Life Purpose & Women’s Work

I sit here on the sixth floor of a hotel in Maui looking out over the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Just last evening I did a two hour sunset cruise with the tropical wind in my face, a tropical drink in my hand and the sight and sound of humpback whale tail slaps hitting the waters surface. Epic.

The reason why I’m here is that my parents come here for their winters and as they age, becoming increasingly frail and forgetful, I have stepped up to help. So my brother comes to settle them in and I now come to get them home. This role of caregiving as an adult daughter is not new to me. I have been doing so in some capacity for nearly 10-years.

Now, however, the work includes much more than it did in the past. Upon arrival I help my mom shower, clean up her legs, that have on average six abrasions at varying stages of infection at any one time, clip my dad’s eyebrows and ear hair, look at his irritated scalp, and advise him to go to the doctor. Next I fill mothers pill box and advise her on two new medications her doctor sent over with me. Then I fix them lunch and shortly after it’s time to help mother down to the beach with the assistance of her electric scooter, and Joseph from the beach shack, who has helped her carry her beach chair and towel every day since she arrived. Then after meeting all her friends and singing a few “oldies” with the younger Boomer on the beach who plays the ukulele, it is time to get mom back to the apartment to take her afternoon meds and start cooking dinner. After dinner of course there is cleanup and don’t forget a game of cards with mom or an argument with dad about what to watch or simply pleading with him to turn off the television that has been on since the moment I arrived.

So this is our days rhythm and it goes on for 7 days, including the final push of effort to get their condo boxes and their suitcases packed to go home. By the time I’m driving them to the airport, my nervous system is a wreck. I haven’t slept well, eaten well, drank too much as a poor coping mechanism and am generally at the end of my proverbial and literal rope. I’m dreaming about dropping into my hotel room bed, pulling the curtains and sleeping until I check out in 3-days time. But I’m in “paradise” they say, enjoy yourself, have fun, go out, swim, paddle, sip and feast. The reality is that none of that appeals to me at all, as I crave a deep and total stillness in a much cooler climate. Not to mention the $32 breakfast I had that included a waffle, bacon and coffee!

In and through this work, caring for my parents, I am continually turning over this question in my mind, “Am I living my life’s purpose?” We hear a lot today about doing what we are passionate about, living our life with purpose and intention. There’s also a lot of advice about how to get there. People who have had some kind of success like to share their wisdom with us in this area. We hear things like, “it’s all about the hustle, if you want something bad enough you have to go out and get it.” Or, “take more personal responsibility, don’t rely on any government or system or person to make your dreams a reality.” The all- American motto, word hard, have success, is still very much alive and well.

As I sat today and listened to just a few minutes of a similar podcast on “the secrets to success” it finally dawned on me why these talks always make me cringe and leave me feeling like I’m not doing enough. Because they do not calculate the work that is commonly referred to as women’s work. The work of caring for children, for families, for parents. The work of living our spiritual values and teaching social- emotional intelligence. The work of facilitating communication, peace-keeping, and harmonizing any given situation. The work of planning, organizing and executing family gatherings, outings and experiences. The work of remembering birthdays, anniversaries and any other special event that recognizes someone else. The work of loving and accepting and honoring all life. Where would we be if this work was valued as highly as “the hustle to achieve.” Please don’t misunderstand my intention. I know that many men have these traits and fill these traditionally held women’s roles very well and with great open heartedness. It is simply my experience in reflection of being a woman, in this time and in this place in my life. By the way, there are no trending videos on FB or TED talks about caring for our parents or the value of women’s work. Weird?

I have promised myself that the next time someone says to me, “what do you do” that I will sing out that I work full-time keeping my heart open and clear so that I may continue to heal and be my best self, whether that’s building apartments, coaching a client on mindfulness or bandaging my mothers legs after a fall.