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February 20, 2024

May 10, 2023

How to Communicate Your Needs as a Mom: Why Being Selfless is Unsustainable in Motherhood

E:
172
with
Mara Glatzel
Author

What You'll Learn

  • Why We Struggle with Communicating Our Needs
  • How We Are Conditioned to Ignore Our Own Needs
  • Why We Feel Resentful When Our Needs Aren’t Met
  • Needs vs. Wants (and Why Both Matter)
  • Taking Radical Responsibility for Our Own Needs
  • Why Communicating Our Needs Is Important
  • How to Stop Meeting Everyone Else’s Needs Before Our Own
  • How Rebuilding Our Self-Trust Helps Us Meet Our Needs

As moms, we’re often socialized to be selfless—to put everyone else’s needs above our own, leaving us on the backburner. But when we deplete ourselves and neglect our own needs, it often leads to mental health struggles, resentment, relationship conflict, and burnout. Unlearning that socializing and discovering how to communicate your needs isn’t always easy. 

Today, I’m joined by Mara Glatzel, author of Needy to discuss why moms deserve to be a priority and how they can take responsibility for their own needs. 

Trying to Become Needless

For a long time in my life, I tried to be as needless as possible. I was raised in a home with a lot of raised voices—and I learned not to “misbehave” or show emotions that might escalate that behavior. 

When my parents got divorced, I stepped into a caregiver role for my younger brother. I didn’t want to contribute to the conflict, so I acted as if I didn’t even have needs. Instead, I became a people-pleaser and a perfectionist, determined to handle everything flawlessly.

As I got older and became interested in dating, I continued to suppress my own needs. I changed what I wore, what I liked, and even what my hair color looked like based on the opinions of others. I never wanted to be seen as “too much” or as “needy.” 

I was the product of a lifetime of socialization that said that women should pour into those around them without asking anything in return.

It wasn’t until after I became a mom that I realized how deep that socialization ran and how big of an impact it had on my life. Once I had kids, that drive for people-pleasing and taking care of everyone became unsustainable. I was barely coping, and yet I was trying to be and do all the things for my kids. 

I had to do a lot of unlearning, a lot of rewriting my story, and a lot of learning how to recognize and advocate for my own needs. 

So when I came across Mara’s book, I knew I had to read it. I loved the idea of flipping the script on being “needy,” and learning to look at needs as important instead of selfish. And I couldn’t wait to talk with her more about how to communicate your needs and advocate for yourself. 

Why We Struggle with Communicating Our Needs

Before Mara had kids, she believed that she knew how to care for herself. She practiced self-care often. But once she became a mom, she realized how little she understood how to actually express what she needed. 

Well-meaning people would ask her, “what do you need?” And she wouldn’t even know how to respond. 

This is something I hear from clients often. We might know that we’re drowning, but we don’t even understand what we truly need (let alone how to communicate our needs to our support system). 

Mara pointed out that we don’t have models in our lives of people who speak about their needs positively—or even neutrally. Because of that, we don’t get the skills we need. We don’t even truly understand what counts as a need or what’s reasonable to ask for. 

We don’t have models in our lives of people who speak about their needs positively—or even neutrally.

We might become specialists in determining what we think other people want to give us—but we often don’t think about what our needs would look like if we took all the other factors off the table 

Mara said that’s the place to start—envisioning what you would ask for if you could ask for anything. Once you understand your needs, it becomes easier to enter into compromise or communication with those around us. 

How We Are Conditioned to Ignore Our Own Needs

In many ways, we are taught to ignore our own needs from a young age. Some of us, like me, began to push our own needs down to avoid conflict. Others do it to be seen as “good” or worthy of love. 

The pattern continues as we grow older. Mara likened it to diet culture, which seeks to disconnect us from ourselves because it keeps us buying the next thing. In the process, we stop learning how to listen to our bodies and respond to our hunger cues. 

The same thing happens with our emotional cues as well. When we suppress our needs or view them as a barrier to love and attention, we stop learning how to recognize and meet them. 

Mara pointed out that when we are in the throes of postpartum, we might not even know how to take care of the new person we become. Our bodies have changed, our priorities have changed, and our needs have changed—but we don’t know how to tune into those needs. 

We put our own needs on the backburner because we think we’re supposed to. But in actuality, our needs are in many ways more important when we become moms. Mara said that we are the vessel for everything that happens for our children. If we’re not taken care of and we can’t meet those needs, it’s unsustainable. 

Why We Feel Resentful When Our Needs Aren’t Met

When we struggle with how to communicate our needs, we often end up feeling resentful and uncared for. 

Mara said that often human beings have competing needs. This can be very apparent in the postpartum period—a baby has survival needs, parents need sleep, and it can feel impossible for everyone to get their needs met. 

This conflict of needs can arise often in our relationships, and if we don’t know how to communicate it can lead to struggle. If you feel as if your needs aren’t being met, or that they are shut down or dismissed, you likely aren’t going to communicate freely in the future, likely creating even more conflict and resentment. 

Mara said that there are ways we can express our needs and still attune to and validate other people’s needs. But it requires learning healthy boundary-setting and communication skills. 

There are ways we can express our needs and still attune to and validate other people’s needs.

When there aren't boundaries and there aren't clear conversations, there's so much room for misunderstanding, which often leave us feeling as though we aren’t being cared for—as if we don’t belong. 

A sense of belonging is a strong need that we have from the time we are children. This is often what we are seeking when we people-please or try to fit in with other people. Mara pointed out that we don’t realize that belonging to others at the expense of belonging to ourselves can lead us to think that the best version of us is when we are doing everything for everyone else. 

But this often leaves us feeling lonely, even when we are surrounded by others. 

Needs vs. Wants (and Why Both Matter)

For many of us, by the time we become moms, we have been pouring into everyone else around us for so long we don’t realize that there is any other way to live. We meet everyone’s needs at the expense of our own. 

This might leave us feeling misunderstood, unseen, unacknowledged, or unvalued. But the thought of advocating for our own needs still feels impossible. We often feel as thought we’re burdening people when we ask for help or try to communicate how much we’re struggling. 

Mara pointed out that many of us feel as though we can only need so many things—and we often focus on the physical. But we also have real mental, emotional, and spiritual needs—and when those aren’t met, we feel pain. 

We need celebration, contribution, connection. We need joy and love. And asking for those things isn’t selfish. 

Mara also said that we should move away from the idea of needs being more important than wants. She said that the need is the “what” and the want is the “how.” They should be put side by side. 

For example, maybe the need is to feel loved and the want is the way that makes you in particular feel loved—perhaps a hug or words of affirmation. Our needs and wants work in tandem with each other. 

Our needs and wants work in tandem with each other. 

Just like we might be hungry but want pizza instead of a sandwich, we might have preferences in how we want our needs met. The more attuned we can be to the want and the how, the easier it is to communicate our needs and even to meet them ourselves.

Taking Radical Responsibility for Our Own Needs

Sometimes when we are feeling unseen, it can be very frustrating when our needs go unnoticed. Mara shared that when her children were very young, she would want her husband to come home from work and understand what her day had been like. It wasn’t just about getting a break—she wanted him to see what had gone into the day. 

But she had to refocus that and realize that she was the only one there—and that meant she was the best equipped to meet that need for acknowledgement. She was looking for something that her partner wasn’t truly able to give her. 

Often the validation or affirmation that we need can begin with us. We can moments throughout the day to meet our own needs. This can be as small as choosing to take the time to grab your favorite coffee mug from the back of the cabinet instead of just grabbing the first one you see. Or it can be bigger, like praising ourselves for navigating a meltdown without losing patience. 

When our needs aren’t being met, we often feel like it’s someone else’s fault. But Mara believes in taking radical responsibility for our own needs. Ultimately, we are the steward of our own needs. 

Ultimately, we are the steward of our own needs.

That doesn’t mean that our partner shouldn’t work to meet our needs. But it does mean that we are responsible for those needs, and that means advocating for them out loud and in the presence of the people in our lives. 

Why Communicating Our Needs Is Important

It can feel uncomfortable and vulnerable to voice those needs out loud. And figuring out how everyone can get their needs met can be tricky—especially when our children are little. But everybody in the family deserves to have their needs met. 

We have to approach these conversations openly, bringing our needs to the table. Then, together, we can come up with creative solutions that ensure everyone’s needs are prioritized. 

It might be tempting to think that our partner should just know what our needs are. But if we never communicate them, if we never plan for them, if we never work together, then how can we expect them to know? 

Sometimes this can arise from a childhood wound—perhaps our own needs weren’t met as children and we’re carrying that pain and looking for someone to take care of us. Or it might stem from resentment that we can see and identify our partner’s needs but they don’t reciprocate. We might feel like if we spend all day taking care of others, someone should do the same for us. 

That feeling is valid. But self-responsibility matters. We can advocate for our own needs and make sure that they are met. 

We can advocate for our own needs and make sure that they are met.

Once we being advocating for our needs, we can start to see real shifts. Maybe we spend marginally less time with our child, but the quality is greater because we took the time to meet our own needs. 

Or maybe we spend less time doing acts of service for our partner, but our attitude about it feels better. Mara said that when we start embracing our needs, we can see how everybody in the family benefits when we become a priority. 

How to Stop Meeting Everyone Else’s Needs Before Our Own

Mara said that one of the best places to start is to practice not swooping in to meet other people’s needs automatically. 

While it’s great to anticipate our children’s needs within reason, we don’t need to do the same with other adults in our life. Start to notice where you are reading their minds and jumping in before they even ask for help. 

Perhaps we try to help when our partner looks overwhelmed with the baby, or we pack the diaper bag before they take the kids to the park. We can take a step back and realize that they might not even need or want us to do these things—and if they do, they can ask. 

So often, we make assumptions about others’ needs without even having clear conversations about it. We might be expressing love the way we want to be loved instead of the way they want to be loved. When we stop the practice of automatically trying to meet everyone’s needs, we open up the door for conversations about needs. 

Mara suggested telling your partner or a friend or family member that you are practicing not intervening until asked, encouraging them to express their needs. In turn, we can open ourselves up to communicate our own needs. 

As we start to take a step back from meeting everyone else’s needs, we will likely also find that we have more capacity to take care of our own.

How Rebuilding Our Self-Trust Helps Us Meet Our Needs

Ultimately, Mara said that the crux of this work is rebuilding your relationship with yourself and rebuilding your own self-trust. We don’t know what we need (or how to communicate our needs) if we’re not taking the time to be with ourselves. 

She said to start by checking in with yourself everyday. This can be a short check-in where you pause and ask yourself what you need. Maybe it’s rest. Maybe it’s attention. Maybe it’s alone time. Practice getting curious about your needs and tuning into them. 

We want to move the needle from, “How do I fit my needs in to my day” to “This is where I am, how can I create a flow for my day that meets me here?”

She also suggested carving out one non-negotiable for ourselves everyday. This can be as simple as drinking your coffee while it’s hot, getting dressed in real clothes, or brushing your teeth by yourself without your phone. Taking this time to be present with ourselves and reset can go a long way. 

We can also practice making commitments to things we actually want to do—not just things we think we should do. 

It takes practice to tune into our own needs, have compassion and grace for ourselves, and begin communicating our needs to others. 

But Mara pointed out that while many of us might think we don’t know how to meet our own needs, we have the skillset—we’ve been doing it for other people our entire lives. Now, we just need to put those skills into ourselves. 

Working with a mom therapist can help you learn to prioritize your needs, break out of resentment, and open the lines of communication with your support system! Book a FREE 15 minute virtual conversation with one of our specialists today.

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Tags:

Communication, Priorities, Relationship dynamics

Stage:

Trying to conceive, pregnancy, postpartum, motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Mara Glatzel
Author

Mara Glatzel, MSW (she/her) is a coach, podcast host, and author of Needy: How to Advocate for Your Needs and Claim Your Sovereignty. Mara helps humans stop abandoning themselves and start reclaiming their humanity through embracing their needs and honoring their natural energy rhythms. Her superpower is saying what you need to hear when you need to hear it and she is here to help you believe in yourself as much as she believes in you. Find out more at MaraGlatzel.com.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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