I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of doing everything for others, and nothing for yourself.
I sat down for coffee with Shelly, who has three kids, a large home, a mother who needs a little bit of care, and a 15 hour per week job. She drops the kids off at two separate schools 45 minutes apart from one another. Then she has 6 ½ hours to do everything on her to-do list before pickup starts. She races from school, to doctors appointments, to work, to home, attempting to get 8 hours of work done in a 6 ½ hour day. And when she picks up the kids, the running starts all over again. Karate, swimming, piano lessons, Boy Scouts. And of course she tries to fit in dinner with the entire family somewhere in between. Home means homework, review sessions, answering questions, and checking emails for the next day. She collapses into bed around 11 so she won’t sleep through her 5:30am alarm.
Yes, trying to fit in coffee with Shelly is difficult at best. Even hearing about her days leaves me feeling exhausted.
Shelly says she’s happy with her life. Yet very quickly, I see things differently. There is angst thrown into her conversations. Every story has a little drama. Like the story about driving the kids to school, only to discover they forgot lunch. She spent 30 minutes heading to the grocery store and buying meals before returning them to school. Or how she threw in a load of laundry into the washer before heading out for her day, only to come home to a flood in her laundry room.
Her stories are never about her goals, her desires. Instead, they are about how tough life is each day.
If you even hint at happiness – what she wants to do, what her goals are – you get a quizzical look that makes you feel like you’re an alien from a different planet.
“My goals? I haven’t had goals since the day my first child was born. I just try to make it through each day in one piece.”
And while I can understand her predicament, in many ways I think her life is adding into her problems.
Living for everyone else may make everyone else “happy”, but I’m even willing to be if you questioned the rest of the family, “happy” isn’t a word they would probably use.
When Shelly heads out the door with the kids in the morning, I’m willing to bet it’s with a “hurry up”. She’s always running behind. Without a system in place, it’s hard to keep track of everything all the time.
And even though her family is busy from morning to night, I bet they would all be willing to give up a club or two just to sit around the table, talk and relax over a meal a day or two during the week.
The problem rises from trying to be super-human. It comes from thinking you have to “be like the Jonses”. You have to overstimulate the kids, provide them enough clubs and activities to make Harvard drool over your child when they apply, and in short be the model family for everyone else in the neighborhood.
But what if Shelly took a step back and came up with one thing all for her? She decided to get a degree – something she’s always wanted to do. Or pursue her love of painting, taking a 4 hour class each week? Or starting up that coaching business she swore she do as soon as the kids were out of the house?
If Shelly took one step forward in making herself happy, everyone else would have to take one step towards self-efficiency. They would have to walk home from school instead of being picked up. They would have to quit one after school activity, or find someone to carpool with. In short, the rest of her family would also have to look at his or her own life and decide what is truly important.
As the saying goes, when mom is happy, everyone is happy.
That’s actually true, but not just from the “one person” perspective.
When everyone in the family is happy, doing what they love, and happy most days of their lives, that feeling rubs off on everyone else.
While we still have to do the things we don’t love or don’t want to do, spending some quality time doing what you love can make all the difference.
It can change your attitude.
It can give you hope for the future.
And it can allow you to dream bigger about your future.