Sunday, July 10, 2011

Unpacking: The Curse of Independence

To 18yo Me

(A disclaimer for my mom...  I'm afraid that what I say today will make you cry.  We've talked about this stuff before... and I know that it is something you wish you had done differently.  From a parental perspective, there is probably truth and wisdom in that.  But I don't regret the way things happened, either.  I credit much of that time period with the relationships I enjoy with Carey and Amanda...  and for that, even if we could go back in time and make things different, I would not.)

8.  Ask for help.  Accept help.  At the end of your life, you do not get a bigger trophy if you've done it all by yourself.

I have a hard time with this.  A really hard time.

I'm first in the birth order amongst my sisters, and I'm sure that placement has something to do with my need to assert my own independence.  But, I think part of that is bred, too.  When I was 8 or 9, my parents split up.  My little sisters would have been about 5 and 2, at the time. Several months of "what the heck am I going to do now?" ensued, and then my mom decided to go back to college to get her teaching degree, so that she could support us.  You ever try to go to college at 35, with three kids, and no income?  Not so easy.

There were times, especially at the end of terms, when my mom had papers to write or final exams to study for, and I would shepherd my sisters into the back bedroom and do my best to entertain them so Mom had some quiet time (or, I suppose, as quiet as it can get with three kids in the house) to get that work done.  On top of that, we had weekends with my dad.  I had it in my head that Dad was completely incapable of caring for three small children, and thus I appointed myself Mom #2 when we were gone from home.  I'm not sure this belief was entirely unfounded.  Sometime I'll tell you about the time my dad left Amanda at the park.  All in all, though, 9 years old was perhaps too young to grow up and be a mom.

These were also the lean years... motherhood and full-time student status doesn't exactly roll in the cash.  Money was tight... and I learned that if there were things I wanted to do, I was going to have to save up the money myself.  And that's not because my parents were stingy or anything... the money just didn't exist.  So, shopping, camps, etc... that's what babysitting money was for.

So between one thing or another, I just learned to be independent.  I had to be responsible... people were counting on me.  I had to go to college and I had to do well for scholarships.  I had to be an example for my sisters. Somewhere along the way, I equated independence and responsibility with... being perfect?  Somewhere along the way, my inner motto became "I can do it myself." NOT doing it by myself became my standard of failure.  No one put that on me... I did it to myself.

But it's a hard trap from which to break myself free.  Asking for help means admitting that I can't do it by myself.  And for me, that feels like failure.  It isn't failure, and I really do know that in my head.  I do.  But in my heart, I feel like I haven't measured up.

This has habitually been a problem in my marriage.  I run into problems.  Joel wants to fix them because he's a man and that's what men do for their wives.  His insistence that he needs to help runs right up against my stubborn "I CAN DO IT MYSELF I CAN DO IT MYSELF I CAN DO IT MYSELF" and oh, it's just not pretty.  I'm better at it now after almost 15 years...  but stepping back and letting him fix it is still something that's very hard for me to do.

This is a truth that I wish I could have told myself 20 years ago... before it become ingrained in my soul as the standard of success and failure.  I'm not really so sure I would have listened to myself, but if I had, I could have saved myself a lot of frustration and tears if I'd just been willing to say "I can't do this by myself.  Will you help me?"


  1. I flutter between I can do it myself and someone PLEASE do it for me.

  2. Oh, Joanne. I can so relate. I was 9 or 10 when Dad left. Mom was caring for my dying Papaw. When he died, she returned to work. I spend summers caring for my sister. The result? I felt toward her, 6 years my junior, as I now feel toward my kids with an additional jealousy factor. It took years, in adulthood, to learn to be her sister instead of her mother. It is STILL hard.

  3. Oh man I can relate!! My mom was sixteen when she had me, she did the best she could but really what sixteen year old can raise a kid??? Then she got married when I was 9 and had my brother when I was 10. She went through depression that she still struggles with. I ended up doing everything for her.I learned early on to take care of myself and struggle with asking for help, I am slowly learning. Did I mention slowly???? Did I also mention that I love you:)


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