Letting go of some responsibility
At a very young age, I felt a big burden of responsibility. Our family had suffered a few different traumatic events by the time I was 8 years old. Events that changed us forever. I won’t get into them here. However, I can say that from that point on, I’ve always felt like it was my responsibility to make sure everyone was happy and safe.
As a child, my nights were plagued with nightmares. In these nightmares, I saw my sister (two years my junior) suffer terrible horrific things - monster-attacks, killer-attacks, dinosaur-attacks, etc… And there was nothing I could do about it. I’d wake up in a panic in the middle of the night and go check up on her to make sure she was safe. I’d climb into bed with her so that I could protect her. My parents would wake in the morning to find us sleeping in the same bed. They’d try to get me to stay in my own bed. I had stopped, I'm sure, a while before we became teenagers. The nightmares concerning my sister, even though they were less frequent, only stopped completely when she became a mother.
As a teenager, I expected that as an adult I’d be the one who'd have to be financially responsible for my whole family. I thought I’d have to come up with a way to earn enough money to provide for all of them when they wouldn’t be able to work anymore. No one asked me to. I just felt like it was my responsibility. And I want to make it clear that I’ve never had to provide for any of them (except for my daughter of course).
So when my father passed away on October 11, 2014, it wasn’t even a question for me to ask my mother to move in. I thought that if she lived with us, it would make her feel safer and lessen her grief.
Having my mom live with us has been difficult for all of us for many reasons. Through these difficulties, I've finally accepted the fact that I actually am NOT responsible for my family’s safety and happiness. This has been one of the biggest life lessons for me so far.
I couldn’t save my dad from COPD. His life decisions, I’m sure, are partly responsible for his disease (or at least made it worse). I can’t save my mother from her grief. She has to process it herself in her own time. I can’t make my daughter and mother get along. They have their own personalities and ideas. Sometimes, they just won’t see eye to eye. And many other things I'm not responsible for...
It's difficult to watch on as someone I care about is making a bad decision (or at least what I believe is a bad decision). Although I can accompany any of my family members on their journey, their journey is their own. I can listen. I can make suggestions. But the decisions are ultimately their own.
That’s also true when it comes to my daughter. Even though I’m responsible to raise her and teach her that her decisions have consequences – good and bad – her journey is still her own. This is a difficult balance to achieve. I want to protect her from all of the evils, but I know that if I don’t let her experience the bad consequences (within reason and with supervision) she’ll have a much more difficult time of it as an adult.
I’ve also realized that if I want to be there for them for moral support (or otherwise), I have to make sure that I’m safe and healthy. That has meant learning to say no. That’s been difficult for me. I’m still working on it. But there have been times when I said no to helping someone, or driving someone somewhere, or doing something for someone, even no to listening to someone. I needed to rest. I needed to process my own emotions. I needed to recuperate. I felt guilty at first, but I knew I had to.
I believe that every life experience can help us grow and learn if we let it. And I think that’s especially true for the harder life experiences. They can either break us, or make us stronger, wiser, softer, better.