Let’s talk about your needs, shall we?
Wait. Did we just sense you cringe? Or was it more of a clench? Just like the many parents who are sick of talking about NOT talking about Bruno, talking about our needs can be triggering and uncomfortable. Why? Well, our theory is that, culturally, we tend to conflate the out-loud identification of our needs with being “needy.” And neediness is often sketched with synonyms like: selfish, weak, annoying, demanding, and other words that make us uncomfortable.
As our buddy Maslow kindly identified for us, we all have needs–even parents. (At LEAST five kinds of them.) And at no point in revealing his findings did Maslow need-shame the other members of his species for having these needs, because the five primary needs he identified weren’t a light suggestion for those who wish to be happy or comfy—no, ma’am—these five needs were, in his estimation, required for survival:
Self-actualization: purpose, meaning, potential, acceptance
Self-esteem: confidence, achievement, respect, individuality
Love & belonging: friends, family, intimacy, connection
Safety & security: health, employment, home, stability
Physiological: air, food, water, shelter, clothing, sleep
At LUMO we believe that the seeds of parental overwhelm, breakdowns, and burnout are planted in the Land of Unmet Needs.
As parents, being responsible for the small humans in our lives can cause complicated (or, at times, negligent) relationships with our own needs. It’s easy to put ourselves at the bottom of this list and, particularly for mothers, this kind of selflessness is often deemed a positive parental attribute. Our culture actively celebrates the archetype of the saintly “selfless mother” who knows how to bake cookies, kiss boo boos, and suffer in silence. Women have been trained in UBER SELF SUFFICIENCY and warned against appearing “needy.” Our needs have been shamed out of us.
Mothers have an endless, ever-regenerating to-do list, and yet when we’re asked, “What do you need?” often all we can muster is a stunned, blank stare.
Something we at LUMO find both heartening and inspiring is that in working with our millennial parent clients, we’ve noticed that this generation of moms is far less apt to put up with the self-sacrificial B.S. that Boomers and Gen X’ers tolerated. And they are calling their partners to be exactly that: Partners in parenting.
Our culture isn’t going to change overnight, so the best place to get involved is by addressing your own needs and, maybe even more important than that, noting what happens when your needs aren’t getting met.
Have you ever been driving and one of your dashboard warning lights comes on? It’s a message that your car needs something. Gas. A new battery. Brake fluid. When those lights come on you pull over, get the manual out of the glove box, and figure out what your car needs. Maybe you can trouble-shoot this yourself, or maybe you need to call for roadside assistance. But you don’t judge the warning lights.
Unmet needs add up and lead to breakdowns. Boundaries are breached, resources drained, and we lose our sense of our identity as the concept of our own needs disappear on the horizon lines. We stall on the side of the metaphorical road, steam pouring from under our hood.
What does the breakdown state look like for you? We each have our own special breakdown blend. Think back to the last time you reached the end of your tether and ask yourself, what preceded that breakdown? Did you know it was coming? Chances are good that you had some warning signs.
We have internal warning lights that flash when there’s trouble. Once we identify our own warning signs and heed them, we can make sure our needs are properly serviced and steer clear of avoidable breakdowns.
What are your signs? How do you know you’re about to reach a breaking point? Do any of these warning signs sound familiar?
Hunger, tiredness, being snippy with others, passive aggression, physical pain (migraines, clenched jaw, tight neck), resentment, martyrdom (“I’m holding everything together, all by myself”), self-judgment, wobbly boundaries, self-soothing (TV-binging, drinking more, food as comfort), burying your feelings, or maybe you can’t control your emotions and find yourself scream-crying in the car or shower?
Now, grab a piece of paper, or open a note in your phone and jot down any signs that occur to you. Which is the first one that usually shows up? Which is the “last warning” before breakdown?
- What was your most recent breakdown?
- Do your breakdowns have a recurring theme?
- What’s predictable about your breakdown behavior?
- What feelings or body sensations arise when you’re having a breakdown?
- If you could revisit your last breakdown, what would you do differently?
- If you had responded to your signs earlier, what could have happened?
- BIG ONE HERE: What needs do your warning signs represent? Said differently, if you could go back in time, which of your needs would you meet to avoid the breakdown that transpired?
When you know your triggers and your pattern, you can pull over. Fuel yourself. Open your hood, and let off some steam. Recline your seat and have a rest. Call for support.
If you don’t, well… they will forcibly introduce themselves to you at some inconvenient hour. Best to get the meet and greet out of the way.
When we’re not getting our needs met, it can be easy to dismiss our feelings as “just being needy.” If we have food, a home, a family who loves us, and other great things going for us, asking for anything else may seem selfish. But our needs as individuals, and as new or expectant parents, aren’t as simple as food, shelter, and clothing.
We all have emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual, and deeply personal needs. It’s only when we don’t address our needs that we become needy. We enter a state of lack. Having needs isn’t the problem, it’s ignoring them that gets us into trouble.
Your needs matter. Honor them.