Although I was only in Berlin for five days, and have been back home for over a week now, the sights and experiences of the trip are still uppermost in my mind. It feels as though I have learnt so much in that short space of time, not least about myself.
It would seem that, despite my inner desire to avoid conforming to societies expectations of how a wife, mother and woman should behave, I am still overly indecisive and submissive. The former I can understand based on my day to day experiences over many years. The latter I find more irritating but suspect that it is an innate part of my character. I dislike conflict and wish to please.
When I am on my own and my decisions affect nobody but myself I have no problems choosing a course of action. As soon as I become responsible for an outcome that will impact anyone else I become anxious. I fear other’s opprobrium should things not turn out well for them.
My husband is hard to please. It is rare for him to offer praise or satisfaction over anything; with the exception of food, his default setting appears to be disappointed. With my inbuilt desire to please I experience a sinking, crushed feeling every time something I have suggested disappoints. To avoid this I try to get him to take responsibility for his actions so that I may not feel to blame. I have developed a habit of avoidance, indecision and deferral.
Society is all too willing and eager to judge mothers harshly for their actions and results. Between media advice that is thinly veiled criticism, the education establishments desire to churn out clones, and the competition that seems to exist between some women over their own and their children’s behaviour and outcomes, I have felt blamed for a plethora of choices over many years. It is hard not to feel cowed and defensive at times.
In Berlin I was being asked to make simple decisions such as choosing a restaurant; I just couldn’t do it. I tried hard, but there was an inner voice squealing at me that I had no idea what these places were like and it would be my fault if I opted for what turned out to be a bad experience. Of course, none of us had prior knowledge of these places. I knew, however, that I would not be concerned about outcomes so long as it were not my responsibility. I do not like that I was so incapable of dealing with something that, in this situation, mattered so little. My friend would not have reacted as my husband would and I was forcing him to take me on as a follower rather than an equal.
My fear of being blamed for bad things also manifested itself in my desire to leave vast swathes of contingency time when we travelled. I chose to get to the airport with hours of spare time, preferring to wait around rather than risk missing a flight. I imagined all the traffic delays and accidents that could result in us having to rush; I had a deep seated fear of how I would ever face my husband if he had to pay the exorbitant cost of replacement flights if we missed those we had pre booked so cheaply.
I had not realised until this trip just how submissive I am. My inclination to follow has left me unsure of how to lead; my children showed more ability at navigating baggage check in, security and boarding. All I seemed good for was packing, ensuring we knew our times and route, buying cups of tea and taking care of passports and paperwork which I checked and rechecked constantly. Travel tickets that needed to be bought from machines, even withdrawing cash from ATM’s, was left to my son as I feel panic if I do not understand what to do next and fear losing my card or money and the difficulties that this could present.
I find it hard to believe that I once traversed the globe alone without any of these concerns. When did I become so anxious? I can see how the habit of following has developed along with my desire to please those I love, but to have become so incapable of simple decision making is an irritation for me and must annoy those who are forced to help me out.
Within our home I run much of the time keeping and organisation that ensures we are all where we need to be at the correct time and with whatever we need. I forward plan and build in contingency as best I can. Once I step outside though it would seem that my confidence evaporates and, with that, many of my abilities. I have developed a phobia of letting others down.
None of this detracted from my enjoyment of the trip because, at every stage, there was someone to pick up where I could not cope. I may have exasperated my children at times, but they accepted my concerns and apparent lack of ability as how I am. It frustrates me though that I have allowed myself to develop in this way. I know that I am capable and that my fears are unfounded; people will generally be more forgiving of failure than I give them credit for. I know that I should not take the negative comments that are sometimes made so much to heart.
My newly honed awareness of these issues offers me the opportunity to work on improvement. I suspect that my husband would prefer me to be more innovative; he married an independent career girl and has ended up with a useful doormat. If anything is going to disappoint him then it may well be that.
Just as I have started the new academic year with the aim of improving my health and body shape, so I now wish to work on improving my mindset. Breaking a habit can be tough; developing a thicker skin even harder. It is obvious though that I am the only one who can modify what I have become. Most of my problems exist only in my head and in the way I perceive and react to my day to day experiences. Only I can do anything to counteract what I have allowed myself to become. I will learn this lesson and do my best to improve.