Sometimes I think I should write a book about marriage and parenting, about how to be a woman who lives inside a family without losing her goddamn mind. My husband would likely not recommend this book. If asked to blurb it, he would write "Liz is incredibly selfish," and that would be fitting because chapter 1 would be titled "Be Fucking Selfish" and not just in the "affix your own oxygen mask first" variety which is the only kind of selfishness that women seem to be allowed.
I think every woman I know is struggling with balance, and no wonder because it's impossible to find balance when your center of gravity is somewhere outside of yourself. Even the language we use as and for mothers is problematic, like when a child or children is/are "the center of my world."
Clearly this lack of balance is a problem in marriages too, though I think for most of us it's more about mothering than wife-ing. Everything in the culture primes us for self-sacrifice, for putting our children first and ourselves last, and then we look across the table at our husband to whom it would never even occur to not take the most appealing slice of pie, and we think "I hate you. I hate everything about you. You're crushing my life."
(I should pause here to say that my husband is, at least at this stage in our lives, much more self-sacrificing than I. He is lovely. The children and I really like him.)
I don't think it's unusual or problematic for any of us to make sacrifices for the people we love. That's how society works. It's what keeps us from being lonely. It's how little groups of us can come together and build some kind of life. And at some points, in certain stages, little children are incredibly demanding. It's labor-intensive, the day-to-day of keeping a small person alive. And maybe sometimes we just get caught up in that, we get so used to the dependence, we forget that the goal is, if you raise your kids successfully, eventually you break up. They leave, they get their own lives and you get to go back to yours, and if you've spent all those years not building it into something that will make you happy? And it doesn't matter if that's work, or marathon-running, or reading lots and lots of books, because that's the whole point, it's different for everyone, you have to figure it out, and if you haven't, if you've spent years not thinking about what you want?
"Be your own center of gravity" is what I would tell my daughters if I had them, though I don't. I have sons, and so I don't have to tell them. They already know. Everything in the culture has been telling them from the day they were born.