My son is a dessert before dinner kind of kid, which I am sure many of us can identify with. Outside of birthdays, we’re a protein-first kind of family. But on those savory birthdays, if they want to indulge in cookies and cake before (or in lieu of) healthy greens and chicken, enjoy. I, however, am a “Save the Best for Last” kind of girl. The cherry-on-top is untouched until the rest of the sundae rests in the depths of my belly.
I pick the hardest tasks on my to-do list so that something fun can follow. When getting my wardrobe ready for the week, I think ahead to critical meetings with a certain dress code and map out my closet so I don’t wear my finest before they are needed (my closet is rather slim pickings). I learned this from my father, who was raised by his single mom on one income with three siblings in the 40’s and 50’s. When you didn’t have much, you “Saved the Best for Last.” How is it, then, that my relationships don’t get that carefully planned distribution of my energy and attention? My day starts some days with exercise, other days with getting the kids ready. Then, it’s off to work, where I give my best for hours. By the time I get home, those most precious to me fight over the leftovers. I feel depleted, and end up ashamed that I don’t have more to give those I most cherish.
I am not alone in this, and my wife and I talk about this phenomenon. While she agrees, she also adds a very important point, “you mean we get to make mistakes, be more human, where it’s safe and with those most accepting of us?” Well, when you put it that way.
I confess I want the best of both worlds. I want my family to know I cherish them and I want to offer them more than my left-overs. I also want home to be a safe place to come to where I can let my guard down, expose my frustrations and vulnerabilities of the day, and be my imperfect self more freely. I want to do this, however, in a way that also honors my wife’s and kids’ need to do the same. For 6.5 hours they give their best at school, holding it together in ways that defy their developmental ages for hours. I want to honor their need to fall apart a bit too. Unfortunately, sometimes falling apart means we’re taking our frustrations out on each other.
Yet, both can be true, we can save some of our best for those we most cherish, and we can also let go and relax around the very same. But perhaps how we do it matters. My hope is that a few basics will help me to better “Save the Best for Last” in 2015:
- It’s okay to be angry, frustrated, exasperated, but we don’t have to cross the line into taking it out on each other
- I can have my feelings and own them as mine, take time outs, etc., and I can be clear to my family that “this is not about you” from the beginning.
- I can find ways to give my kids room to express their own frustrations, anger, etc. without taking it personally or feeling like they are disrespecting or taking advantage of me
- When I can remember, a gentle prompt of “how do you ask that of someone you respect” works better and more effectively than launching on a scream-lecture of gratitude and not being anyone’s servant. (Not that I’ve ever done that.)
- I can remember that they aren’t consciously trying to push all my buttons (repeat, repeat, repeat).
- I can sink into the present moment. Work will be there again tomorrow, and unless work is calling, I can let it go for the next few hours. I cannot solve the problem of domestic violence in one evening. I can let it go, and enjoy those who refuel me.
I can be more gentle and compassionate, with myself and my family, when we mess up time and again. None of us are perfect. Forgiving each other is much more valuable than harboring resentments that usually started with “you hurt my feelings” and can end with “I’m sorry.”
I wish you a very compassionate 2015!