Thinking out Loud - How my family reunion gave me a lesson in personal responsibility and claiming what I want and need

Note: I’ve decided to start a series of posts called Thinking Out Loud. These are rambling thoughts in the process of making their way through my brain. Unfinished and unrefined I am thinking out loud and look forward to our discussion as we all process questions of emotion management, relationships boundary setting an more. This is the first in that series.

I’ve always had a hard time with the phrase You can only rely on yourself in this world. It’s something I heard a lot growing up, from many people, and is probably the one stand out in my memory scene from American Beauty which is one of my top 5 movies of all time for sure. Is it really true? Or does believing this hold me back from receiving what I truly desire? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and trying to understand my relationship with this sentiment and why I want to challenge it so much. I went on holiday this week for my grandma’s 100th and I think I got a big closer to understanding why this sentiment makes me so uncomfortable and how I can reframe it.


Let me set the stage for you.

It was a big reunion. My dad rented a place and all of my cousins, aunts and uncles and siblings came together over a week to celebrate my grandmother's 100th birthday and spend time together. My husband had to stay home so I was alone with the baby for the trip. Baby is also 12 months, learning to walk, teething and in a new place which = CLINGY AF. Like cried every time I left the room and yet was totally fine with others when I left the property.

Midway through I was reflecting back on the trip so far and how I would rate it. I noticed myself thinking that it had been wonderful so far and that people were helpful with the baby - but only when directly asked. Almost anyone would take the baby so I could do XYZ if I asked them directly, but not many really noticed when I needed help or anticipated my needs and offered. 

My step mom and sisters had not arrived yet and I caught myself wondering if they would make more offers to me. I was almost looking forward to them coming so I could get some baby free time - assuming they would reach out more. 

But it got me thinking. About a pattern I have around giving and receiving. I mean, it’s wonderful when I ask for help and I receive it. Instead of people offering misguided help I get exactly what I am looking for. Taking agency of my needs forces me to notice and acknowledge my needs - be tuned in to them - and then give myself permission to make requests, of myself and others. It means taking agency of myself. Not in a “you can only rely on yourself” kind of way, but in a “ I am in charge of asking for what I want, and ask and ye shall receive” kind of way. I have agency. It is nobody’s JOB to take care of me but me. 

Instead of having this as my default setting I seem to internally insist that people become mind readers and anticipate my needs. This perspective makes me feel alone and isolated sometimes and also makes me resentful when I do ask for favours that I feel I should not have had to request. Of course this plays a HUGE role in my relationship with my husband but also with my parents and many others in my life. Where am I expecting others to meet my needs? Are these expectations reasonable? Or is it a way of getting into victim mode, of eschewing my responsibility for myself and most importantly blaming others when I don’t get my needs met. (Oh my god I think I am having a light bulb moment as I write this).

Even as I am contemplating this there’s a hand being passionately raised at the table in my mind and someone is saying BUT WHAT ABOUT EMOTIONAL LABOUR!!. Yes, you should ask for what you need but why is no one else thinking about your needs. 

Well, let’s break that down. 

What is the emotional labour in this context? 

I guess it’s the care of my daughter. I mean, entertaining a highly mobile and active 1 year old 12 hours a day in between naps is a BIG job and I am the only one here actively taking on that responsibility. Is it only my responsibility? Is it because they are mostly men, or men who don’t notice these things ?Is it because my cousins and aunts and uncles are not super close and they don’t feel they have permission to take on that role without my invitation?  

When I think about taking this agency in my personal life and in my marriage the emotional labour argument gets even louder. Is it a slippery slope? What is the difference between taking responsibility for myself and taking on more than my fair share of the emotional labour? 

I’m seriously processing this as I am writing! I guess the point is that I only need to take responsibility for myself. 

Let me repeat that. 

I only need to take responsibility for myself. 

I do not need to do the job of worrying about things my husband is responsible for. I can empathize with him. I can support him. I can give when he asks (If I am capable of giving) but I am not required to anticipate his needs or read his mind just like he is not required to read mine. 

Whoa mind blown. 

What would our relationship look like if we were two people who were totally in charge of ourselves and our own shit and really really good at anticipating our own needs and asking for help when we need it - not when it’s too late? What would that feel like?

What would my life be like if I operated from this new default - I am in charge, I get what I ask for. The universe and others have got my back and my job in that is to ask. What if I ditched resenting having to ask? 

Of course I could go on a whole other tangent with parenting - and I think that’s where the slippery slope comes for us women. We get trained to think about and take responsibility for others because to some degree our children need this (especially as infants).But in this case too, we are really best served by teaching our children that they have this agency as young as we can. It is their responsibility to exercise that agency.

Another part of me fears this is a very individualistic way of looking at things. That we need only rely on ourselves. That we need only better ourselves to change the world. One could explore this forever.

So this is where I turn the tables over to you…. 

Should I be taking more responsibility for myself and my needs? Can I rely on the universe as long as I make my requests or should I really only rely on myself? Is that really the art of ditching emotional labour - clearing up who is responsible for what and practicing the art of each asking what we need? Should we be thinking about life in a more collective, less individualist way? What messages where you taught about giving and receiving in life and how have they served or not served you.

Let me know what you think! All respectful perspectives are welcome. 

I’m going to be simmering on this one for a while.

XO- The Happy V

Sofia FortinComment