Article by Wendy McCance
I was at my mom’s the other night for dinner. Besides my immediate family, there was also another family that joined us. My mom put the whole dinner together and was happy to share a meal with all of us. The other family came with a big bouquet of gorgeous flowers for my mom. They wanted to say thank you for including them and wanted my mom to feel as special as she made them feel.
When it was just my mom and me in the kitchen, she whispered to me that the flowers were nice, but she had wished that the family hadn’t brought them. I was taken aback. My mom’s reasoning was that receiving flowers made her uncomfortable. I said that the family was so happy to be included that they just wanted to show their appreciation. My mom said she knew, but she didn’t want any recognition. I said that she should just enjoy the flowers, that’s what they were intended for no more and no less.
A little background on my mom. She likes to keep score and she likes to be ahead. When I was growing up, if my mom did anything nice like drive me to a friend’s home, she would expect me to jump up and do any favor for her at any time. If I didn’t, she would say, “you know Wendy, I did you a big favor by driving you to your friend’s home. The least you could do was help me with (whatever it was she wanted help with).”
It didn’t take me long to find any way possible not to ask for anything no matter what. This irritated my mom more than you could imagine, which was not my intention. I just didn’t want there to be strings attached to any seemingly nice gesture. I also wanted to be of assistance in the family structure not because I was (blackmailed to) but because my heart said it was a good thing to do.
My mom keeps track of every moment she does something she feels is kind. She expects the kindness returned and is often disappointed when it is not returned in the manner she would like. The kicker is, when someone performs a gesture such as the family that gave flowers to her at that dinner, it trumps in her head her kindness and she can’t deal with the feeling that now she might owe them. The whole process is pretty exhausting, even to write about on this blog.
My point, and yes, I have one, is that she is looking at the dynamics of give and take in a way that will cause heartache and disappointment. To give to others is to give openly because you want to. It makes you feel good and that’s a good enough reason. You aren’t giving with the thought in the back of your mind that now you can hold someone hostage because they owe you. You aren’t giving because you are excited about what great things might come your way from your act (which I think most of us do to some extent). Giving without looking past the act itself is the biggest gift you can give to others and to yourself. It’s the secret to a happier life.
This brings me to the other side of the coin. Receiving is probably the most difficult thing to learn to do. We are taught in school to share, but no one ever teaches us how to receive. It for whatever reason can be really uncomfortable. My mom wasn’t able to receive the flowers comfortably. Honestly it bugged her all night. So many people are great at giving, but are so uncomfortable in the position to receive.
Receiving is letting go of power. You are letting go of some of your control and allowing others to “take care” of you. How do you allow this if you have always depended on yourself, had bad experiences with receiving or just like the feeling of having more control over your life?
When I first met my husband, I had come from a bad first marriage and well, you now know a little history about my early years with my mom. This wonderful man wanted to spoil me. He wanted to pamper me and show me his love. I almost blew it, because I had so much trouble giving up control and allowing someone else to show their love for me. It was the most uncomfortable process to let go, but I knew if I didn’t change my ways and actually allow someone to love me and be allowed to demonstrate it, I would be left without the love I desperately wanted in my life. I wouldn’t be experiencing the happier life I so desperately wanted.
I don’t think you ever fully get good at the receiving end. I think it’s important to be aware of what a gift it is and to never take it for granted.
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