Giving from love vs giving from resentment
Have you experienced the contrast of being the recipient of chesed from someone who gave with an open heart, and someone who didn’t? When the giver gives from a place of superiority, scorn, or resentment, it feels totally different to me. In fact, instead of creating love and connection, it creates division and distance.
This is an issue that is affecting many of us today, in varied areas of our lives.
In a speech in Chicago for Madreigos Midwest, Rabbi YY Jacobson said, that raising children today, (maybe always), takes mesiras nefesh. But, he emphasized, its important not to be martyrs. Kids hate martyrs.
He explained: I once heard a mother say to her child,
“The only reason I didn’t get divorced from your creepy father was because of you”.
She thought her children would say, ‘Wow, Mommy we adore forever and ever. You are G-d’s gift to humanity.’ But instead, one of her kids said, ‘You shouldn’t have done us any favors.’
“We like to be martyrs as Jews,” Rabbi Jacobson concluded, “but it’s not healthy, it’s not wholesome. It’s not sane.”
Mrs. Sara Yocheved Rigler, in a class on Torah Anytime entitled, “The Harried Jewish Housewife” pointed out that there are three main relationships that we must develop for true spiritual maturity. Most of us are aware of the importance of working on bein adam lichaveru (between man and man) , and bein adam laMakom (between man and G-d).
We need to realize, however, that there is also a third essential relationship that we need to work on as well- bein adam liatzmo- relationship between you and yourself. We can’t skip this stage of self-care.
But why? What is the problem with just focusing on giving to the other?
Mrs. Rigler shared a fascinating story to clarify this issue. A woman we will call Sima, was in her Kesher wife workshop. Sima complained that her husband never gave her anything for 20 years. In fact, she grumbled, on her birthday, he would just leave a birthday card on her desk. Not only did he not give her a present, but he didn’t even take the time to actually hand it to her directly!
Mrs. Rigler spent some time talking to Sima, and it became clear that Sima had trouble respecting her needs and receiving from others. Sima recalled that that when she was a teenager, her father once had calculated all the money he had spent on her and her sister from the day she was born, and shared this with her! The message she had integrated from that painful experience was that she was not worthy of unconditional love and receiving.
Sima had not realized how deeply she had assimilated this negative message into her subconscious. While she would complain her husband didn’t give to her, the root of the problem was really that she did not feel comfortable receiving.
Knowing the problem is already more than half the cure. Amazingly, after working on this issue for a number of weeks, on Sima’s next birthday, her husband brought her breakfast in bed and then took her to a jewelry store and told her to pick out whatever she wanted! They realized that he had not been the problem; he was waiting for twenty years for her to be able to receive!
This story illustrates is why it is essential to work on our relationship with ourself, bein adam l’atzmo; it deeply affects our ability to develop and succeed in our other relationships.
As we learn to respect our own needs, we can then develop a healthy understanding and respect for those of others.
You may be wondering: What is the difference between self-care and self-indulgence?
Mrs. Rigler explained that if what you do for your self care leads to the advancement of your spiritual goals, that is legitimate self care. If not, its self indulgence. It is interesting to note that the exact same activity, eg. getting a massage, could be both self-indulgence or self-care, depending on the context. If something is helping to you feel calmer so you can be a better wife and mother, then it’s almost certainly appropriate self care, has been the hadracha that I have often received.
It is certainly worthwhile to ask your personal Rav or mentor for clarification on this issue.
My friend Rivka, after reading a draft of this article, said,
“If I had read this 35 years ago, my life would be totally different. When my children were younger, life revolved around them. Through all the years that I was a mom of a lot of kids, (for me, that was six), everybody else always came first. It was never about what was good for me- that was looked at as a weakness.
“But there are a lot of losses to that, and I think this article hit the nail on the head. Now that my children are grown, I remind them often to take care of themselves. I tell each kid that its so important because when you don’t, you cant take care of anyone else. You really can’t. “
Another friend, Rachel, mentioned an interesting point. She said that when the children were young, she felt it was her job to sacrifice her needs for her family. Now, years later, she regrets it because she realizes that, in doing so, she actually taught her kids that their needs and happiness were more important than hers.
Inadvertently, in trying to be a “good mother”, she was teaching her children that it is OK to be selfish and self centered.
I want to end with a beautiful quote from an article in Family First about Rebbetzin Esther Tendler, the mother of thirteen children who had clearly integrated this idea:
“She was very much in touch with herself” says her daughter. “At night she would go to sleep early. When we were old enough to be left alone, she’d sometimes pick up her pocketbook and go out for a breather, telling us, “I’m going to take care of your mother.”
All of us want to take good care of our children and our spouses.I learned from Mrs. Rigler that the best way to do so is by actually taking care of ourselves as well. May our efforts in this direction lead to the love and improved relationships we all yearn for.