"My mother loved to read. With seven kids, it wasn't always easy to find the time. So she would sit in her chair with a bowl of water and a washcloth next to her. When one of us came up to her, she would say, 'Your face is dirty,' and would take the washcloth and scrub our face. We learned to let her alone when she was reading!" Paraphrased from a video of Ruth Stout
I couldn't stop thinking about Celeste after my phone session with her. I was really worried about her.
"Celeste," I had said in our session, "Your voice sounds drained of energy and your life force feels really low. What's going on?"
"I just have no time for myself at all. It seems like between work and driving my kids to all their activities, there's nothing left. I'm feeling really discouraged -- like I'm never going to get to do anything for me. It all seems to be for everyone else. Sometimes I feel like I'm dying - and sometimes I even want to die."
This was not good. Something had to change -- and soon.
As we explored the problem, it became apparent that Celeste was doing way more for her kids than necessary. She was doing things for them, especially for 12-year old Heather, that they needed to be doing for themselves.
"Every morning I go into Heather's room at least 15 times before she finally gets herself up. Then I make their breakfasts and lunches. The other day I felt really upset because Heather was just sitting around while I was getting breakfast and making their lunch. When I asked her to help, she just rolled her eyes and got upset. I'm exhausted before I even get started. Then, on the weekends, they want me to take them here and take them there. There's just not enough time in a day! When I try to get them to understand my needs, they just don't seem to care."
"Celeste, Heather has your number. She knows if she gets upset you will back off. This is not good for you or her -- you are fostering her entitlement issues out of your fear of her not caring about you. They are not going to care about you until you care about yourself. They are treating you the way you treat yourself. If you want compassion and understanding from them, then you need to first learn to give yourself compassion and understanding."
Celeste and I developed a plan: She would get Heather an alarm clock and let her know that she had to get herself up -- and that if she didn't she was responsible for the consequences if she missed school. Celeste would also ask her children to take responsibility for fixing their own breakfast and lunch. She would also expect them to help clean up in the evenings, and would make it clear that if they didn't help her, she would not be available to drive them around all the time. In addition, she would set aside some time just for her each weekend to work on her own creative projects. This was a hard one for her. Celeste believed that taking care of herself was selfish -- that being loving meant putting herself aside for her family. She really wanted to be a good mom -- but in not being a good mom to herself, she was not role modeling personal responsibility for her children.
We talked about the definition of "selfish." I told her that I believed that Heather was being selfish when she expected Celeste to give herself up for Heather, and that Celeste was fostering this selfishness in her children by not taking care of herself.
"Celeste, are you being a good mom if you are so unhappy all the time? Don't your kids need to see you being a role model for personal responsibility -- which includes taking good care of yourself? How are they going to learn to make themselves happy if they never see you making yourself happy? You are teaching them that they need to take care of others well-being and that others need to take care of their well-being, which is the definition of a codependent relationship. Don't you want them to know how to take care of themselves -- how to take responsibility for their own well-being? Taking care of yourself is not selfish -- it's self-responsible! You're not being a good parent if you just take care of your children but you don't take care of yourself."
Celeste got it and immediately went about making changes. She was like a new woman when I spoke with her the next week, with much more power in her voice. She was beginning to see that the problem was not so much not being cared about by her family, but not caring about herself. She could begin to see that how her family treated her was a mirror for how she was treating herself.
I breathed a sigh of relief -- Celeste was getting her life back!
Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a relationship expert, best-selling author, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® self-healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah. To begin learning how to love and connect with yourself so that you can connect with others, take advantage of our free Inner Bonding eCourse, and join Dr. Margaret Paul for her 30-Day at-home Course: "Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships." Discover SelfQuest®, a transformational self-healing/conflict resolution computer program. Phone or Skype sessions with Dr. Margaret Paul.