On Being Responsible

I’m the eldest child in a family of 6. Somehow, by direct instruction or osmosis, I got the idea that I had to be in charge and the misbehaviour of my siblings was my fault. I hesitate typing those words as I see how stark that seems. I mean no blame to attach to my parents, who were doing their level best to feed, clothe and educate us. I also do not blame my siblings. We could be a loud, argumentative bunch as well as being caring, unemotionally demonstrative, confiding, unsympathetic, generous, selfish, etc. etc.

Like lots of families we all know, then!

(This may be similar to your own family of origin or maybe even the family you have created.)

So then, at a very young age, when I was 19, I assumed the awesome responsibility of parenting my own baby.

As a lone parent.

With my parents doting on their grandchild and despairing of me in equal measure.

I was the absolute best mother that I could possibly be. I say this without pride, I hope, and just the amount of self-awareness that I can muster at the distance of 28 years.

I was a good patient in the maternity hospital so my son and I suffered unnecessary separation.
I made choices I have since regretted (vaccination) or not repeated with later babies (staying out of maternity hospitals and planning home births (good choice!), and when I “had” to go in, asking questions to get myself and baby more humane, less conveyor belt, “sure everyone does it” care).
And I made new mistakes on each baby.

Somehow, we have emerged from my searching and seeking, chopping and changing, to still be on speaking terms,
a testament to the power of love and self sacrifice and the innate human decency and forgiveness which I choose to believe are human traits.

I did have a moment of revelation, caused by what specifically, I have no idea at this distance. A child was saying he was bored or unhappy from some cause or other and (I hope) without utterly invalidating the expressed feelings, I said:

“I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR HAPPINESS.”

I think it can creep up on us, when of course, in infancy, we are responsible for our children’s very lives. We breastfeed, clean, love and adore them or they would die, physically and emotionally. And gradually they gain independence and can meet their own needs for food and dressing themselves, entertaining and learning, following their interests, with our encouragement, at best, or without too much interference.

So I’m not sure when that changed, my being responsible for EVERYTHING to letting go of what the child could do or manage. It’s gradual and evolving, not static or always forward-moving.

But it was powerful to hear myself say it, to articulate a message, the truth of which I was only beginning to fully appreciate.

And I would love to say that from then on, I didn’t hover around my children’s emotions but hey! I’m only human!