The Cinderella Complex
The failure to recognize choices is creating a new disorder that I call the Cinderella Complex
by Marlene Chism
Founder of www.stopyourdrama.com
“I want it all” I heard a woman say at a recent Authentic Power workshop. That statement made me realize that this state of mind––of wanting it all and believing that “getting it all” is possible–– is creating a lot of guilt and stress.
Women want it all, including balance and the end result is stress. The guilt comes from having incongruent values: The woman who takes a career break to stay home with her children may feel unproductive because she is out of the career loop. The woman who travels or has a high-powered career may believe she is failing as a mother if she doesn’t bake homemade cookies for PTA. The paradox is this: the only way to achieve balance is to make choices. The very word “choice” means giving up one thing to have another. Trying to have it all or be it all is the very thing that makes balance so illusive.
The failure to recognize choices is creating a new disorder that I call the Cinderella Complex:
- Believing in what is possible without looking at what is realistic,
- Trying to cram your foot into a glass slipper that doesn’t fit;
- And waiting to be rescued by Prince Charming.
No wonder we all feel so stressed!
If you wish your partner shared the responsibilities, or that you had an equal partner relationship, but you are always stuck with the dishes and laundry while wishing you could go to the ball, then you probably have the Cinderella Complex. (If you haven’t asked, and haven’t reinforced your request by refusing to do more than your share, then no wonder you are stuck with a messy house, squalling kids and a load of laundry while Prince Charming is out golfing.)
I’ve heard the argument: “ I shouldn’t have to ask. When the pot is boiling over, the baby is squalling, the phone is ringing and the trash is overflowing, surely he could just notice!”
Well let me be your fairy godmother: He did notice. It’s just that he didn’t think of it as his job. After all, he sees himself as king of the castle. (This is the first stage of man’s development until a woman helps him to evolve to equal partner status.)
Case in point:
Not long ago I was speaking at a trade show for engineers and facility managers, and the audience was mostly men.
I illustrated the difference between duties at work and at home: “At work, when you notice someone in a crunch, you help out, pitch in, and do more than is expected. It’s called teamwork,” I said. “Why aren’t the same rules applied at home?”
“In contrast, your wife can be sick with the flu, the bills piling up, the kids squalling for lack of something to eat and you are more worried about whose job it is than to be a team player.” I raged on.
My final statement hit home: “The things that you get by with at home would get you fired at work.”
I paused decisively to capture the thoughtful expressions on each man in the room. I could almost see the light bulbs above their heads, as one man raised his hands as if he had just had an epiphany.
“My wife was recently sick with the flu and as a result the laundry was piled up, the bills were unpaid and there were no groceries in the house. I thought I was being a good husband by being kind and understanding. I told her that the groceries and laundry could wait until she felt like doing it. She raked me over the coals. I guess I should have actually done the laundry or shopped for groceries. I just simply considered those things to be her job,” he said. (See what I mean? He did notice… he just didn’t see it as his job.) The experts confirm this dilemma.
Arlie Hochschild, a sociology professor at University of California at Berkley, in her book The Second Shift, reports that only 20% of the men share the chores equally. And 10% do less than one third.
As far as him taking action and actually helping you out without being asked…as the song in the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1960’s musical “Cinderella” says, “It’s possible.” However, the song is talking about the possibility of a plain yellow pumpkin becoming a golden carriage, and four white mice becoming horseman. It may be possible, but it’s also unlikely.
Hochschild says that when men do housework or childcare they think of it as helping the wife or babysitting their children. She says in her book that most of the time the woman has to ask for the help or remind him to help.
In a nutshell, you’re going to have to keep asking for what you want until he gives up his crown, or until you quit giving him mixed messages.
In fairness to Price C., the real reason for your resentment is that you haven’t identified the real problem: You are trying to live June Cleaver’s life and build a career at the same time. Remember this: she didn’t work. She also didn’t have e-mail, faxes, cell phones and a host of other “time saving” devices competing for her attention.
Are you trying to cram your foot into a glass slipper that doesn’t fit any more? Do you believe in what is possible but fail to look at what is realistic? Are you waiting to be rescued?
You work full time, care for the kids, pick up the groceries, pay the bills, and expect Him to change?
Why would he? He’s got a good thing going on and he doesn’t plan on being responsible for cleaning the castle and caring for the kids while you go back to law school. He doesn’t buy into that fairytale, and in his mind, your nasty looks and sarcastic stabs are a small price to pay to keep the crown. You can’t really blame him can you? After all, you’re the one who has changed.
In frustration you sit in your own little corner in your own little chair trying to figure out why you don’t have an equal partnership at home and you can’t break through the glass ceiling at work.
Here’s a hint:
It’s tough to break through the glass ceiling at work when you’re wearing glass slippers at home. When you come to this realization, the tide turns. In frustration you revolt. (Have you noticed that in women’s history there is always an angry stage just before the change takes place?) In an effort to shift the power, you leave the Cinderella role and to the angst of your Prince, you become the wicked stepmother. My own Prince Charming reminded me of this as I was changing. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings,” he started, “but I was so much happier when you were not focused on creating your own career. You scare me sometimes.”
He’s got a point. What is scary to men is that in the beginning, he can ask you a question: “hey honey what’s for dinner,” and that question will lead to a gourmet meal and two hours of lovemaking. However, the same question asked ten years later is grounds for divorce.
“Hey honey, what’s for dinner? I’m starved!” says your prince.
“You think it’s MY job to fix you a meal? I’ve worked all day too!” You retort.
“I didn’t say it was, I just asked a simple question.” he replies.
“You are insinuating that because I’m the woman, I’m supposed to cook!” you say defending your position.
“I am not! I just want to know if there’s anything to eat?” he says.
“Well if you would open the fridge you’d see leftovers or cat food. Take your pick!” you exclaim.
This angry stage can strengthen or destroy a relationship.
How do you know when you have recovered from the Cinderella complex?
It is when you realize that if you want equal partnership, it has to work both ways. Maybe he would enjoy staying home with the kids for a year or two. Maybe he would like to leave the pressures of being the breadwinner behind. If he feels the freedom to change, he’ll be supportive of the changes you want to make. Leaving behind the fairy tale means there will be disagreements, as there are with any change. There will be power struggles. There will be disappointments. You might have to endure judgment from others about the way that you parent, or the way that you keep house or even about the ways your relationship with your husband changes. Because once you find your voice, you no longer have to hint, pout or resort to game-playing to get your way.
And the payoff is well worth it: you can both enjoy the castle, your shoes will be more comfortable, your real world will surpass any fairytale you once dreamed about, and now you can both go out for a game of golf.
About the Author:
Marlene Chism is president of ICARE Presentations. She works with people who want to be better communicators and with people who want to build rewarding relationships. To inquire about corporate workshops and keynote speaking, visit the web at www.icareconsult.com
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