Our parents and the environment we grow up in not only shape us and form our opinion of the world but also set an example for us of how to behave in it and in relation to others. How to treat people and how to treat ourselves. That example becomes our core belief that sticks with us for life. I was fortunate to have been raised by two incredible women. My mom and my grandmother. Both selfless, loving, caring women who would always show me what compassion meant. Making sure everyone around them was ok even if it meant giving up something themselves. Often times sacrificing their own wishes, desires, needs, and comforts just to bring joy to someone else. They believed in the goodness of people around them and believed that someday someone would unexpectedly return those acts of kindness. But that wasn’t their motivation. Just the pure fact that someone told them how happy they made them feel or how they brightened up their day was enough. How very noble of them. Reading this I am sure you would agree if I said, I couldn’t have asked for more perfect role models. But both you and I would be wrong.

Because of how little they both believed they were worth, praise from someone was more they could hope for to feel worthy. Making someone’s day, taking so many extra steps, running around just to show him or her they cared, just to hear the words thank you was enough. What they didn’t realize was that the majority of those people were just users and never, not once, did they even try to attempt anything caring in return. Those people only knew them when they needed something, anything. A shoulder to cry on, an advice, a helping hand to carry whatever it was they couldn’t carry themselves, assistance taking care for their loved ones…the list goes on. But those same people never reached out to them when they celebrated, went on vacation or even just for a coffee, or offered them a ride home whenever they saw them carrying their heavy bags of groceries across the town. Never. I think it was partially because these women always showed strength, kindness, and selflessness even when their hearts were breaking or when they had the very last dollar in their wallets. But nobody cared. And they never complained nor felt entitled to more or even dared to ask for more.

Yes, they were part of the problem.

They unfortunately never fully realized or were able to see their real value and who they truly are. Bright, intelligent, incredibly strong, self-made, self-sufficient, brave beautiful women who could accomplish anything they put their minds into. Better than most people I know. Way better than most people they knew and were surrounded by who only used them to better their own lives because they were incapable of doing it without their help. Because they didn’t have the skills, the common sense and the determination these two extraordinary women had.

What made them special and a target to all the wrong people was that they cared. My grandma cared because she was an orphan raised by nuns. And she never wanted anyone to go thru what she went thru. She wanted everyone to feel loved and cared for. And my mom? Well, she cared because my grandma raised her and they also shared the same genes. So she didn’t really have much of a say there… But knowing what I know now, I believe they cared too much. They cared to a fault. They cared to a point where that became their priority. Caring. About others. Putting others first. Not as an escape from their own problems as one might think. Both of them had a great sense of themselves and their issues. And they fearlessly faced them head-on. But they loved too much and cared too much. And forgot to save some of that for themselves. People sniffed them out and took all they were willing to give without an apology, without considering their needs let alone their wants. These are the two women that raised me.

I am a year away from 40 just realizing all of this. Living in a time where people have become so self-serving and self-absorbed they think of themselves as brands. Where “me first and only me” is the motto everywhere I turn. Where compassion and kindness, while wildly talked and written about all over social media and books, is practiced very seldom. Where caring or even as little as considering another person is almost non-existent anywhere I look. Like letting someone merge in traffic, being kind to your cashier, treating the person that’s serving you food as your equal not as your inferior, doing something nice for your friend for no other reason just because it would make them smile… I could go on and on. Nothing.

It makes me sad. Because for me to care and to love is more than just wishes and words, thoughts and prayers. It’s actions. Small little things we do every single day for the ones we love and the ones we don’t even know.

To live in this world being raised by these women is no fun and it has gotten worse over the last few years as the greed, self-importance, and entitlement grew exponentially. But I am not complaining or giving up. I am merely observing. And I am grateful that my mom made me aware of all this early on.  She also reminded me that I am the only one who can change how I feel and go about life. Now that she is seeing everything so clearly and sometimes regretfully, she worries and she daily presents new examples for me to live by and tells me: “You’re just like me and your grandma. You care too much. But don’t be stupid and learn from our mistakes. Don’t give love, care, your time and energy so freely to everyone because not everyone deserves it. Make people deserve it. Make them appreciate who you are but always appreciate yourself first, that’s how we teach people how to treat us. Know in your core that you are so much more than you made yourself believe to be. We all sell ourselves short. Especially those of us who spend time in solitude and gain awareness of self and the world around us. But most importantly be selfish and you too put yourself first for once. No apologies and no guilt. Because in your case it will be more self-care than selfishness. And however arrogant this may sound, people like us and we are not alone, people who care too much, even at our very worst, we are still most people’s best.”