Women take on a caregiving role in their families for different reasons. I have taken some time to sort out my own reasons for doing what I do, and I’d like to share some of the conclusions I have come to about the role that our motives play in our role as caregivers within our family. (And keep in mind that men can and should be caregivers as well—it’s not like they are off the hook or something if they can wrangle a woman who’s willing to stay at home. The way that a man’s caregiving looks is sometimes different in form and feel from a woman’s caregiving. For instance, our husbands might not have a child hanging on them all day long, but they are earning the money so that the child hanging off of us, as well as ourselves, can be cared for in a financial-provision way and so that we can continue to monetarily afford to do what we do by staying home and not having to go out to earn a paycheck of our own. Admittedly, not every woman has a clear-cut choice with the staying at home thing. But for those who find themselves in this never-ending caregiver role, whether they are a stay-at-home caregiver or not, here are a few more things I wanted to say about caregiving in relation to our motives.)
Our motives are the reasons why we do what we do. We need to be aware of the possibility that misplaced motives can displace us and derail us. We cannot allow our identity to be merged with the identity of our husband (that who we are as a person depends on how our husband is, that our identity and sense of well-being are determined by his identity and sense of well-being), that our whole life is wrapped up in his, and our motivations behind doing or not doing things are rooted in getting him to be happy. At one point in my relationship with my husband, if he was unhappy, it made me feel unloved, and I felt like that was my fault, so I did everything I could possibly do to make him happy, even at the expense of my own happiness. If we realize that this sort of thing is happening to us, then it is important that we take the steps that we need to detach from this faulty thinking.
When I began seeing that my motives for caregiving were off and I began seeing it for what it was, it’s like I discovered a path through a dark tunnel. With God’s guidance, I was able navigate the terrain out with courage and determination. Although the beginning of this journey of getting stronger and more self-confident was tough at the beginning, what really helped me gain momentum was having the words to describe and articulate my experiences (since, for so long, I was in denial about a lot and didn’t know it). To this effect, I found that writing helped me as did reading about topics that related to my growth areas.
I’m still working on and through a lot of pieces, but the main thing I can say about what I learned through this process of self-development (and readjusting my motives for doing what I was doing with regards to caregiving) is that I decided that I was actually going to do what I needed to do to re-claim myself, to re-acquaint myself with myself, and to get to know who I really was, without inextricably linking myself to someone else. What this means is that I had to make some changes in how I operated, and this process of acquiring a new way of operating caused me to experience a crushing kind of grief because I had already developed my own way of operating that had gotten me through three decades of my life (but, which, invariably had caused a proverbial train wreck because I felt out-of-touch with who I was after having been so wrapped up in who my husband and son were, by the time I realized that my motives were working against myself). One very important step in the right direction was this: to not allow myself to become quite as negatively affected by the play-by-plays of the day as I had been allowing myself to be affected by them and instead to become confident in the ministry of servanthood. This is not a state of position but rather a state of heart that continues even after childrearing and housekeeping (and it also begins before marriage and motherhood, if you are looking for ways to prepare well for this road that you think you might want to travel).
So here are just a few things I did and thoughts I would think (they seem trivial on the surface) to help me start to have healthy motives, to re-establish my identity, and to give me a voice again (and to help me start accepting myself for who I really was). Since then, I have felt free enough to be myself that I don’t have to have a running list in my head of things I do and things I don’t do in order to establish a healthy measure of separateness from others. But at first, I really needed small, simple steps to take to show me that I had been blending in too much with my surroundings as an attempt to win love and approval.