I’ve asked a few of my favorite people to help me out with this series.
Please welcome my dear friend, Melanie, to The Scoop on Balance.
I believed the lie I told myself.
It’s my job to make everyone under my roof happy.
Last year when my mom died, my dad came to stay with us. He got my daughter’s former bedroom. She married and moved to New Mexico a month before Dad was widowed and left Mississippi. What a weird switcher.
Now I live with three men. Whoa, Nellie!
To be clear, the three men are my husband, son and father. Oops, I forgot about Ted—the dog. He’d be quite offended were he not included.
See what I mean? I even try to make Ted happy!
This means my life is like a one woman show. Swap the stage for my kitchen and it’s exactly like that. Spinning plates and all!
A couple of months into the new living arrangement, I was ready to move out. On weekly grocery trips, I often fantasized about driving far, far away where no one knows my name. Or my cell phone number.
Instead, I escaped to the beach—a mere ten minute drive to sink my toes in the sand. I spent hours paddle boarding and floating on my back, hair fanned out like seaweed. I logged miles running barefoot and walking along the tide’s edge. I watched the pelicans dive bomb for fish and listened to the gulls’ plaintive cry. And I prayed.
“What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this? I just need to be nicer. Try harder. Help me, God!”
And one day as I watched the whitecaps roll in, I had a revelation.
I’m overwhelmed because I’ve taken on a responsibility that’s not mine.
I was living like it was my job—my calling—to be perfect in each of three distinct roles: wife, mother and daughter. Sandy calls this being the “emotional thermostat of the home.” And it was sending me over the edge! I was emotional alright! I cried every day. Felt like a loser. I called myself names: mean, impatient, petty. There were a lot of demands made of my time, my help and my patience.
So what did I do about it?
The first thing I did was confide in my husband. I hesitated to do so, because truthfully, he’d not placed demands on me. In fact, every time I had bemoaned, “I just need to try harder,” he assured me that was not the answer.
“You’re doing too much,” he told me.
Somehow just admitting to him that I felt responsible for making them each happy made me feel better. Saying the words out loud was a part of the process of discovering the truth.
The truth is I am not responsible for anyone’s happiness but my own.
As a wife, I want my husband to be happy, but I can’t make him happy.
As a mother, I want my son to be happy, but I can’t make him happy.
As a daughter, I want my dad to be happy, but I can’t make him happy.
Sure, I can add to their enjoyment of life. I can do thoughtful things for them. I can choose kindness over sharp words. And I can pray for them. All of that is within my power and maybe even my responsibility. But I can’t be the one person who spins all the plates and serves a dish of happy for everyone every day.
I wonder if, in part, it’s just the mindset of a mom. I’ve been Mom for over two decades! The nature of mothering is to make things better. Kiss the boo-boos, bandage the scrapes, re-attach the doll’s arm and unsnap those teeny, tiny Lego pieces. As our kids get older, we help with home-work, commiserate over mean girls and lie sleepless listening for the car in the driveway on Friday nights. We tend them when they’re sick at 2 a.m. and cheer for them at recitals and track meets. We want them to be happy. But even then, we can’t make them happy.
I’ve watched each of my children suffer from depression. My youngest son had bouts of depression that accompanied his cancer diagnosis. My daughter and oldest son walked through a season of depression when their little brother died. I just wanted them to be okay. To be happy again. But I couldn’t make them happy.
As the lone woman in a household of men in different seasons of life, I want to listen patiently, love freely and serve humbly. And never get tired, frustrated or resentful. Talk about spinning plates!
I wish I could say that I am not tempted to believe the lie anymore, but I still struggle at times. However, since identifying it as a lie, I now have the power to combat it with truth.
It’s not my job to make everyone under my roof happy. It is my job to stop believing a lie and to live in freedom.
Here are three strategies I use to live free from the lie. They will help anyone who believes it’s her job to make her loved ones happy.
- Set personal boundaries. Healthy boundary setting prevents needless confusion and frustration. Mature adults set boundaries.
- Be honest. It’s better to speak truth in love than to seethe silently and explode when you just can’t take it anymore!
- Pray and carry on. Prayer is not a substitute for avoiding tough, but necessary, dialogue. Prayer, however, should always be a part of our process—and progress! Sometimes the right move is to pray and stay—quiet, and sometimes it’s to pray and speak up.
These strategies work best when you stay on the same team as your husband. If frustration and stress threatens to overwhelm you, find an opportune time to have a heart to heart with your man. Recently, my husband and I were discussing some impending changes in our lifestyle. We’ve already faced heartache that no mom and dad want to endure. By clinging to God’s promises and making a promise to bear one another’s burdens and share our joys, we are still going strong. Plus, he’s a good lie buster!
Repeat after me, “It’s not my job to make everyone under my roof happy. It is my job to set boundaries, speak the truth in love and pray.”
Now, go live it like you believe it!
Melanie lives in Florida with her husband, Dannie. Their daughter, Audra, is a newlywed living in New Mexico with her husband, Sam. Avery, their oldest son is a college student whose mom is very happy he’s still in her nest. The Dorsey’s youngest, Andrew, resides in Heaven since December 2009. Her dad also hangs out in her nest for extended visits. Melanie is a speaker, writer and blogger and likes to sip her first cup of coffee in silence.
You can read more of Melanie’s amazing work at her blog, Lessons From the Deep End of Life