I like to call this the Chicken Back Syndrome. Preparing a chicken dinner, encouraging our husbands and children to take the best pieces—the breast, thighs and legs—and insisting that we actually like the chicken back best. And somehow, without question, everyone believes we’re just loopy enough to crave bone and gristle. After awhile, we even convince ourselves that those tiny scraps of meat buried between the ribs are worth the effort.
By reaching for the chicken back all the time we women train ourselves to ignore our own desires. At the same time, we teach everybody around us that we don’t matter, that our satisfaction comes solely from seeing the people that we love enjoy the spoils.
This was a lesson I’d learned very early on; it was poor form to “put someone else out” by insisting on what I really wanted. I still remember, as a senior in college, standing in line at one of those Mrs. Field’s shops in the mall, aghast because the woman in front of me wouldn’t accept the cookie the clerk had shoved in the bag. She kept pointing to the selection in the display case until he chose the one she wanted, the big one all the way in back. What a bitch for wasting everybody’s time, I’d thought, even though I’d ended up paying the same price for the sad-excuse-for-a-cookie she had turned down.
I believed that nice women took what was offered them, and kept their yaps shut. Food, space, attention, it was all the same.
When my children were little they had no sense that I existed separate and apart from them. Especially after their father and I got divorced. My world revolved around caring for them. There were no boundaries, no closed doors. They slept in my bed until they were 37. They argued with me while I sat on the toilet. They ruled the TV, and the weekend agenda. Nag me long enough, and I would drop what I was doing to satisfy a whim. When I refused them their wishes in favor of my own, they smelled my guilt, and took advantage of it. They weren’t bad kids, I had taught them to treat me that way.
Like my mother before me, I had come to believe that if I went along with what everybody else wanted, if I sacrificed in the name of being a good wife or mother, if I denied that I had a preference, if I put away my desires like an old sewing project, then I would earn my family’s undying love. Truth be told, I didn’t believe I was lovable simply for being the woman I was.
Instead of reaping my just reward, here’s what happened:
- I learned that teenagers and undying love don’t actually go together.
- My kids developed a sense of entitlement that won’t serve them well in the world.
- I became resentful and anxious because I’d relinquished control.
- I gained a lot of weight because, with no room for softness and romance, I made love to cake.
So, it’s no wonder I forgot who I was and what I wanted after a few years of that. It was hard to remember I liked breast meat after eating chicken back.
Eventually I decided that, as a woman, it was never going to be my turn, unless I TOOK it. I realized that an overweight, anxious, resentful, passive aggressive woman with no life just ain’t sexy. Think of what people like that draw to them!
So, for some reason I no longer remember, I went off on a solitary bike trip to the heart of France. I met fabulous people, couples who’d been married forever and were still enthralled, and I came home with a vision of a life I knew I could love. I screwed up the courage to go after my desires. And believe me, I faced plenty of guff. I invested in myself, pampered myself, because somehow I sensed that no one would love me until I could love myself. And miracle upon miracle, I met and married a man who treats me like a goddess, and in the process I learned how to RECEIVE, not just give.
There are a few expressions I’ve run into a lot lately, geared mostly to business, but completely applicable to what we’re talking about here.
1. People will only be willing to invest in you to the degree that you’re willing to invest in yourself.
2. You don’t get what you’re worth; you get what you negotiate.
Here’s some things each one of us should consider:
What would you need to do in order to become, as Mama Gena would say, a walking billboard of what it means to be living YOUR dreams?
What’s one way that you might invest in yourself?
What would you put on your DESIRE List?
If you see yourself in any of this, I’ve got a suggestion to shake things up. Just for starters, go out and buy a cookie—the biggest, most chocolate-chippy cookie in the whole display case—even if it takes half an hour and there are 13 people waiting impatiently behind you. Negotiate the small things, and the big things will follow.
And tonight? Place the chicken breast on your plate and the leg and eat the whole damned thing. It’s your job to teach your kids that other people matter.
A woman who takes care of herself first, who recognizes that no one is happy if mama ain’t happy, is sexy as shit.
I mean, really, when’s the last time you wanted to hang out with a martyr?
Ann Sheybani, 49, is a speaker, writer, and coach. She teaches women how to say no, cut the nice-girl crap, and reclaim their power through adventure. Embrace the person you were always meant to be. And watch how you attract better jobs, exciting partners and friends. Ann’s children are 20 and 23; her four stepchildren range in age from 19 to 31. Of this, she says, “Nothing says loving like four teenagers who don’t like each other under one roof…” You can read her blog at www.annsheybani.com