I Don't Have to Be Wonder Woman

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Podcast: I Don't Have to Be Wonder Woman

Discussing what it means to be a woman who can "do it all"

By Focus on the Family Singapore | 11 March 2021

In this episode, we chat with Jennifer Heng (Director, Safe Place & Author, Walking Out of Secret Shame) and her husband, John Heng, on the multiple roles of a woman. What are some expectations women have on themselves? Is it realistic for women to be "wonderful" in all that they do? What are some practical things husbands can do to support their wives?

The transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

This month, in conjunction with World Women's Day on 8 Mar 2021, we turn the spotlight on women and womanhood. In our modern society, a lot has been said about the role of women in society in family and with that the idea of having it all.

On social media, we often see stylish moms with great careers and beautiful families and feel a sense of instant envy. It can be a real sense of expectation and comparison.

Well, before we delve into that, today we'll be speaking with husband and wife guests, John and Jennifer. Welcome! Why don’t you give an introduction of yourselves, so that our listeners know more about you?

Thanks for having us! I guess I can go first. My name is John. Jenn and I are married for 19 years now, and we have a daughter Alexis who's 10 this year.

And what keeps you busy?

Everything in our lives. Work keeps us busy, family, trying to stay sane amidst all the different expectations and responsibilities that we have...

…and COVID kind of puts a kink into everything and just elevates it to a different level so you know, just trying to manage.

I saw a post of both of you at your annual movie night. Would you like to tell us which movie it was?

Haha Wonder Woman.

And I saw a friend's comment on the photo, saying that it was you in the poster?

John thinks that I am a Wonder Woman and I'll let him tell you why.

Yeah, because she wonders all the time. She wonders where her keys are, where her watch is, or her glasses even though it's on top of her head, wonders where she parks the car.

Jenn, did you think some people consider you more than that you know, like a Wonder Woman?

Well, I have heard people described me that way as well, and I always found it very interesting. Sometimes I wonder if it is a compliment or not.

How about you, John? Do you think Jenn’s a Wonder Woman?

John: In a way, yes! If you reference Wonder Woman, then the movie actually shows two sides of her as a superhero and just as a normal person, right? I would say that Jenn is strong. She's determined. She is courageous. She pursues the things that she has a passion for.

But at the same time, she's got her soft spots. She still needs support. So, there will always be this strong part, and then the other part that needs support and is down to earth.

Both of you wear quite a few hats, and juggling roles is part of the idea of being a Wonder Woman - a person who’s supposed to be able to juggle all that you've been given. You guys also have a great love story. Do you think now, after 19 years, you're more mature in the way you approach your role as husband and wife?

Definitely! After 19 years, we better be more mature. I think it changes with the seasons and as we go along the years, seasons change, lifestyles change, priorities change, therefore the relationship also changes. For the most part, the change has been good and in sync with how we are also developing as individuals.

There are a lot of expectations — spoken and unspoken — of women and I think just the idea of being Wonder Woman is the fact that people only see what is on the outside.

For example, at work, people expect you to be a wonder working woman, and then they know that you're a mum, so they also expect you to be a wonder mum.

They know you're married, they will expect you to be a wonderful wife, and then if you are looking after your own extended family, they expect you to be wonder daughter, wonder sister, wonder everything, right?

So, maybe the pressure that women sometimes feel is that there is just no way I can be good at all these 8 to 10 hats that I'm wearing and then it becomes self-defeating. I think I have seen that in myself. I've seen that also in friends, in people that I help as well, and perhaps that's the part that we really need to address and move away from the unhealthy expectation.

As you mentioned, these are myths that we can be "wonder everything" and it’s really difficult. Have you had expectations of each other that were also sometimes unfair?

I think there always will be unfair expectations for me because I do a lot of frontline work. I am used to public speaking, leadership, being in the forefront of things and I'm generally the one up front.

But when I come home, I don't want to take leadership. I just want to be Jenn, the woman, the wife, not anything else, so the early years were even more difficult because I realised that I still had to juggle things at home.

It took many, many conversations; also many confrontations, discussions, and dialogues. I won't say that we are completely settled with that because as we grow older, we also have different things added onto our plates, so it is a constant dialogue that I need to have with John.

I may look really strong on the outside, but when I come home, I'm exhausted, my mental capacity is used up. I don't have energy to figure out what I'm going to eat for dinner, and whether I've planned everything for my child. We need to do this together and not just by myself. So, this is how we're also trying to work out the expectations.

I guess for us, it's knowing that need evolve at different milestones. When she comes back from work, she's tired. For me as well, when I come back from work in my capacity, I just need to shut down for a while, but at the same time we can't both shut down, right?

So, in the early days when we're trying to make these adjustments, we had arguments, talked it out, calmed down and then we learnt. We learnt how to negotiate with each other and say, "Okay, I'll just get this done, and then you get this done."

In the early days, I wasn't intentional in these things, which caused frustration. So husbands, if you're listening, it would be good to clarify and air it so that we can talk it through and then move on.

Your daughter is now 10 years old, but Jenn, let's talk about how your motherhood journey started? How both of you handled being a parent, a mum, a dad.

You know motherhood starts from the point you realise you're pregnant. Parenthood starts from that point. It doesn't start only when the baby is out.

Actually, the year when we got pregnant was a big year for me. I was starting a new church and I wrote a book. And then I got pregnant, all at the same time. Sometimes I laugh and I say I gave birth to three babies in one year.

I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to juggle all three and so the thing that I postponed for a year was the launch of my book. Of course the church had just started so I couldn't drop that.

It was probably one of the most challenging times of my life. Nothing could have prepared us for that, and one of the most difficult struggles I had was "how can I be good at everything?" That was the first time I realised that I really cannot be good at everything.

Acknowledging that was very difficult for me because I am a high achiever kind, I'm driven and I like to pursue success. That was very humbling and I struggled with a sense of self and asked myself, “Am I still good enough?”

John, how did you react?

There were changes for me too. While she was going through all that, I changed jobs. I was previously working with a venue, so it came to a point where I just decided I would quit and move on. A new job presented itself and I was able to step into that role, which allowed me to support the family. So, while she was adjusting, I was also trying to manage my own adjustments.

You had to be intentional in adjusting to Jenn because she mentioned about that. Was there a bit of guilt or perhaps loss of identity?

When it comes to these situations where people are tired out, you have to be able to step up and support. I think both of us were intentionally hands on.

I just tried to learn and help out as much as I can to relieve her stress. Taking care of her, feeding Alexis and stuff like that. So, when people ask us, "How come you’ve got this kind of bonding?"

I tell them that it’s a very natural thing, and being a father, it just kicks in. At the same time, we cannot make assumptions, especially if mum is a working mum right? There needs to be a time of just settling down and figuring it out together. As time went on, we went into a bit of a rhythm which helped.

I must add that John was very intentional in a lot of his decisions and actions, especially when we were new parents. He was intentional in being hands-on.

That really helped because I knew that even though he didn't know how to do it, he was trying.

The other thing is, we actually didn't have a lot of help externally; we don't have a helper and my mother helped us periodically and that was it. So, both of us were always tied up, especially on weekends. There were times when it was just really madness. We had to ask the church to babysit our child. I remember the times where I had to preach and Alexis was inconsolable.

She just needed me, so while preaching halfway, I would see one of our church members running in with Alexis and I would just grab her and just continue preaching!

I felt so bad, but I must say that when I speak to my church members and to different people, they say that it was the best message ever because we saw visually how it was like. That we just did family together. So, I think having the extended support network was very important for us in juggling all the responsibilities that we had.

It seems like that you were being a role model. Do you think that we need to have more role models around us to show us how it's done?

Definitely! I mean the role models are not just what you look like when you are successful, but what you look like when you are desperately feeling that you’re breaking down.

You are losing it, and wondering how you'll recover and get stronger from that. So, I think these kind of stories need to come out. Of course, social media with all its beauty doesn't help as people get envious and we don't see what goes on behind the scenes.

So there are real struggles, real tensions that we need to face. How can we prioritise our lives such that we don't lose ourselves, our marriage and our children?

These can be difficult conversations and I would say one of the things that I've learned is to appreciate and embrace the fact that we have seasons in our lives. You may not necessarily be able to accomplish all you want in one season, but if you think in terms of your entire life, you will have seasons where you're very good at your career and other seasons where you have to look after your children or elderly parents, or work on your marriage.

I don't think there should be any guilt in saying, "In this season, this is my priority."

Being a strong person also doesn't mean that you have to tough it out and do everything on your own. That's a very big misconception, or at least it looks like a front when people only show you the success stories right?

We talked about being willing to ask for help and not being afraid to accept help. If we didn't have our friends who came alongside us and looked after Alexis, I don't think we’d have made it through the number of years that we have. In the movie Wonder Woman, she needed help and she wasn't afraid to accept it. So I guess this should be an encouragement to us.

What are some tips you can offer to our listeners if they feel that "I don't feel like Wonder Woman" right now?

The first thing you can do is be honest with yourself and look at what is happening. Instead of just looking at what is going wrong, be honest with yourself and if it's really a small success, say for example you have a great relationship with your child, celebrate that! And work on that because we can get very overwhelmed with what we feel is not going well.

For the husbands, I would say this phrase “Happy wife, happy life.” So, one word of advice for brothers out there, do your housework without being told. It may be a small thing, but these little things add up to be something that's very helpful.

This pandemic season with working from home also adds another layer to complexity. If we're on calls at the same time and Alexis comes home, we have to figure that out. So sometimes it’s about sitting down and working this out.

That's really practical. Husbands, if you're listening, do the housework, don’t wait to be asked!

Jenn, you have been working with women through these years, right? And from your example, I believe most of them are witnessing and seeing how you are living out family life. What are some words of encouragement you have for women who may be struggling with some of the decisions they have made in the past?

I would say first of all, recognise that the season you're in may not be permanent. And so, have hope. Be hopeful that things will change because your child will get older, and at some point in time, will stop waking up three times a night. You will get some sleep eventually. If you're a single parent, you may not be a single parent forever. If your child may be a little hard to discipline at the moment, that may not be a permanent state as well.

Having hope that things will change is very important because if we don't have any sense of thatn we will be very discouraged. So, I definitely want to encourage everyone to appreciate and enjoy your present and have hope that your future can be better.

So true that our happiness cannot be hinged on things that we want to achieve, but by being assured that you are at the right place and have the right purpose.

Thank you, John and Jenn, for being with us today! We've heard so much insight and practical tips from you both!

© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


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