Years ago I watched an episode of The Suze Orman Show that was about women feeling their power. “Are you a powerful woman?” Suze would ask each caller as she took their question.
“um, I thought I was.”
“um, well, um, I don’t know.”
“um, I think so.”
To which Suze finally made a caller ask her the same question so that Suze could then say in a booming voice, “YES I AM!” Which was the answer she wanted from her callers and wasn’t getting. She was clearly becoming exasperated when dealing with the wife who was nearing bankruptcy after making the mistake of assuming all of her 2nd husband’s debt by rolling it over to her own lower interest credit cards and then unfortunately becoming injured and unable to work at her higher paying job, rendering her incapable of making the payments. 2nd hubby owed more than he had means to pay in alimony and child support and the fact that the wife had assumed his debt as her own made it now impossible for him to work out any kind of different arrangement based on his own income/debt ratio. By jumping in the quicksand to save him, she’d now sunk both of them and what was frustrating to Suze was that the woman did not see this as an error in judgement because she told Suze that she would do the same thing again because he was her soul mate.
Obviously Suze was being misunderstood. She gave my favorite analogy about needing to put on your own oxygen mask before you try to put one on others. How can you help others if you can’t breathe yourself? I revisit that analogy during those mom guilt moments when I’m tempted to give up things that are solely for me (i.e. my workout, educational study time, writing time, a leisurely, hot bath) but in actuality benefit my family because I’m taking care of me. That’s what Suze wanted this woman to understand. She would have been a much bigger help to her husband if she would have looked at the BIG picture before she dove in and “rescued” him. And the mother who could not stop supporting her grown children while barely managing to stay afloat financially herself? The above quote was intended for her. Was she really doing her children any favors by not allowing them to take responsibility for their own lives? No. Though her intentions were good, she was undermining their growth. We parents especially struggle with this, which is why it became essential for me to remember the words of Coach Boone (Remember The Titans) when my fortitude in letting them fall was in danger of failing:
“You ain’t doin’ these kids a favor by patronizing them. You crippling them; You crippling them for life.”
And that is what I’ve had to remind myself continuously every time I’m trying to help by taking over the wheel of someone else’s life and “rescuing” them. Without intending to, when you do something for someone that they are perfectly capable of and MEANT to be doing for themselves, you are sending the message “I don’t believe you are capable.” Obviously, believing so wholeheartedly in each person’s capacity, that is the last thing I’d want to do, so as difficult as it sometimes is, I’ve learned to say no out of love and to sometimes distance myself when necessary in order to avoid my tendency to coddle. I’d rather forget my ego and accept the consequences of a well placed NO rather than live with the understanding that my actions may be blocking life lessons that were intended for another individual’s growth. Is this what comes easily or naturally to me? Absolutely not. Is being a hardass fun when you’d rather appear as the hero? No way! But if evolvement and working toward the greater good is your goal, you must get comfortable with being uncomfortable and will yourself to take actions that are often difficult. Just as Richard (The Big Chill) so sensibly points out upon pondering the ramifications of adulthood over a late night sandwich: “the thing is… no one ever said it would be fun. At least… no one ever said it to me.” Me neither. You?