As people start to pursue (or berate themselves for not pursuing) their New Year’s resolutions. I have been listening and looking around wondering who we owe things to and why.

This month we are going to be looking at obligations and asking ourselves who we have decided we are obligated to and why.

The definition of obligation:

  1. Something by which a person is bound or obliged to do certain things and which arises out of a sense of duty or results from custom, law, etc.
  2. Something that is done or is to be done for such reasons: to fulfill one’s obligations.
  3. A binding promise, contract, sense of duty, etc.
  4. The act of binding or obligating oneself by a promise, contract, etc.

It keeps going but I think you get the point….

I often hear about our obligations to our families in my work.

This one is tricky. When our kids are minors, we owe them everything we can give them; love, time, attention, discipline, boundaries, etc. When they are adults, our obligation is very different and knowing when and how to scale that back is difficult and probably looks different for every family and sometimes every kid.

What do you owe your parents? Technically, respect (with notable exceptions). Which may or may not mean that they are in our lives.

What about extended family members? Much the same as parents, it would be great to offer them respect and in many cases respect may come in the form of distance.   That whole, ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say’ thing.

If relationships are meant to be 50/50 then it is important to consider what the other person is willing and able to add to your life. Are there exceptions? OF COURSE! I’m not really talking about them though.

In my experience, lots of people expect that they have to give more than they are given. And in many cases that may be the truth but I think that it is valuable to at least evaluate from time to time why you are doing that? Are you trying to prove that you are the nicest, most put upon person who ever lived? Or is it really the right thing to do? If it is simply the right thing to do, how do you balance that with the other needs and obligations you have?

Just as an example… You have a grandparent who is pressuring (possibly even bullying) you to have a relationship with a parent that wasn’t around for you growing up and with whom you don’t currently have a relationship with.   (I believe in forgiveness as a way of setting ourselves free but you can do that without contact with the parent.) Of course people can change but is it fair for your grandparent to pressure you into anything other than eating your vegetables?

Perhaps that example feels too simple to you because you are experiencing it. But obligation shows up for most of us on a regular basis. My question is, does the obligation serve you?

What now?

As a fun little exercise, write down all the things you would like to get done in the next seven days and why. Really pay attention to why you are doing things. For example, I pay my taxes to stay out of jail… That is totally for me. If the why is not for you… Who is it for?

Who Do You Owe Your Time and Attention To?