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.
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.