My Dear Readers,
There are times when, in seeking to fulfill the wishes of our beloved parents, that we make the error of “sacrificing the self” and playing the role of savior in seeking to carry others. Instead of carrying the weight of others, however, we must seek to have balance and in doing so carry your own weight and advocate for the self.
Below is such a story…
Dear Visible Man,
After 40 years of work, my mother is about to retire from her job. She covers it well, but I know that she is depressed, because the retirement is not really a voluntary one. She is being forced out, and I am concerned with how she is responding to it.
My father, her husband of 42 years, died five years ago. Following his death, it seemed that the job was all she had to hold on to. I know she has decided to not marry again, although I know that she does not like spending time alone.
When my father was alive, they were inseparable. It was normal to see them constantly together, laughing and being playful with each other. Now that he is gone, she just sits at home watching television.
My older sister, who is 33, also resides with our mother, along with her 4 year old son. My sister is a carefree soul who often runs the streets and parties with her friends into the night, leaving our mother alone to babysit her son.
As a result of her upcoming retirement, I am concerned that my sister will now view our mother as a free childcare service. I have raised the issue to my sister and mother, but my concerns seem to fall on deaf ears.
My sister tells me to butt out and mind my own business, since I do not live in the house. I think that my sister, who isn’t paying rent or otherwise financially contributing to the household, is taking advantage of my mother. I can tell that my mother is resentful of the situation, but has chosen to remain silent. I know that if my father was alive, he would not have tolerated this behavior.
Although my sister is the oldest, has a graduate degree and subs as a teacher, my father set it up for me to be the executors of their estates prior to his death.
I too am a college graduate, but I have chosen a different path. I work, live on my own, as well as paying my bills and debts that I have incurred. I feel weighted down with the responsibility of looking after my mother with little or no help from my sister.
Do you have any suggestions for what I should do? How do I step up to the challenges that lie before me? I do not want to see his legacy wasted. Thanks for listening.
Younger Sister, Stressing Out Seattle, WA
Dear Younger Sister,
First, I will not tell you what to do. This is your journey in life and as you stand at the crossroads, you and only you can choose your direction. What I can and will do is to assist you by identifying concepts that you may be unaware of or have failed to consider.
Second, I will ask that you reframe your words as you seek to refocus your direction. It is my opinion that or terms such as “stepping up to the challenge” are just as reckless, meaningless and dangerous as “man up”. Such words tear at the fibers of one’s humanness, questioning your concept of yourself and only leaves the individual in doubt.
Instead of “stepping up”, I would encourage you to visualize yourself controlling the sails of a ship. Utilizing the sails, turn into the wind; allow your sails (which represents the self) to catch the power of the wind and empower yourself as you move forward along your Journey of Life.
So, in assessing these issues, let’s look at this in three distinct areas: Mother, Elder Sister (and child) and Younger Sister.
Mother (The one who waits…)
Parents can be excellent role models, but as much as they can be models of outstanding behaviors, they can also examples of who NOT to be.
It is good that your mother is perceptive and can see that it’s time for her to leave her job. Having been there for 40 years, she has spent a considerable part of her life there, including her young adulthood, midlife and now latent life, and given this, it is only natural she would grieve this impending loss.
Being a successful African-American woman in a corporate environment often dominated by conservative male mentality is no minor accomplishment. Your mother has more than “survived,” she has accomplished more than many others. As a result, she can choose “how” she walks out that door. She can walk out defeated, or she can take those last steps with style and confidence as she moves into the future. As she prepares to exit perhaps she may want to ask the following questions:
- What are the skills and experiences I bring to the next stage of my i.e. retirement?
- What are the activities I want to do?
- What are the new challenges that lie before me on the next stage of the Journey of Self Discovery?
There are significant obstacles that lie before her as she begins this journey. One of the major ones, however, is a limit she has placed upon herself—her decision to not remarry.
In your writing you indicated that your mother and father were inseparable over a period of 42 years. In not leaving herself the option of remarrying, I believe she has locked herself into a covenant that may be one sided. Such a one sided covenant can be defined as the following:
“A binding and solemn agreement to do, maintain a doctrine, promise or faith to another person.”
If your mother made such a covenant, it is feasible that in choosing to remain at home alone, she has created a walled in existence for her life in order to follow this agreement. In her eyes, the covenant cannot and must not be broken because the meaning of her life is built upon that covenant.
However, it’s not quite so black and white. Instead of being broken, the covenant can be “renegotiated.” Ask your mother: if she had passed first, would she have wanted your father to remain isolated from the world, not seek companionship, or just wait until she died and joined him again?
Regardless of the answer, only she can change the direction of her life. If she chooses a life of isolation, then that is the limitation of life that she now seeks. Embrace her and the choices she makes and accept her in her entirety.
Elder Sister (One who watches….)
When it comes to role modeling, elder siblings can be just as impactful as parents. In this situation, let’s use the example of the vulture and a parasite.
Despite its reputation, the vulture has an important role in the natural order of life, which is to feed off the carcasses of the dead and dying. The vulture brings meaning to the beginning and ending of life.
In scientific terms, a parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. In human terms, a parasite is a person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return.
From your writing, it appears that your elder sister is exploiting a situation where she can live freely without the responsibility of supporting herself or contributing to her mother’s household, and not considering how her behavior is impacting her mother
Your elder sister is selfish. She seeks to fulfill her needs and wants regardless of the psychological impact to her mother of losing a spouse and long-term employment. Your sister may have even convinced herself that she is giving your mother and her son the opportunity to bond while she is out partying in the streets.
Rather than leave questions for elder sister to consider, I would simply say….enjoy! One day the party will come to an end and REALITY will hit her like a lightning bolt. Until then, enjoy!!
Younger Sister (Carrying the Weight)
It is time for you to stand at your crossroads and decide which way to go. Before you, the current road leads to hopelessness. The other direction provides one of optimism, development and growth.
The current road is the simple one and thereby the easier of the two. The obstacles on this road are already known to you.
The other path is more of a challenge. The path is unknown and therefore you will create the road as you move forward. This new path will call upon you to do things that are foreign and uncomfortable. However should you stay the course, in time you will gain from the new path travelled. Specifically,
- As much as you love your mother, your sister and your nephew, seek to love yourself more.
- Cease being in the “savior role” for your mother. This behavior serves only to reinforce what she chooses not to see and only adds to further frustration and resentment.
- Cease sacrificing your inner self so that others can enjoy themselves.
- Focus on your life, your joy and your happiness.
Honor your father. You can do this by simply being or becoming the best you can be. You can do this by “loving me first and in doing so, loving me more.”
You must want to let go and allow your mother to live the live she has chosen. As she has chosen, so must you. Letting go does not translate to giving up. Should your mother one day seek change in her life, allow her to come to you and request your assistance.
As for your older sister, as my beloved grandmother would say, “muddy water rises to the top”. The murky things one does will have consequences in the future.
Your father was no fool. There was a reason why he appointed you and not your sister as executor of his and your mother’s affairs. You don’t want to see his legacy wasted, and neither did he. Continue to look after that legacy as he asked of you.
As for your sister, when you see her, just smile and say, enjoy!!
As much as I love you,
I love myself more.
Loving me more, does not mean
I love you less.
It only means
I love me more.
The Visible Man