Reflections #12 ¬†ūüíĆ. Sense of duty



Issue #12, February 2016

Sense of Duty

The obedience in the army expresses well the sense of duty I speak of today.


Here come my latest thoughts on obedience, doing what’s right and sense of duty. I feel I am, with all my family, right in the middle of a long exploration on the subject, so I am just giving you my present perspective. I hope it is, in spite of that, more of an inspiration than a rambling.




A little window into my life

Sense of duty

We’ve recently bought ourselves¬†a new boat. It’s a trailer sailer, a small yacht that we put on a trailer and tow behind our car. It has been very exciting to go out on weekend outings and our first 10 day holiday this January by the Clarence River. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†
Holidays always bring up the same old struggle of getting the kids to help out a bit more at home. But when you need to pack to go sailing, the challenge is multiplied several times, adding sails, tools, engine, life jackets and all sort of equipment to a list of things to take which already is extremely long. Packing takes forever, and I have felt more than ever the need to have the children give us a hand with it. But as I said above, it is a struggle, and it has taken me a while to work out why.

I have come to realise that my inner tug of war¬†has to do with two contradictory voices: the first one is the voice of my parents, saying I have to push myself through the task at hand, shoulder the responsibility of the adult, keep on going like a steam roller till the job is done and only then I can relax. This voice¬†also wants to “crack the whip” on the children and make them go through the same; it says ‘they should do as they are told’ and ‘they ought to help’ and such things. But I don’t like being with my kids as demanding as my parents were with me, so I let it drop.Then is when I hear the other voice, which is that of my inner girl, questioning why do the adults have to do it all on their own, and why do you stop listening to my needs every time you undertake such a project, and complaining that it’s not fair or fun. After quite some battling with my husband, who embodies a big part of what the first voice is about and packs like a steam roller, and my children, who represent to perfection the second voice and find endless excuses to stop helping, I came to recognise the conflict within myself.

Only then I was able to do that inner Aware Parenting process of listening to the different parts inside, allowing them to rant and moan and cry. I listened with love and compassion a little bit here, some more there, whenever packing or unpacking time came and my feelings were brought up to the surface. Eventually I was clear enough to able to have a centered and constructive discussion with the whole family. I was able to explain to the children without blaming or resentment why it is important to me that they are more involved in the process. They heard me. I was also able to tell my husband how it is essential for me to take it easy, and have breaks, and spend time re-negotiating with the kids when they are tired, and keeping my heart connection with everyone along the way. He understood. That was fantastic, and already showed when we arrived home, in the way the children helped unpack. I am looking forward to seeing how it evolves!


The theory behind the practice

I have realised that what changed the struggle into flow was connection. Ah! Connection, connection, connection,¬†the essence¬†of my way of parenting. My parent’s voice in my head had lots of “oughts” and “shoulds” and “have tos” which are always disconnecting. My inner girl’s complaints and questioning helped me stop and listen to the two parts inside, fighting. That was the first time connection happened. Once I reconnected with myself, I was able to connect to the kids and husband, and everything flowed from there. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†
Every “ought”, “should”, “must” and “have to” is an indicator of a¬†Sense of Duty lurking underneath. Sense of Duty is the belief that in order to receive love (to be OK, be approved of, be accepted, etc.) we have to fit inside the box of external expectations. Those expectations are different for everyone, but they have in common this quality of obligation which¬†fuels¬†our actions. Every time kids receive¬†anger, punishment or any other sort of disconnection for not doing as they are told, they¬†feel disapproval¬†and judgment. Kids need love as much as food and eventually, when this pattern repeats itself enough, they come to believe¬†that “doing the right thing” is a necessary requisite for¬†being loved. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†
The opposite¬†of doing something out of a sense of duty is doing it because it brings us joy in some level or other. For example, the other day I vacuumed my husband’s car because I knew he was feeling heavy and tired and he would appreciate my act of service. It brought me joy to show my love for him in that way, even though I don’t like vacuuming the car. To be able to truly do something out of joy, we need to be connected to ourselves. And in order to be connected to ourselves, we need to connect with and heal the pain¬†that lays in the way from every instance when we were pushed to comply. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†

I have been clearing this pain with a lot of help from my son, who refuses to be 
“broken in”. My daughter can more easily be made to trade helpfulness for approval and love; I have to confess, sometimes I still fall into that easy trap with her and push her with harsh words or threats. But my son just digs his heels deeper into the ground the harder we push. That is a curse in my dark moments and a blessing in my enlightened ones.

I have a sense of him helping me undo the strong sense of duty I learned as a kid when being forced to help at home.¬†When he says NO to a request of mine, I either have a loving or a hurting reaction. When it hurts, I take the¬†chance to heal a little more of the pain of putting my parents needs before my own, of always doing as I was told. When I manage a loving reaction, I see clearly his need for autonomy and choice; from a place of heart connection, I can reformulate my request so it’s respectful, or negotiate so we can come to an agreement in which everyone is happy. Slowly, slowly, loving reactions are becoming more common than hurting ones.

What I found fascinating was the ripples of this process in the rest of the family. Both my daughter and husband seem to go through their own version of questioning their sense of duty.

My daughter’s process:¬†She has a habit of saying ‘yes’ to my son’s frequent requests and demands because it’s easier to agree than to trigger a fuss. But she does have a limit. And when she comes to it, she has the same inner dilemma I described above: a voice saying ‘I should do as I am told’ on one hand, and a very angry little girl on the other shouting¬†‘no way! This is IT!’ The pain of that dilemma is extreme, and she doesn’t know what to do with is, so she dumps it. And the receiving end is, of course, her little brother. Recently, though, I was able to point out the pattern to her in a way that she could see it clearly: ‘your brother is going to end up feeling sad regardless, whether you say ‘no’ to him to start with or whether you bash him on the head to finish. You might as well practice saying ‘no’ at the beginning. I gues you will feel better for it’. She agreed and decided I was worthwhile learning to say ‘no’. I am very curious to see how this progresses and, specially, what it’ll do to him, who is used to dishing orders¬†like a prince.

My husband’s process: when I¬†got¬†pregnant¬†10 years ago, a huge protective and provider instinct kicked in for my beloved. He has done amazingly well in that respect, but¬†even though he loves the work he does, I suspect there is a sense of duty mixed up in his motivations, too. My suspicion comes from the fact that, when he is tired or things are not working out, he feels resentful. Then he has the same dilemma I described above: a voice saying he¬†has to push himself through it, keep on going like a steam roller till the job is done and only then he can relax. And on the other hand,¬†the voice of his inner boy, questioning why does he have to do it all alone, and why does it have to be such an enormous¬†undertaking, and complaining that it’s not fair or fun.¬†His resentment comes out as¬†complaints¬†about being¬†the only one working hard in the family and everyone else (meaning me, the au-pair and both¬†children)¬†just having a joy ride.

In the past I would have a hurting reaction, leading to many a difficult conversation and even argument with him. Recently I am managing to see, underneath his blaming, the pain of doing as he was told as a child in spite of his own needs, and the sense of duty that grew out of that. Being able to see that has meant no arguments, more compassion and more connection between us. And as I said above, connection is the beginning of healing. I wonder what will happen next.


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Inspired Parenting glossary

Sense of Duty:
The belief that following rules and doing what’s right is more important than love and connection. A common variation is the belief that in order to obtain or deserve love we must first do what’s right.

Thinking that people are supposed to do or be anything other than what they are is like saying that the tree over there should be the sky. I investigated that and found freedom. Byron Katie

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