Is that being responsible? OR, Being response-able?

We mothers are very familiar with the concept of “feeling responsible” for something. Like, when you have the daily challenge of getting children to school. Or being the one to transfer money into a bank account. Or even dealing with all the laundry before bed! These are part of what is meant when people talk about “Being responsible”.

The previous “Way to Rock at Being a Mother: No. 9 Building in margins”, is one way of taking seriously the concept of being responsible for your family.

You can also listen to the 6-minute radio interview which pulls together both Nos 9 and 10 of Ways to Rock at Being a Mother, about de-stressing your life.

But let’s delve a little more deeply into this idea of responsibility.

As a parent, feeling responsible hits you!

I had an overwhelming realisation when I was pregnant with my first baby that I was now responsible for a life. Even though the baby was a very little life, the whole concept was overwhelming. As in, sick-in-the-stomach, oh-my-gosh-is-that-what-I’m-doing sort of overwhelming! Because I could not escape this question: How on earth was I supposed to be a parent?

I felt very ill-equipped. This is where my sense of responsibility kicked in. Intuitively, I knew there was no one else on earth better suited to be my baby’s mother than me. And so, it depended on me to get my act together and sort out what to do.

It was a strange experience, because we’d been trying for nearly a year to have a baby. So, it wasn’t the idea of having children that was a foreign idea. Nor was it to do with being very newly pregnant because at that point I only had a month or so to go before delivery. So, it wasn’t that I was newly aware of a growing baby within me. All the same, it suddenly hit me. I was completely floored.

The reality was, this baby would be born one day very soon. And with that event, I would be in totally new territory, beyond anything I’d ever experienced. Overnight I would become a mother.

I was desperate to do the motherhood job well

Desperation is a pretty strong word, but it describes my feeling. I was desperate, partly because I’d been let down by my mother, seeing as she up and went to heaven when I was only 16. This feeling of betrayal was never a conscious thought. I didn’t realize I was reacting. I just knew, without any doubt, that I wanted to be there for my new baby when he or she became an adult. In fact, I suddenly got a picture of the future in my mind, of me, with my now-adult offspring, laughing and enjoying life together.

Oh my gosh, that picture in my head hit me like a ton of bricks! I realized that my husband and I were embarking on one of the craziest roller-coasters of our life, requiring all our tenacity, wisdom, patience and love. It was a crushing, and humbling, awareness.

Having no mother to guide me through that process made me feel incredibly responsible for the passage of my new little one into the realms of adulthood.

The WHAT : Being response-able

Dictionary-definition vs Life-definition

So far, I’ve described “being responsible”, in the classic sense, like you get from the Macquarie Dictionary:

Responsible: adj. answerable or accountable, as for something within someone’s power to control or manage.

But check out this alternate definition from Lessons for Living

Responsible: To be responsible is to be “response-able.” “Able” to make a response. “Able” to do something.”

Being response-able, changes the idea of responsibility from abstract management, into being able to manage your own personal response to a situation. And that’s a huge shift in perspective.

So my question is: Are you response-able?

Have a think about your reaction in the following scenario…

  • You’ve been up half the night with a sick baby, and you’re ready to collapse! Once you’ve got the older ones off to school, the annoying neighbour knocks at the door for a chat.
  • During the morning, you do the supermarket shopping and your two-year-old throws a huge tantrum when she can’t have the expensive toy she spotted on the shelves.
  • That afternoon, you are scheduled to give a 45-minute presentation to your team that you’ve been working on for months. But the school rings to say your nine-year-old son has broken a window, hurting himself and others.
  • Soon afterward, the HR department sends an email in response to the complaint you made about your boss, but unexpectedly, it questions your personal performance.

By themselves, you might manage these issues okay, but taking place all in one day, you could reach breaking point. How you respond is a measure of your “response-ability”. Do you respond well? Can you “go the extra mile” when you are in a stressful place? How calm can you be in the face of unexpected dramas?

The WHY: Being response-able

“Rocking at being a mother” includes the ability to respond well to difficult situations. Getting cross (“flying off the handle”), moody, upset, teary, depressed or anti-social is not helpful. Not for you, your children, your work colleagues or your partner!

What is it to be response-able?

Being response-able is choosing to make the most of every situation we encounter.” Howe Wallace

“Being “response-able” is choosing to make the most of every situation we encounter.” Howe Wallace

Choosing to respond well to difficult moments is a challenge. But it’s worth learning how, because there are so many benefits, such as:

  • You stay calm, reduce your stress levels, and the stress levels of those around you.
  • “Blame” is not handed to others in the same way, because you take responsibility for your own actions.
  • This means you gain respect from others.
  • You also gain self-respect when you handle difficult scenarios well.
  • You don’t react with a knee-jerk response, and make unwise decisions.
  • There is an increase in good personal qualities such as patience, respect for others, discipline and self-control.
  • You are a far easier person to work and live with.
  • You are a better role model for your children

So in reality, being response-able is a win all round. What’s not to like about that?

The HOW: Being response-able

It’s one thing to take time-out when you are calm to think about your responses. But quite another to choose your response when you are in the thick of it. It takes time to learn.

Just remember that while you cannot always control the things that happen to you, you CAN control your response to them.

Being response-able is being in control of your response.

Here are a few ideas about being response-able.

As a situation unfolds

Take a step back, literally or figuratively, and BREATHE. Just take a moment to assess. This is what people are trying to do when they say they count to ten before they react in a situation.

Choose to be self-aware

This means notice your physical response. Does this make you angry? Feel sick? Nervous? Hot and cold all over? Sad? Disappointed? Don’t judge your feelings, just let them come to the surface. Acknowledging how you feel helps you manage your response.

A key thing to remember

Remember this: you don’t have to FIX everything. Sometimes the problem is completely out of your control. If you are not the one who can make a difference in the situation, then let it go.


Once the situation is past, grab a few minutes to write about it. Just putting the situation down on paper (not on screen) is a helpful process. Forming the words with pen-in-hand, verbalizing what happened, reviewing your response and that of others, and looking at what happened objectively, is almost always helpful.

This is part of the learning process as you write it all down. Choose to forgive yourself for any inadequate responses, forgive others who did the wrong thing, and decide what you might do differently next time.


Almost always I find myself praying to God that things will right themselves. That children will forget the bad stuff between us. That I will learn what I need to learn, and that I will remember in the moment next time. Did you know that God always answers prayers? It’s just that it’s not always in the way we expect!

Did you know that God always answers prayers? It’s just that it’s not always in the way we expect!

No one is perfect

It’s good to remember we all make mistakes, and it’s only by making them that we learn. Just imagine if a baby gave up learning to walk if he or she refused to try after falling over a few times! Taking steps to be response-able will require effort and determination. It means picking yourself up and having another go. It also means, patience with yourself, and with others.

No results?

If you find you keep on trying and, after a lot of effort, feel as though no progress is made, there could be deeper issues at stake. There is no harm in having a chat to a counselor or pastor about the whole idea. Sometimes it takes the perspective of another person to help you through.

Here is a good saying to remember, and think on, as you work through being response-able:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

(Philippians 4:8 NIV)

Can you think of any situations when you have not been response-able? What have you done to overcome?

Next up: 20 Ways to Rock at Being a Mother [11]: Being Proactive

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