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How generous are you, really?

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by Lisa Byrne

Lisa is the bestselling author of Replenish and founder of WellGrounded Life. She's got a big-hearted vision of a world where moms are fully equipped to live calm, healthy, and vibrant lives. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, three kids, and 110 pound yellow lab.

About a year ago, I was on the couch at the end of a very long and exhausting day catching up with my husband.

I remember saying to him, “I used to be a generous person.”

In my pre-mom life, I went on international volunteer trips, I built schools and taught English in Tanzania, I worked with the mamas in the fields of Kenya. I cooked meals for the homeless in downtown Boston. I’d pause to chat with people on park benches who looked lonely.

Sure, I wasn’t doing these things all the time, but I genuinely enjoyed giving my time and talents to others.

But now, even the idea of “giving” felt exhausting and flat. Whenever I thought about looking into volunteer opportunities I’d feel a wave of heaviness come over me. Managing life with three little kids everyday felt about all I could do.

I always imagined charity and service would be a part of our family life.  I dreamed we’d do projects (small and large) with our kids so they grew up with knowing the happiness that comes from giving part of yourself to help others in need.

I thought maybe I’d lost my generosity to exhaustion and the hyper-focus it took to just-get-through-the-day most of the time. It made me sad, like I lost a part of who I was.

And I can still remember seeing his face staring back at me with absolute confusion.

Finally he simply asked, “Do you really think you are not generous anymore? What exactly do you call what you do for the children nearly 24 hours a day, everyday?”

I had to stop and really think about it. What I had been calling it was obligation.

I started to explain that what I did all day didn’t feel generous to me, because it was “my job.” It was expected of me to do what I did.

And that’s when I realized that I had this definition of what generosity was in the world. That if you give of yourself but it is “expected”, if it’s part of your “role” in life, then it isn’t really generosity. Generosity can only happen when what you give is over and above anyone’s expectations of you.

Hmmm.

All along this journey of living life as a mother, I am convinced that it’s crucial for our personal growth and vitality to uncover all the hidden definitions we live our lives by, and challenge them to be sure we truly agree with those definitions. Because, the truth is, we are using those definitions as a measuring stick to assess how good we feel about ourselves.

Since my definition of generosity was grounded in doing things that were not “expected” of me…I stripped the trait of generosity from my identity.

It left me feeling like nothing I did was worthy of acknowledgment or appreciation…because it was my “job” and it was “expected” so it was just baseline stuff– it wasn’t “over and above” kind of stuff.

It was just one more way that I was reminding myself that I wasn’t measuring up, I wasn’t really a good mom.

Let me ask you a question…do you feel generous? If someone said to you, “My goodness, you are such a wonderfully generous person.” What would the voice INSIDE your head say in response? Would you try to brush it off? Would you deny it is true?

One of the main requirements of motherhood is generosity. But it doesn’t make you any less generous because it is a requirement.

Generosity is giving of yourself for someone else’s benefit. Extending yourself beyond your own needs to care for another’s needs. I bet if you are a mother and reading this it’s very likely you fit that bill.

But if you don’t believe you are generous, if you refuse to acknowledge that in yourself, it becomes a dangerous slippery slope. This is because we begin to think, feel and act according to what we believe about ourselves.

If you believe you are a loving, generous woman, you will have thoughts and feelings according to that belief, which will fuel your actions and choices.

When we believe we have lost our generosity, we begin to tighten and get stingy with our lives…we get resentful of the needs and demands that are placed on us. We begin to think, feel and act ungenerous…and it begins to impact and corrupt our relationships.

The truth is I am still very much a generous woman. And I’m a generous mom, who loves to give and serve her children…and who loves to give and serve herself in ways to stay vibrant and whole.

How you describe yourself is really important.  It trickles through to how we show up with ourselves and with those we love the most.

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Comments

  1. “If someone said to you, “My goodness, you are such a wonderfully generous person.” What would the voice INSIDE your head say in response? Would you try to brush it off?” – Yes, I think I would most of the time. (Sigh) I think for a long time I had a similar view of generosity as a mom, and I’m slowly recovering from those thoughts. Great reminder. Wonderful encouragement!

  2. Wow. I started out the post thinking, “Yeah, I’ve lost my generosity too!” and ended realizing, “Woah, I need to take a step back and think about this more.” Especially since “How you describe yourself is really important. It trickles through to how we show up with ourselves and with those we love the most.”
    I think since I often see motherhood as an obligation and generosity as required, I show up to it a little grumpy. I wonder if I start seeing myself as being generous with my kids, it it’ll foster a better attitude and more generosity. Lots to think about…

  3. Lisa, I feel like you wrote this just for me. THANK YOU!

  4. avatar
    Maridyth says:

    Wow. Thanks.

  5. Ack… You just blew my mind with this.

  6. I very much needed to read this this morning. I was just mentally complaining about how I do my job just as long in the day as him, and yet when he gets home I’m still on the clock because he “had a long day and just need some time to recuperate.” This certainly puts a new perspective on things. It made me cry, and feel much better about myself. Thank you!

  7. Thank you for this. I am on the other end of life than you, but I have felt the same way. I am in my late fifties, living with my almost-95-year-old mother, who has Parkinson’s, and who requires 24/7 care. I would love to be able to give more time to my grandchildren, but can only squeeze in one afternoon a week because I “have to” stay home with Mom. I have thought of starting an outreach to the local elementary school via the church, but can’t because I “have to” stay home with Mom. Volunteer work can’t be fit in because of my “obligation” to my mother.
    But, thank you for reminding me that, 14 years ago, I volunteered to do THIS work rather than something else. While you were teaching in Tanzania, you were NOT volunteering with your home town pregnancy center. We can only do one thing at a time. When you gave birth to your first child, you immediately became their volunteer worker. As they get older and can help more, you, as a family, will be able to add volunteer work that is out of the house.
    This is the season we are in, right NOW. Different options will present themselves at different times. Don’t let us yearn for former things, or for future opportunities – we are now where God wants us.

  8. I’ve been thinking a lot about what is a “good mom” (and just wrote a post about it myself). But this morning, it was this line that got me: “How you describe yourself is really important. It trickles through to how we show up with ourselves and with those we love the most.”

    Because lately I describe myself as exhausted. And I am exhausted. But I wonder if I could pull myself out of that place by describing it differently? I am healing, I am recovering, I am getting better. I don’t want to be stuck with “exhausted.”

  9. I totally had this conversation with my husband last night. My second daughter is three months and I’m *exhausted*. Thank you for the encouragement!

  10. avatar
    Sarah Westphal says:

    Thank you Lisa! Just. wow.

  11. Great post. Thank you!
    The definitions we live by, they are so worth looking at constantly. As you point out – our inner life shapes our outer life.

  12. avatar
    Terri T. says:

    This is really interesting. A few years ago a friend of ours became too sick to work and we brought her into our home. Now she’s part of our family. When I would explain the situation to people they would always talk about how generous I was. And for some reason it made me uncomfortable. It’s not like we made a decision to do something generous. We just did what needed to be done for someone we cared about. After a while, I started telling people she was my sister. Because if people think she’s family then our actions are “expected” rather than “generous”. I think this attitude is pervasive in our society, especially with regards to women in caregiver roles. Now that you brought it up though, I have no idea why I so strongly rejected the generous label when offered. I have never considered myself to be a generous person no matter how much volunteer work I’ve done. Definitely something to think about.

  13. avatar
    Linda Sand says:

    As I look back at my life from the perspective of retirement I see this:

    When our children are small we give all our energy to them as it is important to gently start them along the path where we want them to grow.

    As they grow we give our energy to their community–drive car pools, participate in PTA, coach sports, lead scouts, teach Sunday school, etc.

    As they become older we teach them to give to their community–bring treats to events, participate in fundraisers, make gifts for teachers, etc.

    By the time they become adults we are all giving to the larger community–providing meals for the hungry, helping build houses, working community gardens, or whatever is available where you live.

    I can no longer physically do all the things I used to be able to do but I can still support my communities online by sharing my knowledge and supporting them and their choices and I do my best to do that. So do you.

  14. Hi Lisa,

    Thank you for this encouragement. Reading a wonderful piece like this and then reading the follow-up comments only makes me realize that mothers the world over (I am from India) share these tough personal situations while at motherhood and that though our situations are unique we are not alone. We give so much and yet don’t appreciate ourselves. And gifted mothers like you can put that across in words that touch so many of us to look UP on ourselves. Something we moms need to do. Look UP on ourselves. :)

  15. There are many different ways to be generous and I greatly admire people who give of their time and selves.

    Me?

    I prefer to give money.

    Some might say it’s easier to write a check rather than experience first hand the despair and heartache that (I’ve heard) often accompanies getting out there in the field.

    Maybe so.. but money is always needed and that’s how I like to give.

    There are many fun ways to give money.

    For about a year I gave my veterinarian an open invitation to call me if they had someone who could not pay for desperately needed pet care. I’d write the check.

    If I see someone in uniform (soldier, police officer, EMS) at a restaurant, I’ll often pick up the check.

    But my favorite form of giving is to sponsor kids who can’t afford to go on missions trips. What a blessing to give to those kids. I like to think their mission experience can beautifully impact their lives.

    I always do it anonymously. And it always warms my heart beyond measure.

    ~darlene :)

  16. Thank you for this reminder Lisa. We all need to hear this and stop comparing ourselves to the world’s ideas. Our children do learn generosity from us when we are generous. Our American ways just push us to achieve what people can not do!

  17. What a great post! This is exactly how I feel about myself! Thank you so much for sharing. I am changing my perspective.

  18. avatar
    Sarah Godwin says:

    Thank you! I needed this. I love the idea of challenging our definitions. As a mother of four young children I can’t get out and do the volunteer work that I would love to do, but I work hard at home day and night. I am generous with my family. Perhaps thinking of it that way will help me to have a more generous spirit toward my family members quit pitying myself as an “exhausted” mom. This is good food for thought this morning.

  19. Oh my goodness, Lisa, I think you’re inside my mind. I have definitely been telling myself lately that I’ve “lost” much of my generosity. This really challenged me to re-think why I’m telling myself that. Thank you, sweet friend. And for the record, you give so generously in the work that you do, and I am grateful to be a recipient of that. :)

  20. Sometimes we are our own worst critics, aren’t we? How precious of your hubby to say those sweet words to you. I am blessed to have a hubby who feels the same way. Thank you for this reminder. I think deep down we all know this, but for some reason we forget. Thank you for reminding us today. Pinning this one!

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