The Need to Need

Almost three years ago, I logged on to Facebook and discovered a message I’ll never forget.


Over the course of the next few hours my hometown would come to learn that our main water supply had been poisoned with a chemical called 4-methylcyclohexanemethanol, or MCHM for short.

As the situation unfolded, it was clear that MCHM had reached the pipes of our local schools, shutting them down for weeks.

Being “the primary caregiver” for my children, this meant I was the one who stayed home with our two boys while my husband went to work.

Every. Day.

Likewise, a few years earlier when a derecho storm passed through town, ripping up trees by the roots and knocking down power for almost a week….guess who entertained the kids in a hotel room? Yep.

Snow days? You got it.

Sitter calls in sick? Right again.

As much as I love my children, there was a time when I found the cumulative effect of these interruptions on my career supremely frustrating.

Finally, after a long and intense inner struggle between wanting to use my prime working years to build a remarkable business and the practical need to be available as a parent, the fever broke.

I came to the realization that if I really wanted to change the world, as Mother Teresa once said, the best way to do it was to stay home and love my family.

And so…I pressed the pause button on my dreams and we essentially became a one-income household while the kids demanded more attention.

As the author of a book about career independence for women, this took a tremendous amount of pride-swallowing and faith.

Pride-swallowing because I wrote that book in part as a repudiation of my mother’s disastrous reliance on men for financial support.

Faith because I was now placing myself in the exact same situation.

Still…this time it will be different, I thought, because my husband is a rock.

That was true…until it wasn’t.

And then the freefall came.

As a student of fight-or-flight in my mindfulness practice, I immediately knew what was happening the moment my husband told me he was an alcoholic. After discovering everything “normal” was broken, a white haze descended over my vision and my thoughts narrowed into survivalist mode.

We’ll sell the house and I’ll move into a smaller one. I’ll sell another book. What was my advance on the last one? Can I double that?  

For as problematic as our evolutionary impulses can be in the throes of everyday life, they really do come in handy within the depths of a true crisis. Even so, after exhausting my options and still coming up short, I looked at my husband and said with both compassion and primal fear…

“I love you, but I hate that I need you.”

Where is the point at which desiring someone tips into the realm of needing them and – once you’re in that space of need – what is healthy versus unhealthy? It’s an interesting question within a marriage, isn’t it?

Indeed, for years whenever I was asked about what constitutes a great partnership, I would always say it begins with two “wholes” coming together versus two halves trying to complete one another.

As I’ve learned the hard way, however, life isn’t always that tidy.

And so maybe need isn’t something we should view as static, but rather it should be something we view as seasonal.

In other words, my husband needs me now in a way that he didn’t before – but it won’t be like this forever. Our children need me now in ways that require a lot of time – but it won’t be like this forever. I’m a career woman who needs someone else to be the breadwinner right now – but it won’t be like this forever.

This just happens to be the season we’re all in.


It’s funny to think that just a few weeks ago, I viewed my husband and I as two solid pillars holding up the shelter for our kids. In other words, we relied each other to make the structure work, but we could have stood fine alone.

Today, our partnership feels more like an old quilt. The stitches may not perfect, but they are so interwoven that dependence is their strength – and that’s okay.

In fact, it’s more than okay.

It’s family.