Aahh . . . Love. Love of family, friends, and people in general. It’s a beautiful thing. It feels good to love on people and have them love on you. And when you love people, you care about what happens to them. You care about the things they do. It’s the benevolent thing to do. And it’s only right. Right? Well . . . yes, and no. It’s great to care about our loved ones. But far too often, we fall into the trap of thinking that overstepping our boundaries and inserting ourselves into the business affairs of our loved ones displays love and concern. And like Dwayne and Walter proclaimed on “A Campfire Story” episode of A Different World, “That’s when the fight broke out!” Inserting ourselves where we don’t belong into the lives of our loved ones is a surefire way to create division in our relationships. But we feel justified to do so. After all, we have valid opinions. We can see what they cannot. So it’s our duty to let them know exactly what we think about what they’re doing, what they need to do, and what they should do in the future. And to add insult to injury, we’re actually insulted when our benevolent advice is not met with gratitude. However well intentioned we may be, we can be quite guilty of crossing lines when we do this. Actually, our opinions are not “good” or “bad.” We may even have some sound advice. Hell, we may actually *gasp* be right. Now, I’m not speaking of when those we love are causing themselves great harm (say for example, in a case of a severely depressed person, or an addiction). But in the case of every day living, sometimes we get so busy living our loved ones lives that we forget to live our own. And it’s not as if we haven’t been warned about doing this. Jesus told us to remove the beam from our own eye before trying to remove the plank from our neighbors. New school tells us to stay in our lane. Old folks simply told us to mind our own business. Let me tell you how I learned to do just that.
I had an excellent teacher in learning this lesson. Who was my teacher, you ask? It was none other than my mother. And she honestly had no idea she even taught me. But she did. Allow me to paint the story for you. It was 2009, about eight months after my dad passed away. My mom had decided that she was ready to date. I, on the other hand, didn’t agree. Now let’s look at what I said. I didn’t agree with her choice. Just who did I think I was? Well, at the time I thought I was a supportive and loving daughter who cared about my mom and only wanted the best for her. I thought it was a bit much to expect that a woman who’d lost her husband of 30 years (the man she’d been with from 16 years of age to 50) was ready to go out and date. I thought it was even more than a bit much when considering that said woman hadn’t been on a first date since 1976. I thought it was a bit much to expect that she’d be wholly healed and done with her grief in a way that would allow her to forge a new relationship. And I thought the loving thing to do was to simply tell her so. And I didn’t think I said it an overbearing way. I thought I said it in a “Mom I love you and I only want the best for you” kind of way. But the reality was that she didn’t ask me. To be frank, no one asked me. I took it upon myself to decide that I needed to intervene on her behalf. And I thought I was right. Man, if you’d seen some of these guys! She had no business dating any of them. That’s what I told myself. And for me, it wasn’t so much that I felt that none of them could hold a candle to my dad. It was that I instinctively felt that none of them were interested in my mother as a woman. I felt that they were all just happy to say they were dating “Bernie Mac’s wife.” I knew that feeling all too well. After all, I knew how to navigate those murky waters. I knew what it felt like to have the task of making friends and date all while being “Bernie Mac’s daughter.” So I was helping my mother avoid some of the pitfalls I’d found myself in. Or so I thought.
Again, I had benevolent intentions. The execution though? Not so much. I wasn’t actually being benevolent. I was actually being quite dismissive of my mother and her right to choose. She had a right to live her life the way she felt. She had every right to grieve in the way she needed. She had a right to go out with anyone she wanted. She was 50 years old for goodness’ sake! She wasn’t a child who needed me to hold her hand. All she needed was support. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that support was enough action. I didn’t realize that support didn’t require me to insert myself in her life. Now, I’d love to tell you that I made these realizations shortly after I said something, but I cannot. No, I rode the short bus on this lesson. It took me quite a while to get to the memo. What pushed me to finally get it, you ask? It took me feeling as if my life had completely fallen apart and dissecting everything about it to realize that everything I was upset over had NOTHING to do with me! It was several months later at this point. I’d deteriorated mentally, physically, and emotionally. My entire body was broken out in a horrid rash. I thought it was simply a bad case of my eczema until I went to the dermatologist and learned that it was another skin condition caused by stress. I couldn’t sleep. I was averaging about 2-3 hours of sleep, and I wasn’t eating. I couldn’t. I couldn’t keep anything down. I went to my counselor and told her what was going on and she asked me a very important question. She simply asked, “What does any of this have to do with you?” *Gasp* How could she dare ask me that? Couldn’t she see that it had everything to do with me? “She’s my mother!” I answered incredulously. She looked at me and said, “Yes, we know that. And she’s your mother whether she’s married to your dad, dating a new guy, or perpetually single. This is her life. So what does her dating have to do with you?” I opened my mouth to answer, but I had nothing. So I closed my mouth and just sat there. She was correct. The truth was that it didn’t have anything to do with me. But I think I made it about me because that was safer and easier than dealing with my own life. The truth was that I wasn’t doing so well with my dad’s passing. I was devastated and I didn’t know I was devastated. I knew I was out of it. But I didn’t have a name for it. I just knew that I felt low and wanted to feel better. To top it off, my divorce was finalized three months after my dad passed. And while I felt I did the right thing by divorcing my ex husband, I still felt a sense of sadness. I still needed to grieve. I needed to grieve not so much what was, but the release of all the unfulfilled hope of what could have been. As if that wasn’t enough, my relationship with my mom had changed. A distance grew between us–one that wasn’t related to my insertion in her business. I honestly think maybe I inserted myself as a means to bridge the gap. Whatever my reasons, it didn’t change the fact that I was so busy minding my mother’s business that I was failing myself miserably.
So then judgment kicked in. I was upset with myself because I should have known better. After all, how many fights had I participated in with my father because he didn’t allow me the freedom to choose–even when I was grown and out of the house. I would often tell him that while I understood his intentions; he still needed to back off. Of course, he wouldn’t. Now years later, he was gone and I was finding myself committing his cardinal sins! But that was judgment. And judgment kept me stuck. I couldn’t get past it. After all, this was different and I was nothing like him because I was right and he wasn’t. But it didn’t matter how I tried to spin it because the more I spun, the more I realized that I was acting and sounding just like my dad. AAaaaaahhhh!
And so, upon realizing that I was acting like my father and that I was running away from my own trouble–also the fact that I was extremely dry and itchy and the steroid cream the dermatologist prescribed was NOT cutting it–prompted me to get out of my mother’s lap in her driver’s seat, in her car, in her lane, on her highway, on her route, in her city, on the way to her destination. Instead, I opened the driver’s side door of my own car, sat behind the wheel, and drove off at a very cautiously slow 5 mph. Whew! I was scared out of my mind, but I kept driving. Slowly but surely, my scenery changed because I was on my own route–one that had nothing to do with my mom’s. And that’s how I learned to mind my own business.
While I will offer my opinion to my loved ones when asked, I won’t insert myself in their lives. I only speak when prompted. Furthermore, I’m done once I’ve said my peace. I don’t entangle myself in their affairs. Yay for healthy boundaries! It took some practice, but now it’s almost effortless, and I think my relationships are the better for it.