Your Kids Shouldn’t Be Your “Everything”

This week, just like many conversations I’ve had in the past, a mom said that she is an introvert except that she loves volunteering for her kids’ activities because it makes them happy.

*Screech* Back up. What?

While this conversation doesn’t imply a complete immersion into your child’s life, it did remind me of many conversations I’d had with other women who struggle with self-care

Who you are, the roles you play, and your identity are and should be completely separate from your children. You were a whole person before your children, a whole person now, and you’ll be without them (bring on the tears) faster than you think, so you’ll need to be a whole person in the future.

 

Don’t Be Your Child’s Everything

Far too many women feel horrible distress because their sweet babies (who have long since been “babies”) are graduating high school and moving out or away to college. Moms just honestly don’t know what to do with themselves! They spent years immersed in the throes of parenting, dedicating their lives to that of their precious children, all to watch those little nuggets flee the nest, begin their own lives, and leave Mom and Dad in the dust, wondering how to drum up a life that feels even semi-purposeful now.

Your life has purpose outside of your kids. And honestly, the more you live your life, and let your kids live theirs, the happier and more content you’re both going to be. Perhaps this is the discussion helicopter and semi-helicopter parents need to have. For a time, you are your child’s everything, but they don’t have to be your everything. And, at a certain point, you stop becoming their everything, and you’ll be more equipped emotionally and physically to handle that distance when you’ve got a side gig of your own.

Building a Life That’s Yours

Here are just a few easy things I suggest that can help you build a life that’s solidly yours and yours alone, in which you aren’t dedicated to the every movement of your child’s life:

  1. Have regular visits with friends. You’re going to need them one day because your kids will be long gone, either physically or emotionally, into their own world of friends. And they should be, that’s healthy for them. Friends help fill you up in a way spouses and kids never will.
  2. Schedule dates. Go out with your partner! These are tough times, while children are small, because getting away from them can feel emotionally or physically challenging. This can feel painful at first, especially when they’re smaller, but do it anyway. This essential marriage activity will help you continue to keep a stable, growing relationship with your main squeeze.
  3. Get a job. Hear me out. Getting a job, whether full time or part time for a few hours, can be incredibly rewarding. It lets you be with adults, and gives you the opportunity to have adult conversations and solve adult problems. Don’t think career advancement or financial freedom here. Think, “What can I do to contribute to the lives of others in bigger, more meaningful ways?” Yes, you are contributing to your kids. But let’s face it, that job can be thankless and soul-sucking. Having a job elsewhere can help you feel human again, and it can be incredibly rewarding.
  4. Volunteer. Just like having a paying job, getting out amongst the adult living can be helpful to your psyche. Your children love you, you love them, but they’re not going to know the depths of your contribution the way a volunteer organization would. Plus, you’ll meet new friends there which can help you with #1 above.

Moms, listen up. Your children do not create your sole life purpose, because that purpose has an expiration date. Your purpose is what moves you further in the world as an amazing human being. Does this mean you can’t be an amazing human being while being immersed in kid things? Nooo. Of course not. Be hands on. Do lovely activities with them. Make memories together. But do not, and I repeat, do not, allow them to be the center of your universe. That will backfire worse than Tow Mater on his way into Radiator Springs! 

Jennifer Slingerland Ryan
Jennifer Slingerland Ryan knows a thing or two about kids and families. First, she knows they are joyous, exhilarating, loving and so darn fun. Second, she knows they suck your life dry and make you weep like a baby. By day she’s a psychotherapist; by night she’s a mom and wife. She claims to love therapizing couples, educating parents, reading dystopian fiction and sleeping in her free time (read: she never sleeps). Jennifer is a mom of twins who are sweet as sugar, but just hit that tween stage so all bets are off. Her youngest is...a joy. Let's just stop there. Most days you can find her in her office seeing clients, doing laundry, loading or unloading the dishwasher, or catching up on the latest episode of Real Housewives of (Insert City Here), Walking Dead or This Is Us. She is a tree-hugging country girl from West Texas who reads, writes, and teaches about human development and families as a hobby and profession. You can read more from Jennifer at her therapy blog, ichoosechange.com