As parents there are thousands of decisions to be made on a weekly, if not daily, basis. There are matters of management and logistics, safety and health, education and spirituality. Perhaps the most important decisions of all have very little to do with our kids – they are the foundations of conscious parenting, and they are all about us. As in so many areas of parenting, this is all the more true for parents of “complicated” kids.
It’s tough to decide how much of ourselves — our time and our lives — to give to our kids. For most of us, frankly, conscious parenting is not a conscious decision. We fall into patterns of behavior without making deliberate choices. Some of us give to a fault, and as a Mom of kids with ADHD, I’m not alone in leaning more toward the giving-myself-away end of the spectrum.
So, why does it matter? On the surface, for our kids, it probably doesn’t make much difference. For us, and how satisfied we are with our lives, it matters a lot. Ultimately, that affects our kids quite dramatically.
These are our lives to lead. We can all think of people who derive great satisfaction from giving of themselves in the service of another human or cause. Clergy. Educators. Medical caretakers of all sorts. I bet Mother Teresa never had a resentful day in her life – giving to others was a way in which she gave to herself.
I have met parents over the years, too, who find that fulfillment in the raising of their children. It is what they are here for, and they are grateful for their privilege on a daily basis.
I believe, though, that many parents end up in situations where they feel torn between the decisions they feel they need to make for their kids, and decisions they want to make for themselves. Often, parents make decisions out of a sense of obligation and duty. They truly want to do what is best for their children, but they have not honestly figured out how to weigh that against what is best for themselves. As a result, they tend to find themselves resentful, angry, put upon – and guilty.
I know these feelings intimately. I wanted desperately to stay home with my children when they were little, and I was grateful for the privilege to do so. But I never seemed to stay at home full-time for very long. A part of me longed to be in the world. I was restless. And I felt guilty about it.
I managed the guilt by giving everything I had to my kids, to a fault. I lost my sense of self, my confidence and my health. I tried desperately to find complete fulfillment in my role as a mother. It turned out I wasn’t fooling anyone, including myself.
I have come to understand that, while I am an adoring mother, my fulfillment comes from many aspects of my life. My role as a parent is critically important to me, but it is not the end-all-be-all of my existence.
I’m pretty clear with my kids, now, about the importance of considering myself when I make decisions about how to use my time. When I choose to do something for myself, or my work – or, from their perspective, I choose NOT to do something for them – I try to be clear, honest, and avoid apology. I want them to understand when I’m making decisions for them, and when I’m making them for myself.
I must admit that I still have a tendency to give myself away. Now, though, I am making a more informed choice. When I spread myself too thin, I’m aware that I’m doing it, and there is (usually) a method behind the madness.
But I am holding firm to my commitment to my own pursuit of happiness. I have put myself back into the equation, and it’s made all the difference – for myself AND my family.
For more than a decade, I struggled with the pull between my love for my kids and my passion for creation, for making the world a better place. I am happy to say that I’ve found a peace in the struggle. Ultimately, what’s best for me is good for my family. For, as the wise, late Dr. Ed Uzee used to say, “happy parents lead to happy children.”