Recently, a good friend of mine, an artist, animatedly described the details of her new stone sculptures, curved and connected like three wild women. For this piece she had unearthed some unwanted, difficult and oddly shaped stone, the kind of stone few artists would work with, and she cut and chiseled until the abstract art emerged breathtakingly beautiful. When she finished sketching out the piece for me and began to fill me in about her family, her face changed from soft lines and bright eyes to a pinched taut look; a red flush crept up her neck as she relived the past few weeks taking care of her parents and managing her children who were away at school. From the abrupt contrast in her demeanor I realized that shaping a stone according to our own vision is one thing. Contouring our primary relationships is another. We tend to forget that we do not have artistic control or own the rights to our children and our parents. Perhaps, the talent for cultivating loving relationships is knowing when to give up control and let it be.
Our children are intuitive and not easily fooled when we tell them that they can grow up to be whatever they want to be Ė as long as what they want corresponds to our expectations for them. They hear our ďI see,Ē and sense our disappointment when they veer from the itinerary we have designed. When we hover over our children like helicopters, advocate for them all the time, we do not let them explore and learn how to improvise. In a sense by boosting their spirit and praising them all the time, we do them a disservice. We give them a false sense of infallibility believing they possess skills they do not have. Sometimes we even undermine their self-esteem because our children wonder why we need to give them inappropriate praise; they conclude that they must be so unworthy that they could not possibly handle the truth!
Then there are our elderly parents who insist on living alone, yet demand that we run all their errands, drive them to their appointments and spend time with them. We become their manager, making all their decisions, brow beating them into submission, getting curt with them and speaking to them in a childlike fashion. We are not honest with them about how drained we feel; instead, we continue to tell them what to do and how to do it with an irritable edge to our voice.
Please, no more excuses about how everyone needs you: If you have become necessary, vital, to everyoneís existence, itís because you do not feel vital on your own. You need to be involved, meddling, hovering in your familyís lives because somehow you have lost the delicate golden thread of your own life. Lighten your load and theirs!
Itís time to cut the umbilical chord to your children and parents. When you feel drained and do not express yourself honestly, you do not sense that you are infusing all your helpfulness with negativity and stress. Donít forget they are absorbing all that annoyed consideration. Loosen the reigns and let everyone choose and grow. Try to listen respectfully and attentively as opposed to imposing your decisions. Above all, donít abandon yourself. Donít rescue everyone while losing yourself in the process.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout
and Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul,
a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com