Crazymaking people & moments must be stopped

betty ming liu Relationships 21 Comments

My daughter had a great pediatrician who gave me the following life-changing advice…

I’ll always remember the afternoon when I carried my baby Gabi into his office. She was such a gloriously fat, beautiful little person.

Since she wasn’t walking yet, I lugged her everywhere. Kinda hard on the lower back. But that was nothing compared to the constant demands of feeding and changing diapers. And now we were in the city for the baby’s annual check-up.

The doctor started with the standard how-is-Gabi-doing questions. He asked about me too. I joked that being a full-time mom was much more difficult than working for a big city newspaper.

Then he paused. I don’t know what he saw in my behavior or demeanor. But suddenly, he switched gears and told me a story. It went something like this:

Once upon a time, two full-time moms and their newborns were in his waiting room. The women, who didn’t know each other, were about the same age, about the same level of education, even approximately the same physical build. They were also both blessed with healthy babies.

But one of the new mothers was exhausted. Her hair was blah. She wasn’t wearing lipstick. Her clothes gave the impression that she’d just thrown them on. Meanwhile, the other woman was full of happy conversation. Her outfit looked good. The pediatrician couldn’t get over the moms’ similarities — and striking differences.

Hmmm. During their respective appointments, the doctor listened carefully. By the time everyone left his office, he had an idea of what was going on.

The stressed-out mom: Every time the baby made a peep, she jumped into 911 mode. It didn’t matter if she was in the middle of something. All was dropped to serve her child.

The happier mom: When the baby needed her, she was there too. But as much as possible, her priority was to complete her task-at-hand. This meant that her hungry infant didn’t eat until Mommy took a few extra minutes to finish that email and hit the “send” key. If this mother was on the phone, she’d finish the call.

What a revelation. Up until then, my life was a series of red-alert relationships. After all, my Chinese immigrant parents had raised me to be good Chinese girl who would make a good wife and mother. We all know what that means….everyone else comes first! Let’s hear it for personal sacrifice on every extreme and unnecessary level!


It’s been 15 years since that doctor’s office visit. Right afterwards, I could barely identify the crazymaking qualities of my life. The re-education began with Gabi. If I smelled a dirty diaper, I’d keep reading the newspaper instead of jumping up to change it. Even though I felt guilty, I told myself that a few extra minutes wouldn’t make a difference. Eventually, I eased away from some difficult friendships and learned to count to 10 before answering my mother’s questions. 

These days, I’ve gotten pretty good at saying “no” to annoying people. I’ve even learned to deal with the most annoying person of all: Me. I mean, really — if I’ve cleared my schedule for a morning of writing, does the laundry need to be done that very second?????!

My daughter likes this painting so i named it "apple baby" because she's the apple of my eye.

Can I consciously stop myself from loading clothes in the washer?!

Can I give myself the quality time that I need?!

Can I believe in my own creativity?????!

Getting to “yes” is a huge effort. But with practice, this exercise in self-respect keeps getting a little easier.

Lesson learned. Over and over.



Comments 21

  1. Post

    thanks, shirley! and i know i’m a little early with this post. i meant to send it out on thursday but hit the “publish” button by mistake. so here it is.

  2. Even though it’s been years since the baby crazies, I find myself still having to constantly monitor my interruptions. Since I belong to a lot of organizations I have had to learn to sit on my hands when the call for volunteers goes up. If I said yes to everything I find interesting & can contribute to, I’d never have time for creating My Art.

    I need to remember to put my own life first. Not an easy lesson to learn (& re-learn, & re-learn). Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Post

    the babies have an excuse for being demanding…i think those mommy years train us to be great servants. it takes a while to decompress from that role. and mary, you make beautiful art! get to the studio, girl!

  4. Betty! I have been working to collect as much concrete advice on finding time to do art when you have children and this is amazing. Just to get out of the mindset of being a servant is huge. Wonderful wonderful!

  5. Oh how I understand the perils of being raised Chinese and the notion that “everyone else comes first”! Kudos for breaking out of it! I’m still trying and it’s easier said than done. I have to make a conscious effort to be “selfish” and get frustrated when often it doesn’t happen!

  6. Good advice Betty, and it translates to so many other areas. I realized that I was not giving my art it’s deserved high priority when I heard myself say that I don’t get out to my studio because I felt guilty leaving my DOG alone!!! Granted, she’s a sweet member of the family, but I wouldn’t feel guilty leaving her to go to a “real” job!
    My other time wasting insanity is the effort I put into trying to “repair” a relationship that won’t change. Time to remove myself from toxic “friends”.
    Both require valuing “me” more. That takes practice.

  7. Post

    amantha, you know who was even more demanding than my little baby, my mother!! she died…oh my goodness — has it been two years already? she wanted us to baby her until her death. rest in peace, mom!

    and anita, i felt “selfish” just writing about needing time to read the newspaper. can the laundry really wait another few days? :)

    dorothy, i suffer from the dog issues too. the substitute child that fulfills my continuing needs to serve. but she’s so sweet. btw, i have a great piece of advice on toxic friends from a former yoga teacher. i think i’ll post that one soon. you’ll really like it.

  8. Post

    just curious….what things do you feel selfish doing for yourself? that might be a good question today.

    finish this sentence: “i deserve the time to (fill in the blank, if you dare).”

    katherine, thanks for inspiring my wish for today: i deserve the time to do a little yoga. now let’s see if i can make it come true…..

  9. Great post. It also struck me how similar my upbringing was as the daughter and grand-daughter of Jewish European immigrants. Anyway, your post relieves me of some of the guilt I’ve felt over doing exactly what you suggest. Kind of comical to think back over having a power struggle with a 21/2 year old. “Just wait a minute while I finish this!” “More milk ! More milk! Milk!”

    1. Post

      denise, this kind of love-servitude cuts across all colors, creeds and even genders. i know guys who wait on their families too. thanks for the support. knowing that you’re trying not to feel guilty helps me to feel less guilty too.

  10. Yay for you, Betty! We ARE our worst enemies, aren’t we? Crazymaking starts (and stops) here, with ourselves. When I finally learned this, I embraced the exhilaration of my pro-activity! I let go of always being in re-active mode, constantly feeling like the world was happening TO me.
    Now, I happen, to the WORLD. I bring my best self, because I’m rested, nourished, and (counter-intuitively) have put myself first.
    How wonderful that it was your pediatrician who helped you – addressing your whole situation. I’m glad to know there are professionals in the medical field who share the larger picture with us. Healing comes in many forms, yes?
    And how funny is it that saying no is actually the biggest YES to life?!

  11. Post

    and yay to you, kellie — for getting it all together!

    the name of the wise pediatrician is marc nesselson. he’s on the upper west side of manhattan. until we met him, i was done with conventional western medicine. but he helped me see that some physicians are not just human — but also smart.

    some years ago, we stopped seeing him because he moved away. but now that he’s back in town….i think we MUST visit him for our next annual checkup. that thought just hit me now because of your comment, kellie! thank you for activating my brain!!!

  12. Post

    btw, if any of you actually like this post enough to share it on facebook, could you do me a favor and “like” it via the facebook icon at the end of the post? it would make this blog item look good on my website. thanks! :)

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