George woke up in a brown funk this morning—as we all do on occasion. I shared an amusing item from a blog I’d read earlier and George attacked the writer as a trouble maker. (Over the years, he’s learned not to attack me unless he wants his life to escalate into something far worse than a brown funk). I laughed his remark off, but began silently berating myself. I shouldn’t have brought up a subject with which George might potentially disagree—something that might set him off on a tirade against a person he’s never met. I searched my mind: Had I said something last night that brought on this mood? (This event took place at breakfast, so I couldn’t distance myself from George without distancing myself from my oatmeal with blueberries and sunflower seeds—a sacrifice I was not prepared to make). I tried to tune George out, but my ears wouldn’t cooperate. I built up a fair amount of resentment before he finally released enough steam to come back to earth and say, “I don’t know why I got up feeling this way.”
Of course, I get up grouchy on occasion and take it out on George—but he has a major advantage. He never takes my bouts of irritability personally. Men are not trained from childhood to take responsibility for relationships the way women are. Are men ever told they are the “heart of the home,” that they set the tone for the family? Are little boys told, as I was in Primary, to greet the day with a song? That their smiles and cheery dispositions make everyone in the family happier—and by extension—their fits of crankiness destroy the harmony of the home?
Responsibility for the happiness of others is a tremendous burden. Just providing clean clothes and adequate nutrition strained my personal resources when our kids were small, but I still fretted over their happiness or lack thereof. Not that I had any solutions to the fact that their teachers didn’t always appreciate them and their friends didn’t always like them. Heck, I didn’t always appreciate them or like them either. But I did feel responsible—and apologetic: “Yes, I know it’s embarrassing for you to be seen in our old station wagon with the ‘Please steal me” bumper sticker, but we can’t afford to replace it now.” It was my job to make everyone in the family happy and most of the time I failed—somebody was always in a snit about something.
It’s time I and many other women realize that people are responsible for their own happiness. So, the next time George wakes up with his underwear in a knot, I’m taking my oatmeal to my desk—being careful not to dribble it onto my keyboard. That’s my own responsibility.