Christmas 2022 has passed, and a New Year is right around the corner. What will you do to make 2023 different? This week, the time between what’s old and what’s new invites reflection. What am I letting go of? What do I want to take hold of?
This morning I asked God 3 questions. “God, what do you want me to learn this year? Who do you want me to become more of this year and what do you want me to do? The psalmist reminds us, “Teach us to number our days so that we might present to you a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12.
This week’s question may be where you are about now. Feeling exhausted, angry, and a bit resentful that your Christmas was you giving and serving and doing, and others taking, but not giving back to you.
Question: It seems like I’m the only one doing all the preparations for making our family’s holiday a nice one. If it weren’t for me, we’d have no tree, no presents, no cookies, and no Christmas dinner. But, thinking about it, it’s not only the holidays that I feel this way. I feel like I carry the entire responsibility for everyone’s life to go well. Am I being selfish that I want someone to care about me and my needs once in a while?
Answer: Let me assure you that you are not selfish for wanting someone to notice that you are a person and not just a machine that ensures everything goes well for the people in your life. That said I find many women in your predicament. You over-function which enables the other people in your life to under-function. That’s fine once in a while or when there is a crisis, but when that becomes “normal routine” for a family, marriage, or even workplace, it leads to disaster.
You are not helping people by allowing them to think you can do it all while they relax on the couch watching television, sitting in front of the computer playing games, or doing their own fun things. It only enables selfishness to flourish and for your resentment and bitterness to grow – a lose/lose pattern.
So how can this pattern change? It starts with you. You have to be willing to relinquish control of everything and how things are going to be. Can you do that? If not, that becomes some of the work you need to do. Once you’re willing to let go and make a change then comes your next steps.
You will need to speak up to whoever your change will impact. Take entire responsibility for over-functioning (don’t blame your family). Now that you’ve decided that is not healthy for you or for them, you must let them know of the change. For example, you might say,
“Hey family (or husband, boss, or kids).
I need to apologize for being so short and crabby lately. I think the reason I get that way is that I feel like I have to do everything in order to make it a nice Christmas for you all. But then it’s not a very nice Christmas when I get upset and crabby, is it? I’d like to make some changes for next year. …For example, I’m going to get an artificial tree so it’s not a hassle going out and cutting one down and I’m not going to bake homemade cookies anymore since no one seemed to want to help me.
Or, I’m not going to cook the whole Christmas meal for everyone and clean everything up all by myself. It’s just too much work for me and I don’t want to feel resentful that you guys don’t want to chip in to help. I think my expectations were too high and those things aren’t important to you so I’m going to let them go.”
The details of what you are going to change may be different but notice you are not blaming or shaming others for NOT helping. Instead, you humbly acknowledge and accept the reality that these things must not be important enough to them to help you execute.
As you talk about these things, they may object “But mom, they are important, I do want to bake cookies or a big dinner.” If that’s what happens, say next “If they’re important to you are you willing to help make them happen because I can’t do it anymore all by myself.” Here you’re making a change. Now you are inviting a collaborative conversation on what’s important for your family during the holidays and who is going to take responsibility to make that happen.
If specific things are important to them and they do want a real tree or home-baked cookies, then they can offer to take responsibility or help make sure they happen. If they don’t, then here’s where you change. You LET THEM GO in order to demonstrate that you will not carry the entire load of Christmas anymore. Until your husband or children experience the consequences of what life (or Christmas) looks like when you stop over-functioning, they won’t begin to pick up the slack.
Here’s another example of a conversation around this issue:
“Honey, I’ve gotten burned out this Christmas with all the gift-buying for everyone. Next year I’d like you to take responsibility for getting gifts for your whole family. I don’t care what you get them, but I don’t want to carry the entire gift-buying load anymore. If you don’t want to do that, just let your family know that we won’t be exchanging gifts with them next year because I can’t do it all.”
As you are reading this you may see other areas where you over-function and allow your family to neglect to carry their own load of caring for themselves and caring about you. Please understand that God doesn’t want you to sacrifice yourself in order to allow someone else to be lazy or selfish.
The Bible says two things that at first glance appear to contradict one another but both are true. First, we are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and second, each person is to carry their own load (Galatians 6:5). Both teachings are true. We carry another’s burden when he or she is unable to carry his/her load alone.
However, when we carry a load for someone who is perfectly capable of carrying it themselves, we enable that person to under-function and that not only hurts you, it hurts them. It allows them to stay lazy, dependent, selfish, and self-absorbed.
You are a mom, not a maid. You are a person to love, not an object to use. Begin to honor your limitations and invite your family to care about your needs. That would be good for you, for them, and for your family.
C.S. Lewis wisely wrote, “Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness.” Loving out of obligation, fear or guilt is not love. It’s need. “I need you to need me in order for me to feel worthy.” Or “I need you to be happy with me in order for me to be okay.” Or “I need you to value or appreciate me in order for me to be happy.” Resentment comes when we do all this hard work of serving and don’t get what we need. Remember, true love freely gives with no strings or demands. When resentment rears its ugly head, it’s a sign to reevaluate what we’re doing and why.
Friend, when you have found yourself in this place of over-functioning, what steps did you take to change your own thinking or behaviors?
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This was so good! Almost a year ago exactly I watched my first Leslie Vernick video on over-functioning and saw myself clearly for the first time and my has this last year been a lot of mental work to change my over-functioning ways. But this Christmas was so different for me. I asked my adult children to shop and fill stockings for all 11 of us. I gave them $, a budget and told them to go have fun shopping and filling and they did. I also asked that we draw names. When it came to cooking, I roasted the turkey the day before Christmas so I could enjoy relaxing and playing games on Christmas, with just setting out cold cuts. When we went to extended relatives, I just brought a tin of store bought cookies, and no one cared that I didn’t spend hours in the kitchen preparing. Just making a few small changes like this made a huge difference in how I was able to show up this Christmas….relaxed, joyful, and not rushed or stressed out. I have learned so much this year about being intentional about choosing what I will do or not do.
Awesome! Praising the Lord for your growth, Jeannie.
This is so good! Things changed for me and my family when I focused on the fact that I have choices—I can choose to cook, clean, go all-out for holidays, do it ALL…OR I can make a choice to involve my family to take responsibility for things that affect/involve the family. I can make the choice also to take care of myself instead of waiting/wishing/hoping my family would do that. It’s good to take notice of my needs since others don’t.
For example, 2 years ago I got tired of doing everything for Christmas, so I requested that my husband wrap all the gifts. He said yes, although he requested my help when he started to do it…;-) It was a burden lifted…
This year I also chose to buy a pre-made thanksgiving meal instead of knocking myself out for a short dinner that isn’t much appreciated while the rest of the family relaxes and watches tv. It was great! I got to relax, too!
I think it’s good to share responsibility in a family and to work collaboratively rather than secretly burning out and resenting holidays or daily life through overfunctioning.
Yes… learning to lay boundaries in love. It’s not always easy but it’s a huge area of growth.
Our family started giving to
Charity instead of each other- we still got gifts when the kids were young- but the adults would put the charity name on the Christmas tree. My kids are adults now- and see how blessed we are to have our needs met- so they carried on the tradition on their own.
Makes Christmas a bit easier- and still have a spirit of giving.
my first email wasn’t really all i wanted to say. I thought of you when my pastor said-” sometimes, when you have had a hard year, Christmas is hard. When you have a good year, Christmas is good.” Maybe you can take the next 10 month to plan YOUR next Christmas? If Christmas could be a time of ” Love- Laughs- Lasting Memories- and of course teaching & celebrating the Birth of Christ”, maybe one can work backwards from that, instead of looking at a “to do list and checking it twice.” Be creative – be yourself. (I’m not much for shopping -but If i remember to pray for the person before I shop for their gifts- it actually gives me a much better outlook & hopefully a better gift.) May you see Christ in Christmas in 2023.
After my mother passed away these celebrations fell on me for some reason. After two years with very little assistance, I said “I’m done”, and I only do what I want to at my own house. I feel great with no stress. And I get invites to dinners and when I decline someone brings food and/or gifts to me! We need to stop being doormats. Thanks.
I can so relate to over functioning. I recognized it in myself a few years ago, so I agree with all the counsel you give because we do need to look at why we do it and how it affects and enables the family we are doing it all for.
I also wonder why many of us don’t do the simple step of asking for help first (I know I didn’t), because I’m not sure I agree with the suggestions given on how to address your family. It sounds very passive-aggressive. If someone said to me, “since no one seemed to want to help me” or “you guys don’t want to chip in to help” or “I think my expectations were too high and those things aren’t important to you”, I would roll my eyes and feel very manipulated. How about setting some expectations and putting a more positive spin on it so it doesn’t come across as sounding like a victim?…”I’m going to get an artificial tree so it’s not a hassle going out and cutting one down and I’m not going to bake homemade cookies anymore unless someone would like to help me next year.”
I don’t want help because I made them feel guilty…I want them to help because they see the need and what they would lose if they didn’t help.
Sometimes, we get into the habit of over functioning. This allows the people around us to under function. Then, we start to feel resentful. How can we get our joy back? By doing less. https://carolineabbott.com/2019/04/do-you-over-function/