When I was young, washing dishes was not my favorite job. I was the eldest of five children and later two more came along. There were a lot of dishes. If I had the choice, I always picked washing over drying for two reasons. The obvious one was that I would be done sooner, but I could also set the pace. What was more annoying than standing around waiting for the next dish to dry? Did I have ADHD? Come to think of it, I did get distracted rather easily.
One day I asked my mom if she liked doing dishes. Her response to me was, “I don’t ask myself.” I’ve thought of my mom’s reply many times. I know she has worked very hard all of her life. When she started working for other families at the age of twelve, doing laundry, baking, cleaning and caring for children, her dad would pick up her pay check at the end of the week and her only reward was that she contributed to the support of their large family.
The truth is there are some tasks we have to do with regularity, whether we like them or not. So why ask ourselves if we like it? Maybe there is really not much point to it. The job has to be done anyway, so we might as well assume a good attitude.
Last week I was somewhat stunned by a blog I ran across that was entitled, “I Don’t Like Being a Wife.” Many thoughts raced through my mind. What provoked her to come out with this? What did her husband think of her public declaration? Was she serious?
When it comes to being a wife, I don’t think my mother’s response is the appropriate one. I am a wife. Do I like being a wife? Well, on some days I like being a wife more than on other days, but as a whole, I do. I do not like how society looks on a wife as somewhat of a commodity, and, in our home, that is not what I am. I have the respect of my husband. We communicate intelligently and make decisions together. We enjoy each other’s companionship and in many ways we need each other’s support. We have worked at having a good, understanding relationship that is satisfying to both of us.
When a husband hears his wife say she is dissatisfied with marriage it is time to inquire specifically about her concerns and look at possible solutions. Ask, what exactly is it that you don’t like about being a wife? I know it can be scary to go there, but the alternative is not desirable either, and it is probably worse. She may be unhappy with you, your behaviour. Or she may be discontent with her own life, her role. It might be a very small issue that is easy to fix, or it could be something big that will take a lot of time to work through and may even require seeking outside counsel.
The point I am making here is, please don’t ignore the signals. Don’t laugh it off. Don’t think it will work itself out. Don’t say she or he will get over it. Seek solutions early in your marriage, so that no one has a reason to say, “I don’t like being a wife…or a husband.” At one time that person wanted to spend the rest of his or her life with you. What changed?
Warning: This is a rant of sorts. I admit it. I rarely do this (beyond anywhere but in my own head). And perhaps I am guilty of doing what I am saying others should not do. I get the irony. I do. But here goes …
I am one to believe that no matter what difference of opinion may exist, people ought to set aside judgment and simply walk alongside those in grief. It’s naïve of me, I know, and perhaps it is born of my own experiences, the times when I have felt so alone and abandoned, and subsequently shocked by the insensitivity and abrasiveness of people I may or may not know. My belief system leads me to surmise that, apart from sheer ignorance, people who hurt others the most are the people who themselves are hurting the deepest. Maybe their pain displays as arrogance, bitterness, indifference, or outright assault either verbally, emotionally, or physically. It is heartbreaking to me to see this type of reaction by people who more often than not think they know a situation in its entirety, even though they’ve only caught glimpses of the most peripheral details. From there, right-and-wrong and black-and-white judgments and declarations abound, and the lack of gray (and grace) leaves little to no room for compassion or mercy.
The recent suicide of Matthew Warren, adult son of California pastor and author Rick Warren, is a sad example of this situation to me. I have never read any of Rick Warren’s books, but out of curiosity, I went on a few websites to read comments in response to articles about the Warren family and Matthew’s death. Knowing that mental health issues play into this, I was very interested to see what I would find. Setting aside the fact that this could easily be my family – or yours – I am dismayed at those who are using this grievous situation to speculate, to mock, and even to gloat. Some may blame this on our celebrity-worshipping culture, and the fact that many feel justified in drawing their own conclusions because they read an article or heard what someone said about some hot-button issue, so they feel warranted in making their ill-informed proclamations. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s part of the equation.
Admittedly, I didn’t stick around to read all of the comments; there were just too many. There were those who expressed sadness and support, but it seemed they were greatly outnumbered by those who blamed the parents, blamed their faith, blamed reasons that were admittedly speculative at best. I won’t go into the details because they really are mere speculation. But I will say that I was most taken aback by those who mocked the family, as well as those who felt they had a right to demand more information (as if this family’s grief is any of their business), and those who intimated that Matthew’s struggles with depression were just an excuse for him to be selfish enough to take his own life. Really? To make such blanket statements, to presume that you know the details of, or what is best for, anyone else’s life is sheer arrogance at best. Truth be told, most of us are having one heck of a time just trying to keep our own lives in order. How dare such pronouncements be made upon a grieving family simply because they happen to be more well-known than our own.
As a parent who has walked the path of mental health issues (both my own and that of my children), I find this appalling and offensive. Living with mental illness (however brief or extended the experience may be) can be a living nightmare. To simply wake up and fight to put one foot in front of the other, to dread the thought of going to bed because it leads only to waking up and wondering if your daughter will be dead or alive in the morning, driving your desperate teen to the Emergency Room for psychiatric care, or being forced to call 911 because the child you bore is suicidal and raging … I have lived these things and more. No amount of denigration or finger wagging from those who demand to know details, or think they have it all figured out, does anything to help anyone. Ever. These things are added violence to the already swirling mayhem that for some is daily life.
It takes courage to walk alongside those we love in the best of times. When depression or other mental issues are present, we must gather together more courage than one person alone can possess. We must ask for and accept the courage and hope of those willing to loan them to us, of those willing to bear us up when we are barely able to crawl. Shame on those who think they can render a verdict about a situation in which they are not intimately involved. And at the same time, my heart breaks for you who behave that way; I am sorry you are so wounded that upon seeing another human soul or family in pain, you cannot muster enough kindness to offer a word of sympathy. Or at least keep your mouth shut out of respect. I suspect this is the very thing you want and feel you have not received, either from the ones you harass or from someone significant in your life. And this makes me sad for you.
Some people are still so stuck in the dark ages about mental illness. Why are they so reluctant to admit that there are some things that are beyond our (and their) control? Why the reticence to simply say, “Sometimes things are awful and scary and hard, and we just do our best to love each other through them”? Perhaps because acknowledging that it can happen to others means acknowledging that it can happen to you, too. Knowing that some things are so grievous and difficult that they can actually cause death … this is a terrifying concept, but it is real. Sometimes treatment works, and sometimes it does not. And whether you want to believe it or not, many people wrestle with that truth every day. We are sorry if it scares those of you who have never experienced it, but we ask that you not condemn those of us who have simply because you may not fully comprehend it.
Instead of judgment, a good and courageous start in response to the struggle of another – whether stranger or friend – is compassion, which can be defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune”. Compassion is simply imagining what it would be like to walk in another’s shoes, then responding with empathy. I believe we all long for this most basic of human connections, but our woundedness and fear can make us reluctant to give it.
Compassion is a powerful weapon, one that we must use to fight against the stigma of mental illness as well as many other societal ills. It is one weapon that is, ironically, inherently devoid of violence.
Yesterday I spoke with my mother on the phone. For years I have been trying to figure out what my mother wants for Mother’s Day. I mailed her a card. We spent over an hour talking and I tried to put into a few sentences what she means to me. If you’ve never done that, try it sometime. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
I think I am beginning to understand my mother. For a long time I was puzzled by the fact that she is rarely appreciative when she receives a gift. It is not that she is an ungrateful person. That is the furthest thing from the truth. She simply thinks that money should be spent wisely. It especially should not be spent on things for her that she does not feel are necessary.
What means the most to my mother and to myself is to know that our children are doing well. When they call us or visit we feel appreciated. We love to spend time with them. Of Gary Chapman’ five love languages–words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, physical touch–my mother and I would choose quality time. Most women I have talked to choose this one. Acts of service comes in as a close second.
A thoughtful card is a nice acknowledgement and I know that my mother appreciates a card. She expects no more. In fact, she does not even expect a card, but in her heart I believe she desires some simple acknowledgement.
My sister brought my mother flowers and they delighted her. But she would not want flowers from all of her seven children. She is too practical. In so many ways I am like her.
This Mother’s Day, like my mother, I’d say, Don’t spend money on me. But if you want to acknowledge me, your mother (or the mother of your children), flowers or a card are nice, and so is a shared meal. Very specifically speaking, though, I’d like a parsley plant. I could put it on my balcony and enjoy fresh parsley through the summer. That would be nice.