In my practice, I see a lot of people who struggle with defining their Christian responsibility to others, especially other family members. For example, woman feels that she must do everything right to make her husband happy. A son feels like he must always check in with his mother so that she does not worry. Parents feel like they must talk to the teacher weekly so that their child will get a good grade.
Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in their Boundaries series explain it as the “Law of Responsibility”: We are responsible to each other, but not for each other.
The woman believes that it is her Christian duty to make her husband happy. While she is to be responsible for her own actions and to care about her spouse’s welfare and feelings, she cannot control his feelings.
He alone is responsible for his feelings. Likewise, the son cannot alleviate his mother’s anxiety. No matter what he does or doesn’t do – she may worry. He is just allowing her to zap his energy.
Similarly, the parents want their child to do well. But by continually taking responsibility for their child’s schoolwork, they only teach their child to be continually dependent and helpless.
What the Bible Says
What does the Bible say? “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” and “each one should carry his own load” (Galatians 6:2, 5). Sounds confusing at first read, but let’s dig a little deeper. The word burden (verse 2) represents a large obstacle such as a financial, health, or emotional crisis. As Christians, we are to help others who are carrying an overwhelming burden for a certain time period. The term load (verse 5), however, indicates one’s daily responsibilities of life. This includes one’s feelings, attitudes, values, and handling of life’s everyday difficulties. A Christian may help with loads, but it is the ultimate responsibility of the person to take care of daily responsibilities. Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in their Boundaries series explain it as the “Law of Responsibility”: We are responsible to each other, but not for each other.
The Grumpy Spouse
The wife who feels responsible for her husband’s happiness needs to set limits with her actions. She needs to love him by sharing household duties and speaking kindly to him, but she needs to take time for herself. She may need to separate herself from him like going for a walk, exercising, spending time with the children, etc. when he is in a foul mood. She must not try to rescue him from his immature behavior, but she should communicate her healthy boundaries. (Need some assertiveness help? Read “The Most Misunderstood Couples Skill.”)
The Worrisome Mother
The son who feels obligated to help his mother must communicate to her that she is making him feel guilty when she does ______. He should be able to contact her freely on his own accord, without dreading the conversation. He should expect for her to initially be upset. But this communication of his feelings and his boundaries needs to be on a continuous basis, not a one-time statement. Consistent, loving honesty will slowly create a healthier relationship.
(Not sure about how to deal with a guilt trip? Read “How To Navigate a Guilt Trip.”)
The Lazy Child
The parents who are concerned about their child’s academics need to allow their child to fail and suffer the consequences. Learning to fail is such a valuable lesson. Many adults are afraid of taking risks because they were not allowed to fail as a child. They do not understand what it takes to succeed or what happens when they fail. They just fear it. Childhood is the best time to learn to fail because the stakes are lower. They have less people depending upon them, and they have their parents to emotionally, mentally, and financially support them. How are your relationships? Are you harming them by being too responsible? Are you sabotaging your kid’s future? Read “Eleven Ways Parents Sabotage Their Kid’s Future & How To Stop.“)