I looked forward to summer the way I always do, thinking it would be a time to catch up on personal projects as well as family projects, but the family projects always take priority and by the end of the summer I feel I missed out somehow.
But there isn't something ELSE I was or am supposed to be doing other than what I am doing. Many times when I was free to choose how to spend a given day, I chose a family project because there were no "personal" projects. From a Zen point of view, there is no such thing as family projects and personal projects, unless all projects are personal and projects are indivisible from any activity of mind or body I could engage in.
Care giving is not only what I spend most of my time doing, it is probably my most highly developed skill. When I am done educating and raising my children, their need of me will be replaced by no need of me. Like an on and off switch rather than a cumulative accomplishment. I think.
I also thought that simply "no more need" wasn't much of an outcome for all this effort, that at the same time I am raising my children it would also be good to have something I am doing "just for me". That way when they no longer need me, I will have something else to show for that time - a different developed skill or talent maybe, or the product of a skill or talent.
But this dualistic thinking just keeps me rushing towards an imaginary place of equilibrium or finish line and all the way feeling dissatisfied. That can't be good. I don't have two parallel lives I am pursuing, one as a mother and teacher and one as an individual. It is just me as an individual, giving my time and effort and contributing my resources to the cause I consider most important at any given time. If I am doing it, it is important, it is "for me", whatever it is.
Developing other skills or talents isn't at odds with raising a family, though it takes great commitment to find time for anything but caregiving. I know that taking care of myself is part of what I do to be able to take care of others, and developing skills and talents other than caregiving is good for me. But I can do what I need to do without classifying things in ways that make them appear to be in opposition, or indeed different "things" at all.
As the Rev. Jean Pierre de Caussade, a French Jesuit who died in 1751, wrote in Abandonment to Divine Providence
, the most direct course to holiness, to emptiness, to doing the will of God, is in each moment to take care of what is in front of us, what has been given to us to do. There is nothing else that can be asked or desired.