I was born and bred to be a caretaker. My mom had a heart attack when I was four. Though I was a child, my Dad gave me the job of watching her, making sure she didn't do too much, keeping my voice down, and making sure my older sister did the same. I was left with the sense that if I wasn't also vigilant with other important people in my life, something dreadful might happen to them, too.
Needless to say, I was a good little caretaker in both of my marriages. When I was a kid, society told me that a "good woman" would take care of home and hearth while her man provided for her and their children. My mom seemed to believe the same thing, because she told me she hoped I'd find a good man after my first divorce. At that time I was writing episodes of "The Walton's" as well as creating television movies. I can still recall the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I sat across from her when she made this suggestion. I mumbled that I was earning almost $60,000 dollars a year and could take care of myself.
In my first marriage I did all the marketing, took care of the kids (which included driving them both to and from school and to various sports practices), cooked meals for us all, baked pies and cakes, and of course, did the family laundry. After some protest, my husband hired someone to come in and clean every other week, though I kept the house in order in the interim. I also read the scripts my husband was considering directing, helped him edit them, went to rehearsals when I could find a sitter and gave him notes about the performances. He rarely asked about my day or concerns, even after I started writing for television. He did once say that I would just have to "fit in" my work.
You might be asking yourself why I accepted all of this, and it's a good question. If you're over 55, you probably won't. We were brought up to take on these tasks; if we wanted to work, I think most of us accepted we would somehow have to do that without shirking our "responsibilities." During that marriage I even met Betty Friedan, who had a house across from my in-law's place on Fire Island. I read her book, though I don't think my husband did. As I recall, it made me anxious, but I kept on keeping on, because I was afraid to do anything else.
When I remarried, I took on my household tasks with a vengeance, though my second husband did not ask me to. I worked when I could find writing assignments. Women in Hollywood were hired less than men and were paid less for their efforts, so this was not easy for me to do. We had three teenage daughters, so I again took to "fitting my work in." I must admit that I took on most of this myself without any prodding. I wanted to be seen as competent and more. Because of my writing successes, I thought that if I took on all of this I wouldn't be seen as "too much." Eventually, I became resentful.
My second husband told me he had grown to love what I did, and was happy to accede those jobs to me. It gave him ample time to play paddle tennis. Our therapist asked him, "Even though she's a caldron of resentment?" That didn't seem to bother him too much. At any rate, eventually we, too, divorced.
I began to work on my own behavior in earnest. I had no interest in starting a new love relationship, especially if I was going to behave the same way. I practiced setting boundaries and not taking on too much with my grown daughters, with my friends and with the men I dated. At first it was really hard to "let things slide," not my things but their things! It got easier. By the time I did get involved with someone, it only took a few months for me to stop being super woman and to listen to his pleas that I let him help me. It had never dawned on me before that my hustle and bustle might make the man in my life feel inadequate. What a welcome revelation.
The best news of all is that I've learned to take care of myself. What a novel idea! Recently a friend gave me an article by Melody Beattie that lists the characteristics of a co-dependent in a relationship. Much to my surprise, I no longer exhibited any of those traits.