Boundaries and Butterflies

The winds of change have been howling around my house for two days.

It became clear Tuesday afternoon that many of the sacrifices I made for my family were misplaced. We have some different priorities, they have battles I can’t fight for them, and they have to learn by experience just as I do.

I’ve been working hard for ages, feeling like Atlas, the (wo)man with the world on her shoulders. The kids don’t adhere to my amazing schedules, chores list, or follow verbal commands (teeth brushed, anyone?). My DH has undiagnosed ADHD and can’t track things like taking trash to the curb, paying bills, or retain information I relay to him.

I figured if I just work like the devil, then I can keep the world spinning for those I love. So I work until I’m exhausted, collapse, wake up, and work again.

Well, reality crashed into my little fantasy this week. I only have full control over myself.

I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to discharge my responsibilities to my family that I have left none for myself. I’m a believer in boundaries, but putting them into practice has been exceptionally hard, especially having some kids and a DH who have ADHD limitations. I myself was diagnosed with ADHD only 3 months ago. Sometimes the blind do lead the blind.

I heard that in marriage things would balance out, his strengths would balance my weaknesses. I’m a morning person and he’s a night owl. I take care of the morning shift with the kids, and I figured he’d take the night shift. But he needs his down time with the television at night, and figures the kids should put themselves to bed, so I stretch from dawn until well past dusk.

I expected some kind of marriage transformation where the two of us would be like a WWE tag team: one would come in ready for action when the other was tuckered out. Yin and yang, salty and sweet, tough and tender, we’d complete each other. Between us, we’d have all the bases covered. We’re smart and successful individuals, so together we’d be stellar.

I thought if I had great plans the kids would sign up willingly. I thought if I had wisdom to dispense they’d want to listen. I thought my main job was working for their success. My heyday is in the past and I’m now laying down my life, a day at a time, to set them up for greatness.

Maybe that’s not my job. Maybe that’s their job.

My careful choreography can be undone in a few missed steps. I can’t make up for those missed steps. We’re connected and I love them, but my experience doesn’t become theirs by osmosis. They have to learn for themselves. Experience is still the best teacher.

Some might call it shock, but I prefer to think of myself as a caterpillar in a cocoon. A beautiful butterfly will emerge and fly, but right now I’ve withdrawn from the day-to-day concerns of the schoolkids. I need to re-organize myself, so I’m taking a break.

The big kids’ alarms didn’t go off yesterday and the older three all missed the school bus. I wasn’t awake to back up their alarm clocks. I drove them to school, where their tardiness was unexcused, but I didn’t fret or feel guilty. They’re teens now. It’s their job to get up in the morning.

Tonight I didn’t cook as usual, I ordered takeout for dinner instead. It will all come out in the wash.

In one Tuesday afternoon, I learned that I can’t carry everyone. I can’t compensate for all my loved ones’ poor choices.  I never could. They can and do make their own decisions. They have the power to thwart all my efforts in their lives. I can’t overwhelm their agency. And that’s how it’s supposed to be.

The only person I have total control over is myself. So I’m going to focus my efforts on my goals and ambitions.

Paradoxically, I’ve learned how inter-related we loved ones are. What my DH and kids do impacts me. I’m not a one-woman show, I’m not the puppet-master. I don’t carry their worlds on my shoulders, after all. They’re my loved ones and I care.

But I’m not them, just little ol’ me. And now that the weight of everyone else’s world is off my shoulders, I have some pretty neat tricks up my sleeve. I’m in a cocoon right now, but it won’t last forever.

I can’t wait for my new wings to shimmer in the sunlight.

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