Love means letting those you love off the hook...
“Tell everyone you know: 'My happiness depends on me, so you're off the hook.' And then demonstrate it. Be happy no matter what they're doing. Practice feeling good, no matter what. And before you know it, you will not give anyone else responsibility for the way you feel – and then, you'll love them all because the only reason you don't love them is because you're using them as your excuse not to feel good.” --Esther Hicks
For those of us prone to over-responsibility this can be a tricky one. Over-responsibility is how we have kept ourselves safe. If we take too much responsibility how can anyone be mad at us? Or disappointed in us? Or fail to love us?
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way because we can never fully anticipate the needs of another so over-responsibility does not work one hundred percent of the time. AND it keeps us from developing the true intimacy with another person that comes from giving and receiving. It can also lead to resentment if we expect others to behave in the same way because they often don't.
My husband and I run into this a lot. As a new mother it was my job to anticipate every need of my newborn baby and try to meet that need, often at the expense of my own happiness. This became a habit that has been hard to break. I still take too much responsibility for my sons' needs and sometimes I feel all alone as a parent, despite the fact that my husband is one of the best dads I know, because I am taking on too much and basing my happiness on their appreciation and his reciprocation.
What I have learned is that sometimes I just need to go to bed when I am tired and not worry that the boys will not get to bed at what I consider a decent hour. Sometimes I need to sit on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book after dinner instead of managing homework time. And sometimes I need to ask my husband to pick up dinner instead of cooking.
In other words, I need to take responsibility for my own happiness and well-being and start expecting them to do the same.
Last night I signed up for a webinar from 5:00-6:00 pm - the worst possible time for our family because this is when I usually make dinner. I was working with the boys to figure out how we could possibly get homework done and dinner on the table without everyone ending up grumpy when my older son said, "I'll make dinner Mom, what are we having?"
It was one of those moments parents live for, when you feel like you have actually done a pretty good job and it is all coming together. And it never would have happened if I hadn't been willing to set aside my sense of over-responsibility (in the past I would have said "No" to this class simply because of the timing) and seek my own happiness.
It is scary. And it is risky. But it is so much better than the alternative. For years I made my husband and my children responsible for my happiness and what I mostly ended up feeling was anger. The more I experiment with taking responsibility for my own happiness, the happier I am. And surprisingly, the happier they are too.
[This photograph is of a heart-shaped bowl my younger son made for me out of some mulch he found in the backyard. It was kind of sticky so he thought he had found some clay and wanted to make something with it.]