Less of Me (Why Not Take Less of Me?)

Lately, the Universe has been asking less of me.

My teenagers, because it is their job, beg for less of me. Less mothering, less smothering, less time in their presence. They deeply wish for me to embarrass them less often in front of their friends and show up less often at their school.

As springtime quickens the pulse of the earth, happiness blossoms within my husband’s heart. The longer and warmer days cheer him, and most importantly, he gets to golf again. His love for golf, which bolsters him and gives him release and purpose and real contentment, requires less of me. He spends less time with me. He demands less of me. I notice that the best way to express my love to him is to give him the freedom to play golf, to come home late for dinner, guilt-free. It helps, too, if I listen to him talk about his round, his new grips, the interesting people he meets on the course. It is best, though, if I say very little. Observations about how golf is similar to teaching or acting or writing or cleaning the kitchen do not seem to enhance my husband’s experience as he contemplates his game. He feels most loved and supported when I do less and say less.

In general, the men I live with would like it if I did a whole lot less fussing over them. The problem is that I like to make a fuss. It’s what I DO. I think it’s the best thing about me. If you want to feel celebrated, validated, affirmed, protected, or pampered, call me. No one cheers louder or sheds more tears of joy than I. When I am accused of “over-celebrating” regular life, I take it as a compliment. I think it’s important to mark the days and seasons of ordinary time. One of the moments I cherish most came when my 13-year-old son likened me to Robin Williams’ character Patch Adams. “He had an excess of joy, Mom,” quipped my son, “like you.”

Indeed, I favor excess in all things, including how I show my love. When the people I love most need me to back off, I get confused. I can’t work the math: how can I love them MORE by doing LESS for them? Maybe it is an equation of inverse proportions, because me backing off usually produces a healthier, happier family. As is so often the case, raising teenagers (if it does not destroy us) can redeem us. We know it is our job as parents to let them go. We know we will eventually assess our work by how independent and self-reliant our children become. And although backing off from the behaviors that have defined our parenting is hard, we know it is right.

So I practice backing off and doing less for my kids (and for my husband). The good news is that this practice gives me room to notice our sons growing up. We see them struggling but we also see them taking responsibility. We have fewer nasty arguments and more real conversations about things that matter to all of us. The mother in me receives the daily gift of seeing my sons as the people they are. When I give them a little breathing room—even if it means I never make another balloon arch for another birthday party—they take deep gulps of the air of adulthood. Meanwhile, my husband gets happier eighteen holes at a time, and that feels good for everyone.

Another benefit I have noticed about doing less is that it breeds less resentment. When I kill myself to manufacture a magic moment for my children which they summarily reject, I get awfully bitter. It turns out the magnanimity of all that “joy” I spread is suspect. It seems I do a lot of my fussing over people not so much for them but for me. Although I know the folly of this statement, I often expect gratitude from other people. And expecting gratitude from a teenager is as futile as arguing with the wind. I know this. I know the adolescent brain like the back of my hand, but still I get sucked into wanting my kids to be thankful. When I remind myself that they truly do need less of me, I can do things for them with joy. (And let’s face it, as much as the teenagers would like to pretend they don’t even have a family, Mom still comes in awfully handy from time to time. They do still need us.) If I choose to knock myself out decorating for a holiday or buying a birthday present, fine. If it brings me joy to fuss over my family or friends once in a while, of course I will continue to fuss. But I will try to be more clear about why I’m doing it. I will try to give only freely, to expect nothing in return.

It is so difficult sometimes, loving people the way they wish to be loved. Trusting that I am a good enough mother, wife, friend, daughter, even if I do less—well, what do you know? It seems we’re right back to the great cosmic game of learning to trust that I am enough.

If I am not what I do, I am not sure I know who I am. If the people I love do not measure me by how much I do for them, I feel lost. If I cannot work harder to enhance my intrinsic value, I am paralyzed. My world-view is skewed by some vague but supreme score-card that tells me how I’m doing, what I am worth, who I am.

I get it. I get how pathetic that sounds. I get how untrue it is. This whole experiment—purging my closet, our house, my mind—helps me notice when less is truly more. It helps me lean in, ever closer to the space where I trust that I am enough. That we are all enough. Broken and fragile and lost, but enough. Unchanged at our core by anything that has ever happened: eternal, joyful, beloved, worthy. Enough.