Well... I could neglect to make dinner at all. I could work on something else instead, or lock myself in my room and read a novel right up until it's time to leave.
[...] I could choose something different. I could choose a lot of possible somethings-that-would-be-different. A lot of those somethings would be objectively worse choices than I have been making. Others would be completely acceptable and okay, and some might even be better.
I am lying to myself every time I say I have to cook dinner.
We must govern ourselves because nobody else can enter into our subjectivity and make our choices for us. Even when we commit ourselves to obedience, as in religious life, that obedience has to be freely chosen with every day and every act of compliance.
When my husband and I were separated, I would get into these blue moods where I would resent that I "had" to do all the work of raising our kids, that I "had" to be responsible. I resented him for what I perceived as a freedom I didn't have.
I don't remember when it first hit me, but something began to soften in me when I changed the way I thought. I admitted to myself that I was free. I could use my freedom to walk away from my responsibilities. I could use my freedom to simply *stop*---wallow in depression and despair and refuse to move forward. (I recognise that would not be a free choice for many seriously depressed people. But for me, this seemed like an option, a path open to me if I chose to take it).
This wasn't an escapist vein of thought. I wasn't fantasising about running away, assuming a new identity, and living a carefree, single life in some exotic locale. I was looking at it as an option, one of many options.
Like Erin, I stepped back and examined my "have-to" and saw that it wasn't a "have-to" at all. I could look at all my options, all the things it was possible for me to do rather than care for my children, and I could say wholeheartedly, "I don't want that, because I don't want what that would cost."
I didn't want it!
When I compared the irresponsible life I could choose with the good things I wanted for myself and my children, I knew that I wanted to be there for my children more than I wanted anything else. It wasn't a "have-to." It was a free choice of something good.
When I remember it, this way of revisiting my "have-tos" is hugely helpful for me, in the small things as well as the great ones. Sometimes it reveals an unnecessary burden I have taken on myself that I could choose not to carry. I don't "have-to" send Christmas cards. Some years I enjoy it and have the time and energy it takes, but some years I don't. I don't "have-to" throw themed birthday parties for my kids, or make them homemade decorated cakes. But...I enjoy it, and value it, and value the warm memories my children have of their birthdays, so I choose it.
(I wonder how much of the Mommy Wars comes from interpreting private choices as universal "have-tos"? Or feeling burdened by "have-tos" and trying to discharge resentment by laying the same burdens on others? How much would it ease the pressure on all of us if we all embraced our individual, personal choices out of freedom rather than guilt?)
There are a lot of things in my life I could do differently, and a lot of things I choose to do now that I might not always choose to do. But underneath the layers of "ought" and expectation, there is a radically inalienable autonomy. This is the life I have chosen--the loves I have chosen to honour, the goods I have chosen to value.