Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically
on their environment and especially
on their children than the unlived life of the parent.
I mentioned in the last blog (In Whose Backyard Are You Playing) that a therapist once told me I needed to find joy for myself instead of it being contingent on whether or not everyone around me is happy. I remember vividly another incident when this same issue hit me in a light-bulb moment of clarity. Dan and I were on our yearly Chicago trip at Christmas admiring all the amazing lights and the magic of the holiday. Everywhere we turned I saw more beauty, sparkle and cheer. About the fiftieth time I exclaimed to Dan, “Oh! I wish the kids were here to see this!”or “Oh, Ashley would love this store!” or “Wow! The grandkids would love this!” Dan asked me,“Can’t you enjoy this trip without bringing the rest of the family with us? Can’t you enjoy it with just me?!” Yikes! A slap of truth that brought me up short. He was absolutely right. I had a hard time enjoying anything without feeling guilty that I hadn’t included the entire family! I loved being with Dan but he was right in his observation that I needed to regain my own JOY.
When I began learning the importance of drawing boundaries, playing in my own backyard instead of having a swinging door for my gate, I began to realize I had a life of my own apart from being wife, mother and grandmother. It’s easy for a mother to forget how to function on her own without taking care of everyone else.
When a mother is unfulfilled, uncertain, and insecure or lacking in self-confidence, she is unable to define and defend her own value system. So if she is trying to explain why she can’t do or be what someone else is asking of her, she will defend or try hard to justify her own needs. I have certainly found this to be true in my own life. My daughter, Ashley once boldly stopped me in mid-sentence and told me to quit justifying why I couldn’t babysit her children. “Just say no! You don’t have to defend your decision.” she said. I admit I felt the slap of her words as revelation. Her personality style has no problem with staying in her own backyard and she wanted me to see that it is ok for me to do the same…without guilt. She knows who she is and respects when others do too.
Personal boundaries are your value system in action.
(I Don’t Have to Make it All Better, Gary and Joy Lundberg)
Besides the book sited in the quotation above, I read a life-defining book that Irene recommended called When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. I learned a lot about myself and how pleasing others, while seemingly doing good, can actually be detrimental to my well-being as well as to others.
“In our culture, and especially in our churches, women are particularly prone to losing their way by focusing too much on other people’s needs. Many women who move off course in an attempt to please others eventually disconnect from their true spiritual and emotional nature.”
(When Pleasing Others is Hurting You, Dr. David Hawkins)
So how can one break the cycle? How does a mother tend her own backyard when she has spent years with no fence? Perhaps some of these tips will help:
- Admit you need to make changes to your availability. Hold a family meeting and talk about your desire for some space of your own…without explanation as to what you will do with that time. It is YOUR time.
- Establish a schedule that can only be interrupted in case of extreme emergency. You have a job. It is to take care of YOU. Don’t try to justify or defend yourself if you simply need time to soak in a tub with a good book or have a free day with no real obligations. Your obligation is to take care of YOU.
- Establish times when you might be available to others. It might be evenings or early mornings or weekends. You decide.
- Be strict about this even if someone gets upset with you. You’ll be surprised how quickly others find they can work out their own issues without your help.
- Begin to do things you have wanted to do and see how your self-image improves, your confidence gets stronger and your sense of accomplishment flourishes.
I read this in Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home:
“I’d heard the saying, ‘You’re only as happy as your least happy child.’ The happiness of my children matters enormously to my happiness; I want so much for them to be happy. But although I fervently want to make Eliza and Eleanor be happy, I can’t. They have to figure out their happiness for themselves.”
Interestingly, I didn’t have anyone coming to rescue me when I was raising children. I didn’t know too many parents who did. Most of us traded off babysitting so we could have some free time or a date night once in a great while. I didn’t have a parent or grandparent around to jump over anytime I needed a break. And, honestly, I think I managed quite well. At least none of my grown children seem to have suffered that I can see. And, interesting too, that my grown children are pretty darn good at maintaining their own backyards without installing a swinging door.
Are you having trouble drawing boundaries? Do you feel the need to take care of everyone else to your own detriment? Do you feel your life is fulfilled or are you trying to fill it up with the need to be needed?
Part 4 of Passing the Baton will follow: Flourishing or Floundering?