Dear Dr. Miriam
I am the oldest girl in my family and I have several siblings under me. My mother works and she is very overwhelmed with her work and home responsibilities. As a result, a lot of the household chores fall on me. I come home from school exhausted because I leave to school at 7 am and my mother expects me to help her with dinner prep.
I don’t want to help. I want to take a nap before dinner and do my homework. When I refuse to help, my mother is upset and I don’t want to get her upset. My siblings are too young to help out with cooking. I just want to be a kid and have fun too. I wish I didn’t have to work so hard at home.
Frustrated with Mom
Thank you for your letter. I appreciate how hard it is to feel as if you have a great deal of responsibility on your shoulders. Sometimes it is hard to talk about the pressure that we feel, and we keep our feelings to ourselves. It is also easy to feel guilt over our frustrations or our wishes that things could be different.
It is easy to forget that Hashem has provided each one of us very special talents and gifts, sometimes when we face difficult situations we learn so much about our own strengths.
What do you think are the hidden gifts in this situation that you are facing?
Hmm, I can come up with a few….well, for one, your mother thinks of you as a capable person that can help her. Second, your family likes you’re cooking. Third, you are blessed with a situation in which you can really learn about how you can contribute to others and the world…all while balancing your own needs.
Anytime we can learn about what drives us, what our passions are in life, and define what our ‘needs’ vs. our ‘wants’ are we can grow tremendously.
Lets start with defining needs vs. wants. A need is something you really should not do without. A want is just that, something that would be nice if you have it, but not necessary. Is a nap a ‘need’ or a ‘want’ for you? Is helping your mom a ‘need’ or a ‘want’? How about being a loyal family member, ‘need’ or ‘want’? Maybe by addressing which things in your life is a ‘need’ vs. ‘want’ you can reschedule your day a bit differently.
Let’s say, a nap is a ‘need’ for you. That you are exhausted by the end of the day and you need a quick rest. Maybe you could create a meal schedule on each Sunday that allows you to prep each morning for the dinner that night. When you get home from school, you just quickly organize the food that has been prepped and you take a 20 minute rest/nap before you finish getting dinner ready. See how different you are treating your nap each day when you give yourself permission to view your ‘needs’ vs. ‘wants’.
What about this question I raised, what drives us, what are passions? For some people, helping others gives them a great deal of energy. For others, contributing to the world in a different way bring them complete joy. The situation with your family gives you plenty of time to figure out what you like to do, and what you do well. Instead of looking at the things you are not doing, focus on the things you are doing, and honor and embrace the dedication and values that are behind your actions. When you said, “I just want to be a kid and have fun too,” I wondered what would happen if in your heart, your tried to be where you are each day, and not where you are not. Maybe look at dinner prep in a fun way, how about playing restaurant or cafe with your siblings?
Lastly, you and your mom are on the same team. While it might feel like you do not want to upset her, if you do not talk to her about how you are feeling, it may impact your relationship long-term. Ask your mom when a good time for her would be to talk, and then give her a few days to find the time. The purpose of talking her is not to vent to her, or complain. Rather your goal should be to find a way that her needs, your families needs, and your needs can be met. Flexibility, honesty, and love are some key thoughts that will help you communicate successfully with your mom. If you do not want to talk to her face-to-face, try writing her a letter and then reading it to her.
There is only a limited amount of time in the day, when your mom says “yes” to something, she also has to make the choice not do something else. Your mom has to remind herself daily that the reason she is not in one place, is because she has chosen to be in another place at that same moment. Maybe your mom has chosen to have a job because she ‘wants’ to, or maybe because she ‘needs’ to. Either way, her time spent working is taken away from other things that she may ‘want’ or ’need’ to do, like making dinner or helping her children. Your gift to you mom is let her know that you understand how hard it is to do what your need to do even though you may want to be something else.
Thank you again for writing, please check in with me soon!