be quiet when everyone else was sharing their opinion, and as I grew older, I learned that my opinion was valuable and valued by others. As a child, I loved to sing and dance, and if there was a play or talent show, I made sure to be part of it. I wanted to be an actress, but I was told by my father that I couldn't make money doing that (it wasn't that he tried to kill my dreams; he merely expressed the concern of the underprivileged everywhere). It is possible that I "need attention" because my opinion was often ignored or repressed, and that I am a "drama queen" because I love to be creative and animated. Unfortunately, for some in my family (and others I'm sure), those traits are negative.
Back in 2000, I left New York City to pursue a Master's degree in Counselor Education in western New York. I was also going through separation and an impending divorce. While it was a difficult time emotionally, I decided to pursue a goal I had put off while I was married and could not make decisions on my own. Throughout the last ten years, I have gained that degree, as well as confidence, self-sufficiency, and faith that I did not have before I left New York City and my family. In addition, I have been able to work in my chosen field of study, and have begun a doctoral program that is quite difficult to get into. I have good credit, a good reputation both professionally and personally, and I have friends and students who often show me they care about me.
Not always so with family. Often, I am ignored. While others are celebrated for bearing children or bringing a significant other to family events, it is rare that I will hear from my family that I am doing a good job taking care of myself and accomplishing goals that not many people achieve. I don't say that as an indictment against my family, however. What I've noticed is that most of society spends time, energy, and attention on women who get married and have children. It's as if we are not valuable or visible if we are not sacrificing our own needs to take care of others.
I may not be married or have children, but on top of my professional and personal accomplishments, I take care of many others. When I am with my family, I shower my little nieces and nephews with love. I play with them, I hug them, and I tell them I love them; something I rarely heard as a child. I try to show my disabled mother I care by caring for her physical needs when I visit; even watching her crazy television shows with her. My students know that I will go above and beyond to help them in whatever way I can, sometimes sacrificing personal time and energy (even money) to show them that someone cares. Anyone who I spend quality time with gets my complete attention. I don't text or email or call anyone when I'm with someone. I believe that whoever I'm with deserves for me to be completely present.
Lastly, I have learned to take care of myself. I write, I read, I work out, I pray, I attend church, I take vacations, I go on mini-adventures, I treat myself, I try not to judge myself, and I tell myself I love myself. I pat myself on the back, because I don't take for granted the fruit of my own labor. I also don't take for granted the blessings I have received from my Heavenly Father, to Whom I am not invisible.
Women who do not have husbands or children still work hard, still make sacrifices, still take care of others, and at the end of the day, we have to take care of ourselves because there's no one to take care of us. Being a wife or mother might be a thankless job, but being a self-sufficient, strong and powerful woman is not only thankless job, but one that receives no value or credit. The next time you come across a single woman who is taking care of business, don't pity her or act as if she's not visible or relevant. Instead, congratulate her and let her know you see her.
Yep, I said it.