Giving Up Our Tendency to Overfunction

In my last blog, I talked about how many of us tend to overfunction in our relationships. Think this is a 21st century idea? Nope. Moses, the prophet who led the Israelites out of Egypt was the quintessential overfunctioner. In Exodus 18:13, we see Moses acting as judge for the Israelites. Because he was the only judge, the people “stood around him from morning till evening.” Moses’ father-in-law Jethro said, “You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone,” (verse 18). He counseled Moses to appoint capable leaders to judge the people. Then, Moses would only need to judge the cases that could not be decided by these other judges. This left Moses free to teach and lead the people. 

How can you use Jethro’s advice? In my last blog, I shared five current-day scenarios where people often tend to overfunction. Today, I will share some ideas for how you can even the scales.

In Friendships

Your best friend from college only calls you when she is upset about something. You go to meet her, hoping she will actually listen to YOU for a change. When you arrive, she is in a tizzy. Her latest boyfriend is treating her badly, her parents are controlling, and her boss doesn’t understand her. She spends an hour telling you all her troubles, but never once asks how you are doing. After you meet, she feels better, but you feel upset and used. What can you do? This is a friendship you may have to let go. But before you do that, you might try being honest with this friend. Perhaps she is not aware how selfish she is behaving. You have never spoken up, so she may not realize you are upset. The next time you meet, you could try saying something like, “I realize you have many things going on in your life that you probably want to talk about. I also have a lot going on in my life. I wonder if you would mind me sharing my concerns first today? I could really use a listening ear.” How your friend reacts will tell you a lot about her, and about your relationship. If she is not able or willing to listen to you, you have your answer. 

At Work

Your boss likes you to work in teams. He seems to prefer pairing you with “Sharon.” Sharon is a classic underfunctioner. She has many physical issues that require her to leave the office regularly. Her home life is a mess, so she must also leave work to take care of those. In order for you to get the projects done on time, you end up staying late and working weekends in order to complete the work you are supposed to be working on together. After all, if you don’t do it, who will? It seems Sharon has a lot of family issues, but this is not your problem. This would be a good time to have a heart-to-heart with your boss. You don’t need to throw Sharon under the bus, but you might say something like, “I would like to be paired with someone besides Sharon in the future. We don’t seem to work well together. Because of the many things Sharon is dealing with, I often end up doing the majority of the work alone. This is now causing me problems at home, with my health, and with my job satisfaction.” If your boss is willing to make changes, great. If not, it may be time to begin looking for a different job.

With Extended Family

Your sister seems to have trouble getting and keeping a good job. She is always being misunderstood by her coworkers, and must leave because she is not appreciated. Then, she finds a job that is “perfect.” The only problem is the job requires many late night and early morning hours. Because she is a single-mom and day care centers are only open during business hours, she needs someone to watch her daughter overnight. Of course, she cannot afford to pay anyone. You worry about who your sister might ask to watch your little niece. The latest “boyfriend?” The sketchy neighbor in the apartment down the hall? You offer to do it, and later wonder why you feel resentful. This is a tough situation. It isn’t your sister you are worried about, it is your innocent niece. You might begin with putting limits on how many nights a week you are willing to watch her. Perhaps you don’t mind doing it during the week, but you need your weekends free for your own health and well-being. Over time, you might decrease the number of days, until you are no longer responsible for watching her. If your sister does allow her daughter to stay with someone you deem to be unsafe, you can call Social Services and make an anonymous report. When your sister realizes she can no longer take advantage of you in this way, she may decide to stay with a job, or find a day job so that her daughter can stay in a safe day care. 

With Your Kids

Your middle-school aged kids have a hard time waking up for school in the morning. You set an alarm for them each night. When it goes off in the morning, they turn it off, roll over and go back to sleep. You are up and dressed each morning early, making their lunches. Five minutes after their alarms go off, you begin to feel stressed. You don’t hear any movement from their rooms. You try to ignore it. Ten more minutes go by. At this point you are beginning to sweat. You just know they will miss their school bus again. You go upstairs and wake them from a deep sleep. They appear to be awake, so you return to the kitchen. Ten more minutes pass. By now, they really will be late. You return to their rooms, wake them again, this time, raising your voice and telling them to get up NOW. They roll out of bed, whining and complaining. They get dressed, slouch into the kitchen, looking for you to give them breakfast. There is no time for that. You hand them each a protein bar, their lunches, and rush them out the door, just as the bus arrives. You wonder why mornings are so stressful? Why won’t your kids get up like they should? By the time your kids are in middle school, they truly can get themselves up and out. They currently don’t because you are doing it for them. This will require some backbone. Give them each an alarm clock, and teach them how to set it. Let them know that you will no longer be waking them in the morning. Tomorrow, when the alarms go off and no one gets up, you will have to steel yourself. Do not rescue them. If they miss the bus, they might have to walk to school. It is no longer your problem. If it is unsafe for them to walk, tell them you will drive them . . . when it is convenient for you. You don’t need to rush. When you drop them off, do not excuse their tardiness. Let them feel the consequences of their behavior. Let them get a tardy, miss taking a test, or have to do an after-school detention. They need to learn that they are responsible for their own actions.

With Your Intimate Partner

You get frustrated with your husband. Though you both work outside the home, he does very little around the house or with the kids. If one of your kids needs to go to the doctor during a work day, you do it. You sign the kids up for their after-school activities, set up carpools and leave work early when it is your turn to drive. You do all the meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and dishes. You do the laundry, help the kids with their homework, listen to their problems, and tuck them in at night. If a repair needs doing in the house, you stay home and wait for the repair person. You take care of the yard, put out the trash, and shovel the snow. What is your husband doing while you are doing all these things? He makes sure he gets to the gym 4 times a week, meets friends for a beer after work and watches a lot of football on TV. When he is doing none of those things, he plays video games. You are exhausted and cranky. When do you get to do some self-care? I am exhausted thinking about all you are doing! You might begin by having a calm discussion with your husband. Tell him you are tired, and cannot keep going at this pace. You might decide you don’t mind doing all the household chores and childcare if you no longer have to work outside the home. You could share that as an option. If you both decide you must work, tell him what you are willing to do and what you no longer are. You might decide you will do everything for the kids, but everything else you will need him to do. If a repair is needed, don’t set up the appointment. If the oven isn’t working, you will no longer be able to cook until he sets up an appointment with the repair person and meets the person at the house during work hours. Order in until he does it. Stop taking care of the yard. If the weeds get 3 feet high, oh well. If he won’t put out the trash, the garage will smell. If the snow is not shoveled, not your problem. This will take a lot of courage on your part. If you persevere, he may step up to the plate. If he won’t, you have a big decision on your hands. Is this man worth keeping around?

Taking any of these steps to stop overfunctioning will take courage and resolve on your part. Tweet This

Don’t be upset with yourself if you fall back into old habits at times. This is a process. You didn’t become an overfunctioner overnight, and you won’t fix this right away. Give yourself some grace.

Question: Can you envision yourself taking these steps in your own life?

May you feel God’s presence as you move away from overfunctioning. You are not alone.

Bless you,




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