Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Privacy, Patience, and Forgiveness

I have been thinking about my last post about honesty and self-forgiveness and I realized something.

It would actually be wrong to answer every question with full honesty. Some things are not to be shared with anyone who asks. Some things are private. Some pieces of information should be withheld to keep us safe.

I'm focusing on the privacy issue for the moment. When I was explaining my hangups about honesty to Donald, I realized that my goal is not to answer every question honestly. A balance must be struck between honesty and privacy.

I think my worries about how honest I am somewhat related to how we are going to protect our privacy when we have children and also how to avoid justifying our choices to others. I think these things are very linked.

Here's a scenario. Donald and I visit his parents and one of them notices that I'm not drinking alcohol at cocktail hour. Questions are asked and avoided (or met with lies), assumptions are made, and information we wanted to have kept private is out in the open. How do we navigate these types of social situations with straightforward communication that doesn't alienate people and preserves our privacy? Do we have to just stay home to avoid awkward questions?

I think it's funny that these are the questions that keep me up at night when I think about having kids. It's not about money or danger or how to raise them or worries about birth, it's about how to handle questions without feeling stressed, how to only share the information we want to share and how to feel secure in the decisions we are making together.

Luckily, this means that my struggle with honesty is not as scary as I thought last week and I can now move on to self-forgiveness, decidedly the harder piece of all of this.

Forgiving myself is one of the hardest things for me to do. I am very hard on myself, very critical; I hold very high standards for myself.

For example, I'm volunteering with a local no-kill animal shelter as a dog walker. Many of the animals they receive have had rough lives and part of their mission is to rehabilitate these dogs and then give them to loving families who will want them forever. I believe strongly in this mission, and I know how important my time will be in walking these dogs and showing them affection.

However, I still feel inadequate. I feel like I should be solving the cause of this problem, not simply cleaning up the mess of consequences. I want to get to the root, eliminate the cause so that we don't have to keep cleaning up messes.

Donald just shakes his head and smiles at me. He admires my passion and my interest in solving world problems. He also worries that my standards for myself undermine any sense of accomplishment I might feel in the level of effort I can give. I don't want to accept it when he says that eliminating the cause is impossible for one person.

I often rail against the big problems that I want to solve and cannot. I'm trying to train myself to see the small steps as progress rather than futility. I get frustrated when I spend a lot of time on something that will continue to be a problem because we haven't eliminated the cause. Sometimes this is helpful and sometimes it means that I end my involvement in the process, which doesn't help anyone.

Do I believe that I have more power than I really have? Do I need to stop trying to change the world and simply lower my aim? If I have the power I think I have, how do I harness it and get to the place I want to be?

Passion without action is nothing. This means that even the smallest actions are better than no action. Small actions can become big actions. I simply have to remember that the short term does not equal the long term, that sustained small changes over time are often the way big changes occur.

It's about patience. It's about faith.

If this doesn't look connected to self-forgiveness, it is:
If I can accept what I have just written, then I can forgive myself for only taking small actions and not changing the world immediately.
I can forgive myself for making mistakes, for being human, for hurting other people's feelings, for abandoning things I have cared about.
I can forgive myself for doubting myself. I can forgive myself for a lack of patience and faith.
I can forgive myself for getting carried away and sometimes being selfish and misguided.
I can forgive myself for leading myself astray, for believing things I knew were not true.

I have two difficult stories that I want to share in my journey towards self-forgiveness. They will come soon. Thank you for accompanying me on this path.

Friday, April 16, 2010

My First Guest Post

I am excited to announce that my first guest post is now up on Kate's Newlywed & Unemployed blog. Kate asked me to write about community on her blog and I was happy to do so. I hope you enjoy it and I look forward to contributing more community-related content.

Thanks for visiting her blog and welcome to any new visitors who have arrived from Newlywed & Unemployed!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Honesty and Self-Forgiveness

I am a liar.

I know some people will say, "Oh, that's ok, everyone lies sometimes." The thing is, I don't ever want to lie. I want to be like Temperance Brennan on Bones (I'm slightly obsessed with this show). She says in one episode, "I never lie." I greatly admire that about her. I respect people who are open and honest in their communication. I want to be one of them.

In the last week or so, I have been mulling over the fact that I lie. It is directly related to my inability to forgive myself. The topic is such a huge one for me (and a relatively complex one) that I anticipate covering it in the next several posts, to explore the situation from several angles, and to share with all of you one of the hardest moments of my marriage (related to lying), one I have not stopped punishing myself for, even though Donald has forgiven me and moved on.

Please understand that I am not a habitual liar. Most of the time I tell the truth. The lies come through at strange times. For example, I was returning the E-ZPass I borrowed from my in-laws and wanted to pay them back for the tolls I had incurred. Wanting to avoid the hemming and hawing that comes with trying to give them money, I said that I had already been paid back for the cost by other people on the trip. This was not true, although it accomplished my goal of avoiding further conversation about the matter.

When I was growing up, I told many lies to avoid consequences and to avoid conflict. Of course the boy's parents were home while I was there (they weren't). Of course there was only pee in the toilet when it backed up and overflowed (there wasn't). Of course I washed my hands before dinner (I hadn't). Of course I waited until marriage to have sex (I didn't).

As I remember these events, I realize just how terrified I have been of conflict and of people being upset with me. I say whatever I know the person wants to hear. Most of these lies seem to be in response to direct questions that make me feel judged, that make me feel like a child, that make me feel like I have to defend my actions or choices. Instead of engaging, I lie and flee.

I also lie to avoid judgment, to avoid being wrong. I would rather be the one to volunteer the blame and to accept it before someone asks me or calls me out on it. In fact, I would rather this so much that I have been willing to accept blame even when something wasn't my fault. When I worked as administrative support, when something went wrong and it was my bosses fault, often to smooth things over and fix the situation, I accepted the blame. I have done this on countless occasions, never once feeling that it was a blemish on my integrity.

But when someone asks me directly to account for myself, I get defensive and fearful of the outcome. Even when it's something small, insignificant, and easily remedied. What is wrong with me?

This past March, Simple Marriage had a post that touched on the importance of telling the truth, called The Virtuous Marriage: Sincerity. The part that jumped out at me most is when Corey says "In general err on the side of honesty. Be honest to a fault. Sometimes it may get you in trouble, but generally it will win the respect of those involved."

Since Donald and I are hoping to start a family in the relatively near future, I know that I need to get this problem under control before our children learn bad habits from me. And, while I don't believe that my lying comes into play in our marriage, it's something problematic enough for me that it's in my best interest with or without children in the picture.

So here's where self-forgiveness comes into play. I am unable to forgive myself for mistakes I have made in the past because I have not ended the behavior that led to me making those mistakes in the first place. The biggest issues in my past that I cannot let go of are those mistakes that involved lying to someone or lying to myself.

I don't deserve to be forgiven because I haven't learned from my mistakes in being dishonest. I cannot forgive myself until I learn that telling the truth always is the right thing to do. That is the only way to regain my integrity. If I forgive myself, doesn't that mean that I'm saying that what I did was acceptable?

I'm really going to need your help on this one.

Friday, April 9, 2010


I have spent the last several weeks setting up our new home, which has been surprisingly enjoyable. I think I've been looking forward to this for a long time and I finally feel like this is my opportunity to be truly housewifey.

When Donald gets home at the end of each day, I try to make sure that the apartment is in good order and that evidence of my progress is clearly apparent to show him that I have been nice and productive. I follow him upstairs to hear about his day as he changes his clothes. I make an appetizer and get drinks and we retire to the living room or back patio to sit and talk until it's time for dinner.

Then I return to the kitchen where I have prepared some parts of dinner ahead of time, have all of the ingredients I need, and a full meal plan figured out. I make dinner while he relaxes and then we eat a yummy, healthy dinner that always looks and tastes good. After dinner, we clean up the dishes, sometimes have dessert, and lounge in front of the TV or chat until it's time for bed.

Is anyone else gagging and rolling their eyes besides me?

Ok, to be fair, this is kind of what I've been doing. It's a little frightening, especially to the screaming, bra-burning feminist I have trapped inside this 1950s wifely persona. And while I'm proud of myself for being a "good wife" I'm also starting to realize that this cannot continue.

I need ME time.

I went shopping earlier this week, for example, for three hours, to get some summery clothes since most of mine got decluttered when I went through my closet. I had a budget and there was a need and I was actually really successful. And I felt guilty for spending that time and money on just me. Seriously.

At that point, and after realizing that my tendency when Donald came home was to dote on him from the moment he came in the door to the moment we turned out the light to go to sleep, I knew that something needed to change. And keep in mind that Donald in no way requested that this be the way I operate. He has been wonderfully appreciative, but I think he was also starting to wonder where his independently-minded spouse had disappeared to.

So last night we chatted about my various roles, as wife, homemaker, and independent self. I have been having trouble feeling efficient since we moved here and I needed to have more structure to my days, so it made sense to list out my roles and the tasks that go with each and then construct my weekly schedule to accommodate all of them in a balanced manner.

(I also have to say, for someone who has never lived in a house with stairs, now that we have three floors, I have had a really hard time feeling efficient when what I need is always a floor up or down from where I am. How do you handle this? It seems so far away! I'm spending all of my time going up and down stairs instead of accomplishing something!)

This morning, I got up and made a list. One section was called "housewife" and the other section, for lack of a better word, was "me" (I don't have multiple personalities, really). Here's how it broke down:

- Cooking (meal planning, groceries)
- Cleaning
- Laundry
- Clutter control, filing, organizing, troubleshooting
- Errands and online shopping
- Pet care
- Activity planning for evenings and weekends
- Home care (decorating, budgeting, paying bills, recycling, getting mail, etc.)

- Exercise routine (yoga, walks, cardio)
- Blogging
- Reading and writing
- Communicating, staying in touch, phone calls, Facebook, cards and gifts
- Career planning/networking
- Projects (scrapbooking, photo albums)
- Relaxing, playing games, puzzles, TV and movies
- Crocheting and knitting
- Personal care, health research

Then I opened up Outlook and starting with next week, put most of these items on the calendar, picking certain days for weekly activities (Tuesday is laundry day) and carving out special time for "me" activities like blogging and exercising. This way, there won't be any guilt, I'll have reminders about what I should be working on, and my productivity and satisfaction levels should go up because I will know that I'm making progress.

It also helps me identify how much time in a day I really have for things like volunteering so I know how committed I can be with new activities without compromising the things I'm already doing. It does get me wondering how I ever did anything useful when I was working full-time. Hopefully my plans to work from home will help me maintain some flexibility and will also be rewarding in its own right.

I have gotten distracted from the point of my post (clearly, showing all of you how OCD I am was necessary). This experience has shown me how easy it can be for me to put everyone else ahead of myself and how important it is for me to actually schedule time just for me in order for me to feel that I have permission to take a half hour to give myself a pedicure instead of detail cleaning the baseboards. This will be especially important as we move forward on having a family, and the better habits I can create now, the more likely it is that I'll continue them when we have another mouth to feed.

That's how it works, right?

How do you balance being an individual and being a wife or husband and/or mom or dad? How do you make time for you?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Five Years

Five years ago today, I married the love of my life, my best friend and soul mate, the one who completes me.

Our vows were simple:
In the name of God,
I, Emily, take you, Andrew, to be my husband,
to have and to hold, from this day forward,
for better or worse,
for richer or poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish
until we are parted by death.

The last five years have asked a lot of us. We have been happy and sad, fulfilled and frustrated, calm and terrified. Our marriage has been tested and it has held strong. Marriage is hard and we have learned to maintain it, to grow it.

Our foundation is stable. The storms we have weathered have made it stronger. We are stronger. We know each other better now and we know more of our own capabilities.

During the last five years, we have faced distrust, unemployment, depression, relocation, family pressures, delayed dreams, financial woes, parental separation, and deaths of loved ones. Truly, it is nothing more than most people face in their lives. What stands out is that we are on the other side, smiling and happy. We made it through in one piece. We have survived and we are thriving. We live to face whatever comes next and we know that our trials are not over. We are ready to take it on.

We could not have done this without the loving support of our many communities. Our families, our friends, my blogging community, all of these people who have supported our marriage and our development as individuals are to be given at least partial credit for our accomplishment today.

Thank you. In gratitude, yes, those are our real first names in our vows. A gift for all of you.

More updates and news to come.