Living your best life when people are looking up to you — and over your shoulder…
Q: I’m a parent to two little girls under 5 and I work part time too. I wish I had more time to help out in the community but I don’t. I feel guilty hearing about all these people planting trees and picking up trash and I wish I could be a better neighbor but I feel so overwhelmed with my own life. Am I setting a bad example for my kids? How much of an effort do I need to make, to be sufficiently civically engaged? – CC
A: Toss that guilt out of the window. Now.
You are doing a very important job, which is raising two people to be healthy and happy. They need your time and attention and I am giving you a free Get out of Guilt card. Yes, your children are watching you — they will watch you get overwhelmed and go under water if you take on any more! You will have plenty of time to volunteer when you feel like you have your life under control, probably then they will be older and can join in.
For now, though, I think the best way you can give back to the world is to raise active, engaged citizens. So identify your community values, and incorporate simple, do-able acts in your day to day life with your kids. For example, take a bag along when you walk with your children and pick up litter you see. Point out public greenspace, art and architecture, which will teach them to feel pride and stewardship for their neighborhood.
Stop to read zoning notices, talk about what it means to be a part of a community. I know your kids are very young, but try asking them about parks they enjoy and stores they like to visit – help them see themselves as integral to the world around them. Kids love old maps and stories from the past, too – google some local history and lay it on them! Every day provides opportunities to model good habits for civic engagement.
Guilt, schmuilt! As a parent, you’re on the Front Lines our developing communities, empowering future generations with skills & knowledge that can change the world. Thank you for your service! — A
Q: My husband, Roger, and I have been married for 12 years. Recently, Roger installed a full “smart home” system including surveillance cameras, heat and motion sensors, apps that can turn lights on & off, lock/unlock doors, adjust the thermostat… So now it’s like he’s on me constantly. Every time we get an Amazon package, he texts me to go bring it in. Whenever he sees something on one of the cameras, I have to check it out. He tracks my energy usage and nags at me about lights left on, windows that should be closed (or opened), mail that should be collected…
I love my husband and believe him when he insists he’s just trying to be helpful/safe/efficient. But even when I ignore his demands (as I do quite often), I’m finding myself increasingly pissed off that he’s tracking my every move while I’m at home all day. I have nothing to hide! But just knowing he’s watching me all the time, it really rankles. How should I handle this before I explode? — Privacy, Please
A: You’re not the first to complain about a partner’s computer compulsions. I guess we should be happy, at least, that instead of indulging in porn or video games, your husband spends all his time safeguarding your home. But that’s not enough of a win.
The key words in your letter are how he nags and demands. There are no rules about how much he should interrupt you about doors, packages, and temperature. Because it’s too much for you, it is over the line. And that is all that really matters. It is your home, and as a fully-functioning adult you have every right to resist your husband’s micro-management.
What you need is a discussion with him. Negotiate and set boundaries! For example, you might load the app onto your phone or computer, so now you have primary control of the devices (and whether or not he can monitor you). Maybe offer him control when you step out, or when contactors are working or if an important package is on the way..? Limiting his influence to a set list of specific situations might help you both strike a balance in this domestic power play.
Before the house allegedly got smart, you were the smart one who took in the mail and set the temperature. You did things on your own schedule and based on your needs. He doesn’t get to wrest away your judgment just because the house is smart. That is a gaslight! Again, unless you’ve previously burned your house down, napped thru a home invasion, etc. you don’t need to justify that you are capable of taking care of the place while you are there.
If he can’t see this, then your problem is much bigger than the bells and whistles he has installed. Could he be jealous or otherwise suspicious of you for a reason? You didn’t mention his age, but personality changes like delusions and paranoia can be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease – in fact, distrust and control-freakiness is often one of the first indications (and can affect people as young as their 40’s and 50’s). There’s also a host of other medical conditions that can present as dementia but are reversible with treatment. If you have any doubts about your husband’s cognitive functioning, schedule a physical asap! And while you’re at it, maybe get the name of a good therapist or marriage counselor – can’t hurt to have a professional on standby if your Smart Home Saga continues…
Agree or Disagree? Please comment below.
ABOUT ATHENA When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to email@example.com.