Around this time a year ago, I wrote a blog about being self-sufficient and self-contained and my fears over whether that was hurting me on the relationship front and my feelings about how it changes the way that men look at me (you can read it here- https://shamekaerby.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/self-contained//). Anyway, I find myself walking down the same path again, this time thinking about all the ways my self-sufficiency changes the way my family looks at me- and the way I look at them.
I was reading a blog recently about a girl who has spent most of her life hating her brother for his lack of consideration for others and his selfish and sometimes self-destructing life decisions. And as I was laughing and reading and identifying with her, it dawned on me that perhaps I hadn’t fully rid myself of some emotion regarding that and perhaps I should write some of it out. Let me explain: I come from a blended family- so I actually have two older sisters and five younger brothers. And for years I have watched some of them make countless life decisions, that I questioned, disagreed with, and subsequently judged them for. And this is not just siblings. I have cousins, childhood friends, and even classmates that have opted for the kind of lives that you reality-TV junkies tune in every week to see on Love and Hip Hop Divas and Real Basketball Wives of Atlanta or whatever show everybody is tweeting about. My reaction has always been the most honest one I can manage. I lecture, yell, tell them how they have potential for so much more, and then, when I can, I help them clean up the mess. I try to be as supportive as I can on the outside, possibly to make up for all of the mean, judgmental things I’ve been thinking in my mind. I may know that your dependability is in question ALL THE TIME- but if you put me down as a reference on your job application, I will speak of you in the most glowing terms my vocabulary can manage- because I want you to do well. I may hate the fact that you’re on your third kid with just as many dads, but if you have a baby shower, I am there, toting three or four things off your registry to let you know I still love you. I will applaud every time you sign up for a class of any kind, even if I know the probability that you’ll stick with it and finish is probably slim to none. I want to be there.
As I do this, I tell myself two things: 1) that I am completely justified in berating and judging you because if you’re going to take my help, then you have to take my opinion with it and 2) that I will NEVER, EVER, IN MY LIFE- end up in your position. I think I’ve lived a good many years now simply side stepping the shit other people I love have gotten themselves into. It reminds me of something I saw on Oprah’s recent special about fatherless sons. One of the children of a single mother on the show was speaking about how it affected him to see his mom struggle to raise him and his younger brother. He said that his greatest fear was ending up like his own father- a no-show in the lives of his children. Then he talked about how living with that fear was shaping his life. He said, “I never even have time to try and be somebody- because I’m too busy trying NOT to be somebody.” Now, I’m not that hot on Oprah or Ms. Fix-My-Life Vanzant for that matter, but the short time I spent watching the show was valuable- because I heard what that young man said and it struck a chord with me. A good chunk of my life has been wasted trying NOT to be like everyone around me. I’ve been so afraid to make a mistake- afraid that every mistake will set me on the path to ending up like someone whose life I’ve disapproved of (both verbally and in my mind). And even more than that- afraid of being judged by someone who is more responsible than I am (the way I’ve judged these other people). Afraid of having to swallow my pride and ask this more responsible person for help, like my family sometimes has to ask me.
I’m conflicted as I continue. I know that it must hurt your pride, and your self-esteem to have to turn to people who are saying “I told you so” with their eyes and ask for help. When my family reaches out, I don’t gloat about it. I’m sad- and I’m even more afraid. Because what would happen to them if I wasn’t there? This churns inside me, and causes even more pressure to be responsible. Not just because I don’t want to be in THEIR shoes, but because they seem to need me in MY shoes. I wrote once that everyone has that fear of falling- but I have fear of other people falling, people I love. Because I always wonder if I did enough to try and catch them. I don’t want to seem like an egomaniac, or a rapper, talking about “carrying the whole hood on my back,” but there are people who sometimes have to depend on me. Now there is another side to this coin (I said I was conflicted). Sometimes it makes me angry when I am there for them, because it pisses me off when it appears that I give more of a damn about your life than you do. I know that they try- and I might just see it as them not trying hard enough. I know that when they don’t do exactly what I would do, it doesn’t mean they’re not doing anything at all. I know sometimes people deserve the benefit of the doubt. But still, it makes me mad when I can’t see your effort. It makes me feel like I’m the only one who wants better for you. Now, I have long since realized the futility of pushing my vision onto others. I cannot live their lives for them, and therefore cannot make things happen just by wanting them- these people, my family, have to want them for themselves. I know that, my uber analytic, overly-logical self knows that- but it’s still hard. It’s still a struggle to center myself and take a deep breath, and sometimes even step back- and let my reason calm my emotions. I’m an emotional creature. Sue me.
Dr. Phil says that the most valuable thing you can teach someone is how to self-protect (don’t judge me- sometimes Dr. Phil says good shit). And I realized that I hadn’t been doing a very good job of protecting myself. I was allowing so many feelings of fear, and guilt, and worry and obligation to cloud my life- and change my outlook. So last year, right around the time I started this blog, I started to try and work on myself too. I wanted to see what would happen if I gave a little more to me- and a little less to everyone else. And I have to admit, it’s been better. I still sometimes have trouble letting go- I still want to be there, and help out, and take care of my family. But it helps when I take care of me too. I fell in love with TV again. I’m working on my weight again. I’m a better writer than I’ve ever been. And it’s all because I take the time to sit alone and think about me. And in that thinking, accentuate the positive. I think about who I WANT to be- not who I don’t want to be. I’m a little bit better at letting people figure out their own lives. Sometimes I give the bare minimum of advice- and let my friends take the rest and run with it on their own. It goes a little against my super-nurturing nature, but it helps because then I’m not so emotionally invested. It’s taking me a while- but I am learning. I am learning the value of choosing my burdens (especially the emotional ones) selectively. I am learning the value of sometimes letting people fall. I don’t always have to catch them; sometimes it’s better to help them up afterwards. Because then they learn what needs to be learned- and so do I.