Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To not do for other adults what they can do for themselves

It sounds like a pretty simple concept. In fact, this is actually quite complicated. And something I've been working on. I was placed into a mother type role when I was fairly young for various reasons. There were some times when if I didn't do something, it didn't get done. I still have some anger and resentment over some of this, but I'm really working on it. I also partially mention it to explain, this happened - and it's part of why I am the way that I am.

So, from a young age, I became used to taking care of other people and picking up the slack. Sometimes there was a lot of slack. These habits are difficult to unlearn.

As one could imagine, there are an awful lot of people around who want me (or others) to take care of them, to make decisions so that they don't have to face the consequences. Or, because someone else has always done something for them, they don't
realize the coordination it takes to get done. When you read some early feminist writing, I've read about women who want(ed) a "wife" - someone who would take care of all their needs (food, laundry, etc.) so they can spend full time researching, writing or studying. So these types of cultural notions don't magically appear in a vacuum.

Of course there are people every day who give selflessly - who help adults who are not able to help themselves for reasons of mental or physical impairment. And I'm not a fan of parents who throw their child out on their ear the day after they turn eighteen. Being a mom myself, I know that I have two people who are completely dependent on me. Some of that dependence will be for the rest of my life - but what life looked like when they were three months old is vastly different than when they're in their thirties.

But it's a balance and a process - one I've spoken about here before. The more I read, study and meditate, the more I see where I have occasionally overstepped my bounds. Where I've tried to take on someone else's responsibility for their own person. Where my interference (potentially well-meaning) was not needed or welcome.

Often, I justified myself by not wanting to hear that person complain. You might think I'm kidding, but I'm not. In the past, if someone was complaining and there was something I could do about it (even if they had ended up in the situation by their own doing) it would drive me nuts. I had white knight syndrome of sorts. I'm out to save the world. And sometimes it was to save me clean up work - to save doing something at the last minute.

That's not to say that I have things I'm good at and other people have things they are good at. Figuring out dates and scheduling appointments? I'm pretty good at that. Figuring out a quick response to the salesman at the gym or a tactful way to save face - no, not so good at that. So I definitely need other people (adults) help and assistance each day.

But there is a point where I realize I need to back off and chill.


Rebecca said...

I've been thinking a lot about this exact thing lately, and I totally feel your pain.

I'm the oldest of six, and the daughter of two somewhat irresponsible and needy parents (though not AT ALL in a neglectful or abusive way, just to clarify). Somehow it came to be my job to teach my siblings manners, to help them with homework, to make sure they finished their dinner. I changed diapers, put them to bed, sat up with them when they were sick or fussy. Later I did the grocery shopping, carpooled to seminary, took them to stake dances and soccer practice...

And that is a hard thing to let go of, even when I want to.

Now that they're all adults, it's a mental, emotional, and even sometimes physical effort to keep from rushing in when they need/want help (and even when they don't).

I just have to keep remembering that whole "give a man a fish" thing.

(And keep remembering how much I love not being responsible for another human being. LOVE IT.)

Aerin said...

Ha! We have more in common than you would think (I'm also the oldest. of six). I was not necessarily thinking in terms of my own siblings in this post - but it's true, I have to fight to not take the path of least resistence (in other words, me, doing stuff I don't need to do).