Yesterday, I got the notification that my youngest child’s senior class photo appointment was next week. NEXT WEEK. How does this happen? In the blink of an eye, my youngest is a senior in high school. When you have a child with special needs, you can’t often think about next week because it’s one day at a time. I didn’t start thinking about high school until right before it started, and now, due to all his hard work, high school has flown by and we’re in the last year. It wasn’t without some challenges but we all face some, maybe just different ones.
I’ve been parenting for almost 30 years now. The age gap between my oldest child and my fourth, my last, is significant so I’ve been a mom for such a big part of my life. Now that my youngest is going to college next — ohemgee, that sounds so serious now that I’ve said it out loud — I really am glad that I’ve been carving out a new life for myself, things to do in addition to being a mom.
Being a wife and mom has been the best thing I could ever imagine. I am so thankful I got to do it with four kids, and they still love to be around me. Well, the teen sometimes would rather shake his head at my ridiculous request that he clean his room, but I’m pretty sure he still loves me. Life isn’t anywhere near over now that the parenting time has moved to a different stage.
The husband and I are going to celebrate our 25 year anniversary next April. Time truly does fly. There are a couple of reasons that I think we’ve made it last so long, but I think the first is that we still view ourselves as a couple. We aren’t just mom and dad. We really enjoy spending time together and while he may not like Lifehouse concerts like I do…or, gasp, he’s not into Disney like me, he does these things anyway. He gives me attention and is there for me so I don’t need to go out and get it elsewhere. He is also my first support system, above all. My kids are always supportive as well, and they are people I truly enjoy spending time with in addition to being mom.
Still, as an adult, we need friends. We get away, we rejuvenate, we laugh, and we’re better people to our partners for it. The last couple of years has been hard in that department. I expect relationships to be give and take. I don’t need a lot, but even a low-maintenance friend needs support sometimes. I have been told many times I’m a great listener and while I am thankful I’ve been there for so many, I think we really teach people how to treat us. Become a good listening ear and if you’re not careful, you’re always a listening ear. You’re also the one that is taken for granted, the one who will ‘always be there,’ so when people don’t think you’ll leave, be careful, because they’ll stop caring how they treat you.
This I’ve learned repeatedly the last few years. It’s humiliating when you are hidden away as a friend, when someone can’t stand up for you, when someone throws all that you’ve done for them back at you like it never happened. Being put in the middle of something when it’s not your fault leaves you disappointed and without a lot of options. It’s illuminating to realize you don’t have to put up with it though. It’s okay to say “enough.” That is what you CAN do. Then you move on and get over it.
Honestly, I wonder why this happened to me several times. The husband joked with me that I attract it somehow in my adult friendships. If there’s even a speck of truth in that, I’m working on changing it.
Growing up, I did a ton of listening to my mom talk to me as though I was an adult. It was awkward, I was uncomfortable and I hated it. I was a kid and I didn’t want to hear adult things of that nature. You grow up and learn from it but I do think that even sub-consciously, things have a way of impacting our personalities. It became something I was used to, listening and nodding and it took this long for me to realize that yes, I AM partially to blame for allowing it to happen.
I was reading a snippet of Louise Hay’s book yesterday, Heal Your Life. I don’t read much self-help stuff, but she touches on how to deal with being taken for granted. I haven’t been quiet about a couple of my adult friendships and related experiences — not by calling out people by name, but by being pretty forthright that I have a low tolerance for similar behavior. While I don’t understand why people allow others to tell them who they can be friends with, I do understand my value. I also understand that I’m allowed to stand up for myself. There’s nothing wrong with expecting a reasonable relationship and if people can’t understand that, then that’s their issue.
I don’t make it a habit to put my problems on social media, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any. Don’t mistake someone’s silence as a sign that they have a problem-free life and therefore can help you handle yours. Give people the opportunity to unburden themselves if they need to before you pile your own problems on top of whatever they’re already dealing with. I can’t fix someone else, but I can change what I allow in my life. I am going to focus on two-way relationships that remember we both matter. And I will remind myself this every month just to be careful I don’t fall back into it again.
If you’re in this same boat — and I think many of us are, if we stop to think about it — I can’t tell you what to do, but I will say that you need to assess what you’re comfortable with and what you can handle. There’s nothing noble about being a martyr to the point where you are miserable. Toxic relationships take many different forms. They can be family members or co-workers or random acquaintances. Life is too short to waste time trying to fix things that you can’t change. Trust me, I speak from experience. I’ve wasted hours trying to resurrect dying relationships and re-writing texts in my head over and over, then not sending them. Speak the truth? Lay it all out there? Don’t? Will the person rail at me? Do I care at this point? I’ve crafted perfect emails then deleted them because I know people rarely want to hear the problem. They just would rather be a victim than realize they have responsibility.
The last time I tried speaking the truth, it didn’t go so well. And in the interest of transparency, I realized after that I wasn’t truthful enough, so here it is: you exhausted me. It was all you, all the time. Even when it needed to be about me, you turned it into being about you. You drained every ounce of concern because I couldn’t say “It’s a gorgeous day!” without you using it as a segue into your problem, the same problem you’ve talked about endlessly for years. You wanted the adulation and pity and sympathy, and you seemingly wanted advice but refused to take any of it. You needed me because you could say things to me that you knew wouldn’t go over well with some of your other friends, and I’m not sure I’m proud of the fact you felt that way about me. I don’t believe in cheating and didn’t want to be complicit in it by hearing about it. I shouldn’t have been surprised that you didn’t take me seriously when I said that if you crossed a line — one that I’d explained several times — that I would be done. I have limits and reasons for them that, despite what you think you know, you don’t know the whole story. You tried to provoke me, and I followed-through. That doesn’t make me the bad person or you the victim. I just finally decided to invoke some self-respect.
I may be sassy and talk a big game but inside, I am actually a nice person…one who is just tired of taking someone’s crap. I have stopped caring as much now about how I react to anyone, even strangers, because I’m tired of being a doormat, a pushover, the one who lets you slam the door in my face before you come back and need me to listen once again. I don’t want to be the one that you share all your marital problems with, then get pushed away when you try to fix your relationship because I know everything. That isn’t fair. When someone takes the time to listen to you, remember that. Value their dedication. Don’t use them. If you will hold it against someone later, don’t share it.
A friend of mine went through a nasty divorce years ago. It was pretty public, and many of us knew the intimate details, whether we wanted to or not. In the interest of being supportive, we tried. Then suddenly it was “Sorry, we have to move on, we can’t rebuild around people that know all the dirty secrets.” What a way to thank people, but I would rather have been supportive than not. It just felt like punishment though. I’m not sure what the lesson is to learn there, because being a nice person still comes naturally. I still want to rush to your defense, to help you if you need a place to stay or to take you to happy hour. I will say, it has given me a desire to run away without looking back, because it puts the friends in very precarious situations. Your marriage is the ultimate in importance, but there’s a way to not throw your friends under the bus, too.
There’s no easy answer, but I remember having to hide in my RV one night, walking through a party I wasn’t invited to, because a very long-term friend…one who came to me during marital issues, family issues, financial issues, you name it…couldn’t tell her in-laws and child to butt out when they didn’t want us to maintain a friendship for reasons that had nothing to do with me. That walk through throngs of people looking at us, one asking why we couldn’t stay and another saying “sorry you weren’t invited” with a look of pity on her face made an impact, one my ‘friend’ never acknowledged. You can forgive but forgetting? Not so much. I vowed then that it wouldn’t happen again. People are tone deaf to their contributions sometimes. You can’t treat friends that way and expect them to hang around. That evening was a stellar moment because it put a seed in my mind that I finally focused on later, so maybe I should thank you.
I value my friends, and I’m so lucky to have made a lot of good ones in my blogging and social media community. I have long-term NASCAR friends and autism-community friends. Neighbors. I love to make new ones but not at the expense of my stress level. Moving forward in life as a mom of not-so-small kids means I have so many options, and I opt to spend my time avoiding the catty, the petty and the negative. It’s an ongoing thing and it’s not necessarily easy but the relief and peace is SO worth it. Now I can smile at other people and mean it without it being overshadowed by “oh no, what’s she going to say/do next.”
I repeat: life is short. Live it, live a little dangerously, but live it at as peace as you can. Smile, laugh, enjoy good wine, conversation and stories, but respect yourself or no one else will.