The Reluctant Leader

boundaries

Over the last week I have had to give myself a firm reminder about the importance of maintaining my boundaries with school. This comes after the summer semester started with a bang.

With classes being condensed into a shorter period of time over the summer the professors are wasting no time assigning papers and projects. Fine with me. I am set with my groups for every group project in two of my classes for the remainder of the summer, this came with some negotiations though.

In one case members of the group looked to either myself or one other person in the group to take the lead. I was reluctant and he agreed to the role so I was saved.

In another case I did not get off the hook so easily. Last night in class our professor assigned a class project where the entire class works on one project together as a whole. There were to be between 3-4 leaders who run the different task forces for the project, it was sure to be a huge undertaking. When the professor asked for students to nominate other students to take on the roles of leaders mine was one of the first names thrown into the ring.

While most other people nominated accepted their nominations on the spot I was again reluctant. I explained that I would like to fully understand the role of leader before I commit, my professor was understanding but at least 5 members of class pushed back. Not in a bad way by any means, everything they were saying was very complimentary. It certainly put pressure on me though. Ultimately I knew I had to do what felt right to me.

I was flattered by what they were saying, clearly I have made a good impression and they trust my instincts but part of being a good leader is knowing your limitations and not over extending yourself. I cannot say yes to every single opportunity placed in front of me and still have a life outside of school. My life outside of school is just as important to what I do in school, I have to protect my balance.

Once I understood the time commitments to the roles and what was involved I agreed to be another leader’s right hand man in an area I know I am strong in and will do well at. I will still play a major supporting role to this project as a whole but am granted a little more freedom to accommodate the other things on my schedule without over doing it.

Right now I am taking on a new role at Hospice in the bereavement department which requires training, this is time I have to set aside.

I am also starting up the next phase of the community assessment project with my classmate. We have both agreed to give this next phase a 6 month commitment of time meeting up a few times per month to work in the field with the residents. Another big time commitment.

This summer I am volunteering at the NASW conference which is a four day commitment of my time.

Not to mention actually going to class as well as keeping up with reading and assignments.

None of this even touches on the time I set aside for my personal life. Todd and I are going on vacation next weekend plus I keep time just for him and I as well as time for myself and time for my family and friends.

I only have so much time and energy to give, I have to be guarded with where I choose to focus both.

Outside of being selective with what I choose to take a lead role in I have to maintain the daily balance of school and home life. I have heard so many stories about frustrations people experience with school and working in groups and so often it sounds like basic boundary issues to me.

Here are a few of my rules for myself:

It takes me a half hour to drive home from school. That means I have a half hour buffer to decompress from my day before starting my evening with Todd. I can use that half hour to talk about my day with Todd on the phone or listen to music, it is my half hour to use as I please. The idea is to use that buffer period to unwind so when I get home I am ready to be present with Todd and am not still thinking about things going on at school or things I need to do the next day etc.

I have strict boundaries with my phone as I have mentioned in previous posts. When I share my phone number with a classmate I always give a disclaimer. I am not always immediately available, you are welcome to send me a text or leave me a VM and I will get back to you. I also make it clear that as of 7pm I am “off the clock”. At 7 Todd gets home, I turn my phone on silent and it stays in the kitchen for the rest of the night, I do not look at it again until the next morning. There have been times when I check my phone in the morning and I see people have texted me at 2am about an assignment, that is the exact reason I set this boundary.

I say No. I don’t think anyone likes to have to say No but as I have outlined above sometimes you have to. If needed I will explain my No but I know I am only one person and cannot take on every job. Plus by me saying No it gives another person an opportunity that I have passed up, I am OK with that. I am not in competition with anyone in this program, I want us all to succeed, do well and truly experience everything this program has to offer. I appreciate that my colleagues recognize me as someone they trust and see as a leader but there are so many other insanely talented future social workers in this program that would thrive given the opportunity to lead, why should it always be the same person?

Lastly and most importantly I stick to my guns. Today is a perfect example. I was making calls and sending emails to coordinate my part of this huge class project with the expectation that I would put it all down and walk away from my computer/phone at 6pm. I had been at it since 2pm so I decided 4 hours was all the time I was going to commit today. That does not mean everything was done at 6pm though. There was more I could have done but none of it was time sensitive, it can wait until tomorrow. Well right at 6pm I got a text response that I had been waiting for in order to go forward with an aspect of the work I was doing. It was tempting to respond to the text and then right three more corresponding emails but I didn’t. It can wait for tomorrow. I told myself 6 and I had t hold myself to that.

If I go back on the boundaries and limitations I set for myself there will be no balance. Boundaries are well and good in theory but they mean nothing without the follow through. So I turned the ringer off on my phone, checked the To-Do list I made for myself for tomorrow to make sure nothing was left off and closed out of my email/class website.

A half hour later Todd was home, we ate dinner together and then took Lucy for a long walk around the lake to watch the sunset. Balance.

I will say the one area where I still struggle is at bed time. Unless I am truly exhausted from my day I have trouble turning my brain off to sleep. I do things that help, reading for pleasure before bed, no electronics within an hour of bedtime, talking out my gratitude with Todd to end our day on a positive note and even deep breathing exercises. I have always been a thinker though and my brain loves to wander in the dark quiet of our room when it should be drifting off to sleep.

I accept that there are still areas that need work, I am still figuring out a lot of this as I go. I feel good about the fact that boundaries in relation to school are even on my radar though. These boundaries I have set with school and my classmates will translate into professional boundaries in the future.

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Keep Moving Forward

siblings

I spoke to my brother, like I thought it went well and we are okay. I mulled over my grievances, as I see them, until I finally reached a few conclusions that gave my mind some peace.

1. I cannot control how other people perceive my brother and I in the program.

If we are seen as a pair, one depending on the other, by some people I cannot do anything about that. The most I can do is allow my work ethic to speak for me and hopefully show that we are two people with two separate minds rather than two bodies that share one. Whether that sinks in with some people or not is out of my control so I cannot dwell on it.

2. I cannot change the past.

Anything that has transpired between my brother and I up to this point that led to me feeling resentment but I did not address immediately cannot be undone now. What’s done is done and the most I can do is have an honest conversation about my wants/needs/concerns going forward. No reason to hash up the past. If anything is that important to me it is my responsibility to bring it up in the present, not allow a year to go by and then tongue lash someone for a percieved slight they did not know they committed. That would not be fair at all.

3. It is my responsibility to own how I feel.

My brother is not a mind reader, neither is anyone else in the program. If something happens that I feel strongly enough about to address it then that is exactly what I should do and I have to be prepared for whatever the consequences of addressing it might be. I cannot hide behind a fear of “rocking the boat”. The only way things will get better and I will feel better is if I take an active role in making that happen.

So with all of this in mind I spoke to my brother. I decided to address something that had happened in the present, me feeling as though he spoke for me without my permission when it came to forming groups in class.

I explained that I have been giving it some thought and I feel uncomfortable with the way everything went down in class in terms of how our group was formed. I explained that I felt like agreed to something for me without checking with me first and I wanted to know if I was off base and how he saw what took place. He understood what the situation looked like to me and then explained what happened, which was different than what I thought had happened. That made me feel a bit better. I explained I was in no way disappointed with the group we ended up with, just with the idea of now having a choice and feeling like someone else was speaking for me. Once I understood that is not exactly what happened we cleared the air and were able to move on.

This was a good transition into my next point, that we do not have to do everything together and that I do not see us as a package deal. I explained that I was a bit uncomfortable with what he had said (we are a package deal) because it is very important to me that we both have the opportunity to stand on our own and succeed. I broached the subject by letting him know that if he had wanted to be in this group that was being formed without my knowledge that he should feel free to have done that even if I chose to work with a different group of people and visa versa. He understood how I felt, we have had this conversation before, and explained that in this case he does not know that many people in this class so wanted to work with me because I am one person he does know and he trusts my work ethic in a group setting. I totally get that. If I didn’t know very many people in a class I would gravitate towards those I know I can trust to do the work. In the case of this class I know and have worked closely with close to a dozen of my classmates, I was excited about my options. I did not realize my brother knew so few people, my bad.

I am glad we cleared the air, this is how communication falls apart, because you don’t have the full story and get bent out of shape about your perception of what happened. We all do it from time to time, I am glad I didn’t allow myself to fall into that hole this time. It makes me wish I had addressed some other situations when they occurred, it could have saved me a lot of frustration, now I know, lesson learned.

The plan going forward is to take a few minutes to debrief after any class we have together to make sure we are both on the same page about anything that could have been misinterpreted while in class.

At the end of the day my brother is the only person I care about in this program. I care about a lot of people don’t get me wrong, but I have been in this relationship for 31 years versus the relationships I have formed over the last year. His takes priority. It is crucial that we check in and guard our relationship as siblings against any misunderstandings that could come up in the program or in life.

I feel good about where we left things, I feel more comfortable about the idea of future talks and feel more at peace with association that is made between him and I in the program. That is about all I could ask for.

Moms Deserve MORE!

maternity leave

This post is so much bigger than me, I am not even sure it is wise for me to weigh in on the topic. This is one of those times I feel it is important to set up the disclaimer what I am about to write are strictly my own opinions.

Yesterday we were at my parent’s house and Todd was watching John Oliver’s show on HBO while my parents and I were playing scrabble. We were listening to the show while we played. John Oliver was talking about how behind the times our country is in terms of maternity benefits for mothers and this started a conversation.

John Oliver highlighted a story of a woman who had one month for maternity leave but then went into premature labor. Because her baby was born early it had to stay in the hospital for a period of time before being able to go home. The mother was then left with an agonizing decision to either take her maternity leave at present to be with her baby while it is in the NICU knowing that she could use up her leave before the baby ever comes home or wait to take her maternity leave until her baby is released from the hospital. She chose the latter which meant she had her baby on a Wednesday and returned to work the next Monday. The mother explained the guilt she felt leaving her baby, only being able to visit in the evenings after work and how difficult it was for her to focus at work because of the whole ordeal. Motherhood is made out to be this wondrous time in a woman’s life but for this woman, the start of motherhood at least, sounded devastating. That’s not right.

When the story was over I looked around and realized my parents and I had stopped playing scrabble a while ago. All three of us were glued to the TV. Todd made a comment about how messed up the story was and this prompted me to share my friend’s story.

My friend works for the same hospital I used to work for. I enjoyed working for that company more than any other company I have ever worked for. They take great care of their employees, their is a clear standard of professionalism and in my experience people cared about the work they did. There were a few issues though and one of the big ones related to the terrible benefits. You can barely call them benefits really. When a person has to pay for having Christmas off out of their own vacation time it is not much of a benefit. I get that there are some companies that don’t offer paid holidays but those companies are usually upfront about that and say, Hey by the way we don’t pay for holidays or Hey you have to work on Christmas. This company would have you believe they pay for holidays, Um no, the employee does.

The way it works is sick time, vacation time, maternity leave, holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years.. all of them), personal time, all come out of the same pot. Time off is time off no matter how you use it. Of course like most companies though you only get so much time off in a year so you better hope you don’t fall ill too much in a year or you may not get to take that summer vacation or worse you may not get paid for the Christmas holiday even though the office is closed and you cannot work that day anyway. A few other important points to understand,

1. PTO (paid time off) does not roll over year to year with this company so you have to use or lose it.
2. You are not given PTO at the beginning of each new year, you have to earn it. – When I first heard this I actually thought it was fair, you get like 1 hour of PTO for every X amount of hours you work. – Where you get screwed though is at the beginning of the new year. For example January 1, a holiday in most countries, the office is closed but you do not get paid for this holiday because it is the beginning of a new year and you have not worked enough hours to have any PTO. Not to mention what if you want to take vacation at the beginning of the year? You haven’t worked enough to have vacation time. And you better hope you don’t get sick in the first few months of the year because you don’t have sick time saved up yet either. Pretty messed up right?

Back to my friend’s story. She made the colossal mistake of having a baby towards the beginning of the year. I mean what was she thinking, right? This is poor planning on her part, no reason the company should accommodate her in anyway. She had some PTO saved up but not much. She had a choice, take a very brief leave of absence for maternity leave and get paid, or take a longer maternity leave (approx 2-3 months) and go unpaid for a period of time. She chose to take a longer maternity leave. My friend was fortunate to even have an option because her significant other made enough money to support them while she did not have income.

Here are just a few of the factors that influenced her decision:

1. She had no real help with her baby after it was born. Most of the people in her support system work so she was almost solely responsible for taking care of the baby, which is probably the experience of a lot of women.

2. Once she went back to work she knew her baby had to go into a paid daycare. This meant:

A. That it would cost her and her significant other more for her to be working because of the cost of daycare so it made more since for her to be home longer and save that money. To be clear, even though she wasn’t working it still saved them some money because day care is so expensive.
B. She would have to hand her infant over to a paid care giver (who is not family) for the majority of the day while she was at work 5 days a week. She was in no rush to do that either. Talk about guilt.

3. She was breast feeding. Pumping while at work was not an option for her because of the kind of job she has.

So she got a few months to breast feed regularly, save some money even though she had none coming in and bond with her new born before she had to turn it over to strangers essentially and go back to work. I swear it about killed her. But hey, at least she got that time off right? Some women don’t get that. If that is the upside to this whole situation then WTF? Seriously.

So, here is the real kicker though. My friend is insured through her employer, the hospital. Her insurance covers her, her other child who was a toddler at the time and her infant. A certain portion of her pay check is held out each pay period and that pays for her health, dental etc. Because she was not making a paycheck for a period of time when she did finally return to work she actually owed her employer money! The hospital was nice enough to let her use her health insurance to take her new born to the necessary doctors appointments etc even though at the time she technically was not getting paid but when she returned to work this left her in a deficit and she did not receive a pay check for the first few pay periods until her employer was paid back for the health insurance she had used.

These were her options if she wanted to have more than a few weeks for maternity leave. And again she was fortunate to even have options, some women would not have an option to not receive a pay check and would have to go right back to work. I ask again, how can you really call this way of doing things a benefit? My friend certainly did not benefit from the company PTO program. Maybe it is better than nothing but better than nothing does not necessarily constitute being called a benefit. Not in my eyes at least.

I’ve shared my concerns about this companies benefits with Todd before because even with all this being said I have considered them an option for future employment. I am fortunate enough to be covered under Todd’s insurance which means I won’t have to use the hospital’s insurance but there is no getting away from the awful PTO “benefits”. We agreed if I do find myself working for this company in the future while pregnant we will do what is right for our family, like my friend did.

So after John Oliver finished up the story about the woman with the baby in NICU he went into another story that illustrated our lack of compassion for new mothers/parents. Ironically the next story had to with major league baseball, wasn’t I just calling out sexism in that organization a post or two ago?

Apparently the MLB has a paid paternity leave that gives a new father 3 days off after the arrival of a new baby/child. (notice I said arrival of a baby/child, not all families receive babies/children by going to the hospital and giving birth. Some adopt. I just think it is important to keep this kind of thing in mind when talking about maternity/paternity leave and the rights of new parents.)

Now before I continue I want to be clear that I have done zero research into this story, I am parroting what I heard on John Oliver’s show and I could be dealing with some misinformation. What I will say is this, my opinions are based on the story I heard and could stand to change if I came across further information that disputes any part of the story.

As I was explaining, apparently the MLB gives 3 days of PTO to new fathers as their form of paternity leave. As John Oilver reports it though very few baseball players actually use their paternity leave. In this case though a player did choose to use his paternity leave benefit to be home with his wife and new born and this caused him to miss two games at the beginning of the season. As a result of this decision he received some major back lash. People were angry with him for his decision, which in my opinion is offensive enough, but in one case an announcer or sportscaster ( I have know idea what this man’s actual title was, I just know he was someone with a voice in the industry) actually suggested that the player’s wife should have scheduled a c-section and given birth before the season started.

Um ma’am, your medical condition interferes with our baseball game, could you maybe surgically rip your baby from the womb a week early even though there is no medical reason to do so that way your husband can play with us?

So I guess baseball is more important than the integrity of human life? No, no, it’s totally cool.. Put mother and infant at risk through a completely unnecessary surgery so the boys can play their game. Once again people of society some how think they have a right to tell a woman what to do with her own body. Yeah, that NEVER gets old.

I know I went all angry feminist on this post but this is something to feel angry about. It is ridiculous to me that this is so many women’s lived reality in a country that prides itself on being a world leader.

For more information about our total failure in terms of paid maternity leave compare to other nations check out thisĀ ARTICLE . The graph will blow your mind. Get it together America, you are embarrassing yourself.

Everything will be Okay

you got this

Today I spoke to my Mom about the feelings I have been struggling with in regards to being in school with my brother. It is the first time I have opened up to someone outside of Todd. She agreed I need to speak with him and helped me prepare myself for the conversation.

I feel like I have opened Pandora’s box and I know it is too late to close it again. I have no choice but to see this through. I know this is the right thing for our relationship and we will both be better for it but Ugh! I dread conflict. I keep telling myself most people dread/avoid conflict, what I am feeling is normal and facing it is the strong, healthy thing to do. I am hoping with enough repetition I will start to feel better.

I think it is good that I am finally addressing this and I look forward to making it out on the other side but the downtime leading up to the conversation is unnerving. It looks like we will have a chance to talk in person Saturday so until then I have to try not to dwell which means not allowing myself to live inside of my own head for the next two days. This is will be a great opportunity for me to practice mindfulness and being fully present and engaged in the moment.

I recognize that the issues I struggle with in my relationships pale in comparison to what others may deal with so I try to remain grateful. If the worst thing my brother and I face is me feeling slighted from time to time, then we are doing okay. The fact that we can talk about our issues and I know with every confidence things will get better means we are doing okay. Recognizing that I have evolved from a place of avoidance and denial to a place where I can still be afraid but meet my problems head on means I am doing okay.

I am okay, we are okay and everything is going to be OKAY.

The Wet Blanket

vulnerable

This is the post that I have been putting off for a year. Even as I type I question whether or not I actually have the courage to press Publish. I’ll start by getting it out and then see if I still have my nerve.

I love my brother. I want that to be its own complete thought. I hate the thought of that statement being followed by a but because what I am about to say does not negate my love for my brother.

I am finally giving myself the permission to say the thing that I have been afraid to say out loud, being in school with my brother is hard. At times things seem okay and I do not give it much thought and other times I feel all knotted up inside. The truth is this dual relationship, my brother as my brother and my brother as my colleague, makes me uncomfortable. I just want him to be my brother. Being in school together and at times in the same classes has changed our relationship and it bothers me.

To be clear, this is my issue. My brother has not once expressed feeling the same way when we have talked about it, and Yes, we have talked about it. I own that this is my stuff to work out but it is difficult. I have struggled with these feelings since the very beginning, they have changed over time though.

When I was first accepted into the program the feeling was sheer bliss. I had all but given up on college. To be accepted into a major University pursuing a degree in what I know to be my true calling almost did not feel real. Not long after I received my letter of acceptance I found out my brother was finishing his AA ahead of schedule and would be applying to start the same semester as me.

I was happy for him but selfishly I felt like my moment had been overshadowed. I also had concerns about my ability to stand on my own two feet and be seen as an individual with my own point of view. Were we going to be seen as a pair, as some kind of package deal? Not to mention he is my older brother, that is how I see him. And I am his baby sister, and Yes, that is how he sees me. I think we have both had trouble putting that aside to see each other strictly as colleagues while at school.

Admittedly I am very sensitive to references people make between my brotherĀ  and I because I do want to stand on my own so badly. Here are some things that have come up that have left me reeling a few times..

A few semesters ago I walked into a class we both had together to take the final exam. I went straight to my desk to continue studying, my brother had not arrived yet. 3 or 4 of my classmates were mingling a few feet from my desk and one turned around and asked me if I was ready for the final. I replied yes but that I was still nervous. This student’s reply was Well don’t take this the wrong way but you’ve got nothing to worry about, you got your big brother coming. I wish my brother was coming in for my final.

What?!! I was offended and confused. What exactly was this person implying? What difference does my brother being here make on my test outcome? I felt like my integrity was being questioned. I had to swallow all of these intense feelings. I knew this was my issue, that I had no idea how they intended me to receive that message (because of my sensitivity it was quite possible I was taking what they said the wrong way) and ultimately this student was not aware they had triggered me.

I replied by saying that I did not understand how my brother being present was going to make me feel any better about my personal readiness for this exam. I studied on my own, I have to take the test on my own, whether I do well or not is solely on me. The student didn’t have much else to say and went back to their prior conversation, I went back to my studying.

In that same class there was another incident that took place that made me feel uncomfortable. I got married during the semester. I did my best to keep under wraps that I was getting married primarily because I rarely talk about my personal life with classmates I do not know that well. Only a few I consider friends were aware, save for one class where my professor made an announcement, (I was mortified). So I came back to this class after the wedding weekend and when I walked into class my brother was talking about the wedding with one of his friends in the program. When I walked in I shared a few minor details like the weather was nice the day we got married and then dropped the subject so as not to attract attention. No such luck. Another person in the class overheard my brother’s conversation and interjected.

This was a classmate I am not close with and who, on more than one occasion, has tried to give me unsolicited advice and made me feel uncomfortable.

She asked if I had any photos from the day. I quickly answered that I didn’t stating I didn’t have my phone on me that day, which was true. I did however have photos from other people but I was not interested in sharing them. This is my personal life and I have every right to want to keep it private. My brother immediately stepped up and started sharing photos from his phone. I felt so violated. He was clueless.

These cases where I have been made to feel extremely uncomfortable are few and far between. Other little things pop up here and there and I just navigate them the best I can.

This brings me to the present. Once again we find ourselves in a class together. Like every other class we have to break into groups and once we are in these groups we have to agree upon a topic for a project. Twice this has happened in a class where the topic is open for us to choose and when this happens I am more concerned with getting in a group that has a similar interest as myself than I am with being in a group with a friend or even my brother. For me it has never been a given that if my brother and I land in the same class we will automatically work together. His area of interest is mental illness and veterans services, mine is ethics and end-of-life-issues. I know our areas can overlap but if there is a group that wants to present on PAS and one that wants to present on PTSD to me it makes sense for us to split up.

Last night our instructor mentioned she would give us time at the end of class to form our groups. I planned on talking to a few of my girlfriends who were not sitting right next to me about what topic they were going to go with so I could decide if I wanted to work with them or other people I know. In particular my friend who I am continuing the community work with is in this class and I looked forward to possibly working with her again if we were on a similar page for topics. When the time came to choose groups my brother signed me up for a group he wanted to be in without even asking me. I turned to speak with my friend and then heard my name called so I turned back around. I asked what they (my brother and two other classmates) were talking about and they said who else we (I was being included in this we) want in our group. I explained I wanted to speak with my other friend before I commit to anything and my brother immediately said We are a package deal. Implying to the two other people in this “group” that if I don’t agree to this grouping he is leaving too. While I am dealing with all of this I turn back to speak to my friend to find she has already joined a full group. Oh well.

I am not in anyway disappointed in the group I am in. I am working with people I know to be truly great and am excited to work with. I don’t like that the decision was made for me though. My brother sees us as a package deal, I don’t. I would never speak for him, I would never move forward on something that requires his consent without that consent. Things like sharing his phone number with classmates (he has totally given my number out and if you have been following this blog for any length of time you KNOW how I am about my phone), or signing me up for a group without my consent.

It is so hard. I have clear set boundaries that work for me and he does things to violate them which then puts me in the uncomfortable position of having to say no to someone when he has already spoken for me and said yes.

We have talked about some of these issues before and it was my hope things would improve and in some ways they have but in others there has been little change.

The title of this post comes from something that happened in class this week. Our group was working on an assignment and in this assignment we had to discuss why major league baseball does not allow women to play (for the sake of this post this is a VERY dumbed down explanation of the assignment). I held back and did not say much at first because I knew I was triggered and I did not want to be spouting off my feminist ideals. I know not everyone agrees and I did not want to distract from the conversation. That was until our group was going to answer the question by saying women are not allowed to play because men are stronger and therefore built better for the sport. It was all I could do to hold back an audible gag. We do not have to give a feminist answer if my group members do not agree with it but as a feminist I will not stand behind a sexist answer either. I am part of this group and we all should agree on the answer.

Two of my group members were men (one was my brother), they did not seem on board with my explanation which had to do with our patriarchal society. Another group member did not seem to know much about sexism. It was just me and one other female trying to explain the feminist point of view so we could attempt to find a middle ground. What came of it was my brother calling me a Wet Blanket because I essentially pissed all over their progress. If I hadn’t been in their group they would have just used their sexist answer and not had to debate it. I know he was joking but I am not your sister here, I am your colleague and I know I am making a valid point, or at least I thought I did.

When we discussed our answers as a class the female in our group who does not understand sexism went rogue and shared the sexist answer that two of us did not agree with. My professor grimaced when my classmate shared our answer.

Look, I don’t want anyone to be told they are wrong, for me this is not about right or wrong, it is about sharing education and understanding discrimination.

With that being said, I am not going to lie it was supremely validating to here my instructor explain to the class that we live in a patriarchal society etc etc.

Between my group not being able to agree on an answer, me knowing I felt triggered and being called a Wet Blanket by my brother I had no idea if I was right for even bringing up the feminist stuff. I didn’t want to force my personal views on others but I am also not willing to associate my own name with sexism.

The whole incident was just another small injury to mine and my brother’s relationship, whether he realizes it or not.

This is the post I have not had the courage to write. These are the words I have not had the courage to say to ANYONE but Todd. These are the feelings I have been trying unsuccessfully to suppress that are now leaving me no choice but to hash this out with my brother once and for all.

It will be fine. My brother and I can have a heart to heart, we have so many times. We had NO relationship growing up and formed an amazing bond as adults. A bond that came with an open door policy about discussing our issues. These things are still hard to say to someone you love though.

I need space to be me. Please do not speak for me. Ask for my permission. Ask what I think/feel/want/need, do not assume. Please share with me what you think/feel/want/need so I am not left guessing. Understand that it is important to me that I own my identity. I am not just someone’s wife, or daughter or sister. We are not a package deal but that does not mean we do not support each other.

The fact that I am at a place now where I am even considering sharing this is good. It holds me accountable. I have to speak to him now because this cannot be floating out in the world without his knowledge.

I love my brother. That statement stands alone. My feelings and everything I have shared does not take away one ounce of the love and admiration I feel for this amazing man.

Negotiating Us

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When I returned from a temporary hiatus I mentioned one of the reasons for my break was my need to address some familial issues that had surfaced. I am relieved to say the issues I was grappling with were not too serious in nature and I do feel they are getting better now. They were my own issues, things I needed to workout for myself first and then with my family. Now that I feel a corner has been turned I am ready to discuss this part of my journey.

My Mother and I have always had a very close relationship. She has played one of the most instrumental roles in raising me into the self-reliant, free thinking feminist I am today, for better or worse I might add. Part of that was in her words but more often it was through observing her actions. In fairness I cannot hand her all the credit for anything good I have turned out to be, my father is the other half of the equation and I am told all the time that I am my father’s daughter.

Planning my wedding by working side by side with my Mother was difficult at first, and that is being nice. We clashed quite frequently, it felt like we were at odds over every silly little detail. It often came down to issues with her ideas about tradition and my want for simplicity and ease even at the cost of traditional formalities. One example was wedding cocktail napkins, I saw that as a frivolous expense, my Mother disagreed. When we met an impasse like this her response would often be, I’m just going to get them anyway, you don’t have to pay for it. I constantly felt undermined, like my opinion did not matter. For me it wasn’t just I don’t want to spend the money, on a fundamental level I (I am saying I but Todd and I agreed on this) did not agree with spending the money on it.

From the very beginning Todd and I had made it clear that we did not believe in spending a lot of money for one day of festivities. We wanted a small, no frills, family wedding somewhere that we felt connected to. That is exactly what our wedding was and we could not have been happier with how everything turned out. Fortunately at the end of the day (or experience really) my Mother and I were able to see eye to eye. This only happened because half way through the planning process we had a much needed heart to heart. Our relationship, while close, has certainly seen times of strain and planning the wedding brought any cracks to the surface. Things were being to spiral and I saw two choices, have an honest conversation about our feelings and needs or take a break from the relationship all together for a while. The second option wasn’t much of an option, I was getting married, I did not want to miss out on this experience with her.

She came over to my house one day and we talked, for over an hour. We talked about the way we treat each other, we talked about her relationship with her Mother (which I have almost zero concept of because I was 9 when Nana died), we talked about my dreams for a future relationship with my own daughter. We were honest and vulnerable and it was painful and wonderful all mixed up together. In one day we mended years of damage to our relationship. Planning going forward was a breeze and when the big day rolled around we were both elated.

After the wedding, our honeymoon and our trip to Chicago we came home to settle back into our life as husband and wife. With that came some changes. Not to our own relationship but to my relationship with my Mother. It was time for another talk. When I was single and living downtown in my one bedroom apartment my parents came over once or twice a week and would help me with little things around the apartment. I think my living alone like a did during that time unnerved my Mom. When my ex and I broke up and our lease was up my parents tried to get me to move home but I knew that wasn’t an option. I was the office manager at a medical facility and I had recently accepted a position with the hospital, I was making plenty of money and had no intentions of moving home. To me I saw that as back sliding, I was only interested in forward progression. I am glad I made the decision I did because that year I lived on my own was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. My Mother’s way of reconciling her anxiety about my being on my own downtown was to come over and “Mother” me a few times a week. It didn’t bother me at the time, I looked forward to their visits as I did miss them and it was a nice opportunity for my Mom and I to catch up while we folded my laundry together or cooked dinner together.

Fast forward to now. Since Todd and I have lived together I have tried to gently encourage my parents to back off a bit with the “mothering” behaviors as an effort to set boundaries and help them to see me, and us as a couple, as adults. I started becoming more assertive once we moved into our home we bought. This our home to keep as we choose, that was important for them to understand. A few months after the wedding I finally had to break down and have another heart to heart with my Mom. I have been talking about boundaries since last year and she has been surprisingly on board, I have even seen some changes in how she interacts with other people in the family. She definitely seems to see the necessity for boundaries in relationships and how healthy having them is, great. We did have to renegotiate our own relationship though.

I would run into issues with her on things like wanting to help around the house when I did not request the help. For example, Todd and I do not make our bed. We see it as a waste of time and only do it if we are having a gathering at our house where we know our bedroom may be seen. On an average Wednesday though, no way. What’s the point? We are just going to sleep it again in a few hours, complete waste of energy in our opinion. So my Mom would come over and walk right into our room and start making our bed. I would ask her not to but she saw it as her helping and doing us a favor. Another example is if I had a load of clean laundry sitting in a basket in our room to be put away, she would go in and start folding clothes even though I asked her not to. I understand she is just trying to be helpful and probably wants to feel useful but for me, for us, that is a violation of personal space. After a few talks about how we both feel about these things we have finally found common ground.

She explained that she wanted to feel needed and if she sees something that needs to be done she enjoys taking care of it, she likes to feel like she is taking care of us. I explained that I do need her but in a different way now. Todd and I are capable of keeping up with our home, which I know she knows because it is never is disarray, we do not need her to act as our maid. I explained that when I invite her over it is a social visit, I need you as a friend, as a confidant. When she comes over it is to spend time together doing fun things like talking or shopping or baking/cooking together so I can learn her recipes etc. I have not stopped needing her just because I got married but there is a shift that has to take place. She is no longer Mom/Caregiver, she is Mom/Friend. I told her this is really the most exciting time in our relationship as Mother and Daughter because her work for the most part is done and now we get to enjoy the fruits of her labor together by having this awesome friendship. It’s not that I will never need my Mom’s help going forward, I do and I will, but I needed her to understand that I will ask for it when the time comes. I also explained that the same goes in reverse, I know her and my Dad are going to start needing me as well and I will be there when they ask but I will not impose myself on them either.

Things have vastly improved. I enjoy this new version of us so much. I feel like being friends has softened both of us so much and we have a new understanding of each other. I no longer see my Mother as just my Mother, I see her as a woman and I do feel this mutual. I am glad I have the kind of relationship with my family where we are able to talk openly about our feelings and resolve issues in this way. I am also glad that my quest to establish boundaries, in all aspects of my life but in this case with my family, has not only been successful but well received.

Everyday I feel like I am coming into my own, I feel my relationship with Todd growing as well my relationship with my family growing. I am thankful for this continued growth and am hopeful about the future.

It’s Official

Todd and I went down to the court house today and made my name change official. As the judge called me forward to hear my case she mispronounced my last name and I thought to myself, this is one of the last times someone will ever mispronounce my name. I had a nice judge who ended my hearing by addressing me by my new first name and wishing Todd and I the best with our marriage. It was a great experience considering how nervous I felt before hand. After our hearing we got our notarized documents and were sent on our way. The next step is a visit to the social security office, then the DMV, then everything else.

Officially though you are looking at the new Mrs. Jillian Elizabeth Baxter!

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