Responsibility and Freedom

I had a conversation just the other day about my caretaker/responsibility personality – whether it is innate or learned; whether I acquired it because I had to or I was born to it.

Glossing over all the details, I was forced to be ‘responsible’ and a caretaker at the age of 7, that’s when my younger brother was born. There are lots of children who take on adult responsibilities at a very young age, it isn’t all that unusual in the world. Perhaps in your world it might seem unusual but in the great big wide world it isn’t.

The older I got the more responsibilities I had.  My parents didn’t care what I did, where I went as long as my ‘responsibilities’ were taken care of.  By the time I was in 6th grade I was forging my parent’s signatures on all my school paperwork including my report cards. They never knew because they never asked – never asked about reports cards. Never asked about school trips. Never asked about me.

By the time I was 14 I knew how to write  a check, pay bills, make bank deposits. I had been doing all the cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing for several years already.

Back in my day, where I lived, high schools had 3 programs, academic for those who wanted to go to college, business/secretarial for those who didn’t and general for those deemed incapable of the other two.  Parent’s got to choose which program their kid went in and had to sign off on the paperwork. My parents never saw that paperwork. I signed myself up for the academic program because I wanted to go to college. I was a junior in high school when my father finally tipped to the fact that I was not taking the secretarial course.

I was two people – the shy, quiet, mousy, compliant, responsible person they saw and the determined, competent, forward thinking, plotter and planner they never knew existed until the day I walked out the door.

Yes, as a child and a teenager I had a lot of freedom – to go wherever I wanted and do whatever I wanted. Nobody cared. And that was a good thing. Because I got to choose for myself who I was going to be.

And all those responsibilities – they were a good thing because I learned how to be an adult while I was still a child. So when the time came to exercise even more of my freedom I knew how.  Those responsibilities gave me the knowledge to navigate the practical world, to be able to take care of myself.

That was the war I fought within myself – those two people – always at odds.  The one who lived fancy free and the one who needed to be rooted and safe. The one who accepted no limits and the one who was afraid to truly test those limits.  The one who lived her life on her own terms and the one who accepted other people’s terms in the false hope of security.

Accepting other people’s terms never worked for me, never made me happy, never made me feel safe. Those times when I lived on MY terms, were the best, the happiest. I  might have made some choices that weren’t always the wisest but they caused me less pain than decisions made when living by someone else’s terms.

I haven’t been free in decades. I haven’t lived MY life, on MY terms in decades. I am mired in a swamp of responsibility that I don’t want and yet can’t walk away from.

I’ve sold myself for a false sense of security and safety. I’m living up to all the other’s expectations and to my responsibilities. And some people think I’m admirable but I’d rather be free.


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