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Checking in with Maslow Looking at Life’s Priorities as a Parent

February 3, 2010
Times Observer

What is important to you? A new year’s test is to ask yourself this question from each of the roles you hold in your life. As a quote-seeker, I came across a relevant one about priorities for me from a surprise source.

“Control your time. If you're working off your in-box, you're working off the priorities of others…” This is a quote from Donald Rumsfeld.

The quote from Rumsfeld can be taken in as a metaphor for life. The in-boxes I am currently reacting to include email (home and work), phone (home and work), mail (home and work), an actual “in box” (work), and cubbies (at child care). Each of these sources is associated with a role, or roles, within my life. I started thinking backward toward simpler times and came across a premise, a model actually, that seemed to fit both then and now.

I first heard of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” in my early teens. His model was much more meaningful to me when I reviewed in my early 20s as a broke college student studying social work and it has new relevance now in my mid-30s as a wife, mother, daughter, daughter-in-law, friend, aunt, co-worker... As life becomes more complete, elements can compound toward potential chaos. So, let’s check in with Maslow.

Abraham Maslow wrote an influential paper in 1943 about the hierarchy of human needs. The needs outlined in Maslow’s writings were not unique but the process of development, of accomplishment progression was. The hierarchy is usually expressed in a triangular image with the most basic needs on the foundation. Maslow’s theory was that the basic/foundation needs had to be achieved prior to any advancement to higher levels.

Briefly, the needs as Maslow described them are: Physiological Needs – health, food, sleep; Safety Needs – place to live, free from danger; Belonging Needs – acceptance, love; Esteem Needs – thoughts of self and by others; The Need to Know and Understand – cognitive and academic; The Need for Aesthetic Beauty; and Self-actualization and Transcendence needs – creativity, fulfillment, achieving your potential and to help others meet their potential.

In action, the progression of the needs seems to make sense. How can you be expected to focus on how you fit within your community if you don’t even have food to eat? How can you develop mutual friendships if you are not able to sleep at night? If you don’t have a safe place to live, it is difficult to have a consistent positive self of self. If you’re constantly threatened by others, your attention may not be on how you look or smell. Maslow’s writings indicate his thinking that a person must be anchored in their community in order to develop self-esteem and self-worth. Maslow felt that self-esteem can be met through achievement and/or through gaining respect from others. It is as important to note that there are certainly examples where Maslow’s themes are challenged and even seem to be opposed in reality. Many people do seem to have strong, trusting relationships despite the dangerous community they reside in or achieve great things without feeling very positively about themselves. Interestingly Maslow’s own childhood was described (by him) as lonely and unhappy because he did not feel he belonged in his community and did not have any friends, so another very important point is that there is endless room to grow.

I feel that the idea that your basic needs must be met in order to feel like you are competent in your role is worth review from each role you hold. If you think of the question that initiated this article, this too can be read and reviewed per role. Personally usually my multiple responsibilities fit within one another. However there are times when I do feel pulled in multiple directions. At these times I try to back out and re-group. To be honest, I do not usually think of Maslow but I think it is a good idea to bring into perspective that life is complex. The multifaceted can be divided for sanity’s sake.

From Maslow the take home messages are: Start with the basics. Try to be realistic about how much you can put on your plate. Seek support, friendship and guidance when you can. Life is a challenge and working together/community can help you face and accomplish adversity. Learn in your own way, at your own time. Life is full of lessons! An important message is around motivation; your personal motivation and the motivation of others. Reacting toward others, Maslow advises that we help people meet their needs where they are. Do not assert your own needs onto someone else. Do recognize that collaboration can be a great asset in dealing with chaos. Encourage those around you to reach up to higher needs. This is especially important with children. Help them to see and reach up to greater things in life. Look for ways to create a sense of belonging and community and for ways to build self esteem.

I will conclude with another quote, this time from Mahatma Gandhi: “Action expresses priorities.” I hope this quote will inspire you to think through your roles with commitment and with action.

Rachel Ludwig works for Chautauqua County Department of Mental Health as the Project Director of the Chautauqua Tapestry System of Care. Rachel grew up in Warren and has been a member of the Chautauqua community since 2005. Rachel resides in Ashville with her husband Ben and son Logan.

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