“Your 20’s are your ‘selfish’ years. It’s a decade to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. Be selfish with your time, and all the aspects of you. Tinker with shit, travel, explore, love a lot, love a little, and never touch the ground.” – Kyoko Escamilla
I grew up watching the women in my family pour every inch of themselves into others. My grandmother would always be on her feet at family gatherings. From the early morning to late in the night, she’d make her rounds from the kitchen to the living room, to the porch. She’d ensure that everyone was comfortable enough to have a good time.
Like many women, her dedication to her family didn’t start or end with family dinners. Her sacrifices spanned a lifetime. I never learned how much of her own dreams she gave up to make everyone else comfortable. Yet I’m blessed to have seen the aftermath of such large sacrifices in my own mother’s life.
When I was a child, every year that passed seemed to allow my mother to reveal another layer of her life.
My mother’s marriage to my father had her emotions brimming over the edge of silence. Her grief would seep out over the kitchen table or afternoon trips to the park. Once I became a teenager I was privy to some of her biggest fears. The root of those fears came from her decision to place my father and her children before her own needs and wants.
She spent her twenties surviving and dating a man who knew how to make his life comfortable. The men in my life seemed to be either natural or educated on how to be selfish. While the women’s teachings highlighted the art of sacrifice.
Once married, my mother moved two states over to live in the hot wasteland also known as Florida. She knew no one except my father and his family — an unwelcoming group who viewed non-blood relatives like passersby. In the span of nine years, she bore four children.
Loneliness was like the grim reaper, always waiting for a decent opportunity. When us kids could finally speak and respond in thoughtful ways she felt brave enough to be candid. She’d express sadness about my father not having an interest in developing his relationship with her or us kids. And she felt lost with the realization she still didn’t know what her calling was in life. It hurt her that my father could still choose his career goals while she was routinely expected to choose us.
The biggest questions that came out of my conversations with her was: Is it possible to decide to be selfish and also be there for people who depend on you to support them? Morally, are you in the wrong?
Her fears and inner dilemmas passed down to me.
The effects of intergenerational trauma are unique for every family. But, as women, effects are often parallel. As pieces of my mother were replaced with pieces of us I’ve felt obligated to figure out how to give back. If not to her directly then to the universe. In some ways, I feel as though I own a debt. And the only way I can pay my debt is through the currency I received it: time. Time is payment I see many women give as they move through their lives as wives and mothers.
My desire to become wholly selfless for my future family isn’t intuitive. A huge chunk of it’s fueled with guilt and conditioning. Why should I live for myself if my mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother lived so that I could be in comfort?
It’s a neverending cycle that could stop with me making a choice to not take part in always sacrificing my wants.
What would breaking my family’s cycle look like? First, it would be choosing to have money of my own. As I get more serious with my boyfriend it’s vital for me to have my own pocket of savings stashed away. I call it my “in case this goes South” fund. I know, not at all romantic. But if I learned anything from my obsession with the romance genre, life’s not like how things are on the page. And women should always understand no one can look out for their financial future/freedom like they themselves can.
Asking myself where I want to live is another way to break away from selflessness. The women in my family shouldn’t have been indefinitely tied to the jobs their partners decided to take. Of course, there’s some give and take in relationships when opportunity knocks. But, over the course of decades, one person’s career journey shouldn’t continue to eclipse the other. One person shouldn’t have a monopoly on dreams.
Truthfully, I’m still naive about this part of life. I have yet to start my marriage journey. Still, I can’t shake the discomfort that comes with imagining a life of me always standing on the sidelines while my partner is making moves.
According to the quote above, I have six more years of selfishness.
There shouldn’t be a cap on the time you have to choose yourself. Even when you’re a partner, a parent, or a caregiver. My mother thought once she married and had children those selfish years were long gone. In reality, exploring life and figuring on what she wanted from it never had an end date.
When there are other people involved I understand one can’t always get what they want. And even if my desire to give doesn’t come natural, giving still makes me happy. I enjoy seeing my loved ones feel supported by me as they reach for their dreams. But, I don’t plan on sacrificing my own goals as some sort of martyr.
I hope the women in my family stop ignoring their dreams under the guise of the greater good. I hope they realize no matter how much they give no one is going to ask them to stop. We never asked my mom to stop. I never asked her to stop. It’s because as kids and partners, well, we tend to be selfish. And life without my mother — life without a woman — giving me everything I needed felt terrifying.
No, there’s never a right time to be a selfish woman, but we still have to find time to do it anyway. Preferably, be selfish when it does the least amount of damage to others. I plan to take back my time, my career, and my joy. Living out my dreams is how I choose to repay my debt. Being selfish doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I accept the comfort the women in my family have given me. And use the comfort to chase my dreams. One day, I intend to pass that comfort done to my own daughter. I’ll tell her to do the same.