(*Names have been changed)
Last week I told Bob’s story. A former well spouse, he lived his life feeling it was his responsibility to financially provide for his family and be there to serve his community. He did this totally unaware that he was neglecting his wife and children, always assuming he had his priorities correct as a frum Jew. It was not until he saw his values reflected in his children and how they managed family dynamics that he realized the toll his values had taken on his own wife and children. As a result, Bob vowed to be there for his children and grandchildren 24/7, never letting any outside request (though tempting) deter him from their needs. In this way he felt he could compensate for the legacy he had left his children and allow them to stay involved in the good acts they were doing for others, without allowing his grandchildren or his children’s spouses to be unwittingly neglected.
And so, when Bob’s grandson was having a birthday, he made sure to help with the party planning. There was no question he would be there for the family dinner, the celebratory birthday cake and presents and if his grandson was not too tired, would take him out to do something special afterwards – just the two of them. It was something his grandchildren loved, something he never had time to do with his own children.
Meanwhile, Bob’s daughter was having a harrowing week. She had become very involved helping the adult child of her close friend, Judy*. That child, Ilsa*, had had problems with anorexia and had become dependent upon Bob’s daughter for support. Judy too, often leaned on Bob’s daughter and Bob’s heart went out to them both. He was glad his daughter could be of help. Bob’s daughter, for her part, knew she was helping even by just listening, and so was always available to them when they needed her.
But Judy had a dilemma at work the night of Bob’s grandson’s birthday. Someone she had hired for a special presentation had called in sick. It just so happened that the presentation was in Bob’s area of expertise. And so, Judy asked Bob to fill in. He explained that it was his grandson’s birthday. But Judy pushed on. She felt the party would be long over by the time she needed Bob. Bob, for his part, was sorely tempted. He thought of postponing his one-on-one time with his grandson. He certainly would enjoy going back, even for one night, to doing what he had loved so much in his working years.
He dropped by his daughter’s house to tell his grandson that they’d reschedule their outing. His daughter was on the phone, listening to Ilsa and trying to help her. The house had no decorations up to indicate there would be a party there that night. A cake mix cake was in the mixer and a can of icing waiting in the corner. He saw no candles or cute cake decorations anywhere.
He immediately changed his mind. He knew Judy would not understand. She might even be angry at his refusal to help when she needed him so much. But just as his daughter was using her time to help Judy’s daughter in her time of need, he would pick up the slack with his grandson so that he would not be disappointed on his birthday. He felt in that way his daughter could continue her good work and his helping his daughter would be his way of helping Judy as well. Judy might not realize the help and would probably be upset, but Bob felt comfortable in his decision.
In the end Judy found another substitute. The program proceeded without a hitch. Judy’s daughter got the support she needed and Bob and his grandson decorated the room with streamers and balloons and everyone was happy on the birthday.
No one person can be “all things to all people.” There is a price to be paid when we are workaholics, as well as when we do the much-needed community service that we all should do. Some of us are lucky enough to have grandparent and parental support to help us with other commitments and time constraints. Some of us seem to be more successful than others in organizing our lives, so that we can “do it all.” But it is important to reach a balance and remember priorities.
Realizing that not everyone will be able to understand why you “declined to help,” and that some people will get angry, is just an unfortunate fact of life that you must accept.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.