When my first son I was born I sat in the hospital with my arms around him as The Today Show blared in the background. I wondered how I’d ever care about anything else besides him for the rest of my life
All the things I thought I’d think about: my doughy body, how much sleep I’d be getting now that I was a mom, how the house would get clean, or how I’d find time for that sewing class I’d been dying to take suddenly faded away.
In that moment, I literally thought nothing could ever take me away from him and he would be my whole world from now on.
As the weeks passed, and family and friends came to visit, it was hard to watch him being held by someone else; they weren’t doing it right and I missed him despite the fact he was less than a yard away from me. While I felt like I couldn’t help these new Mama Bear instincts that came over me, I knew deep down that this feeling of needing to invest 100% of me into my son wasn’t healthy. And it just didn’t feel good.
Fast forward almost 16 years and three kids later, I’ve learned so much about parenting through trial and error (mostly error), and one of my biggest misconceptions was thinking that in order to be a good mother, I needed to give my kids 100% of me.
After practicing this method when they were younger, I can honestly say it backfired. Most of the time I walked around feeling like a dirty dishrag hanging over the kitchen sink. And, my kids thrived during those moments when I backed away and let them figure things out for themselves like when they were arguing with each other, or they were stuck on a math problem.
They also made wonderful memories with other family members when I finally dared to leave them for a few days — something that took me a few years to do because I figured they’d be lost without me.
I slowly began to see the benefits that my kids and I were reaping from me not giving 100% of myself to them. It’s funny to look back now and remember how I thought that being “all in, all the time” was the main ingredient to having happy kids–it’s not. In fact, I’ve realized it’s actually one of the worst things you can do for your kids– lead them to believe they are all you have in your life.
Our children need happy parents, but that happiness shouldn’t solely depend on them.
All our children want is to have parents who are happy and fulfilled. That doesn’t come from constantly putting yourself and your wants and needs on the back burner for your children.
When you do this, it can affect your other relationships, deeply. When I had kids, I thought that children completed a person, especially if you have dreamed of having a family for a long time. But that feeling of completion doesn’t last and shouldn’t be dedicated solely to your children, or to any one person for that matter.
They grow up, they start to have a social life outside of their immediate family. By modeling healthy relationships and friendships, you will help them establish the same in their lives.
It is so easy to let friendship slide after having kids. We all do it to a certain point, but when you are able to put effort into your friendships and go out for a regular girls’ night or take a trip, even if that means missing the occasional baseball game, you absolutely should.
Your kids need to see you pursue your passions.
We need to show our kids that there are times when their lives come second to ours. It teaches them what matters in the long run, that hard work pays off, and most importantly, it shows them how to be compassionate. It also helps them feel less entitled.
How can we teach our children to live their best life when we aren’t taking those Spanish lessons, attending that spin class we love, or writing that novel we always talked about? Doing these things shows our kids that we are always working on ourselves and adjusting.
Since my divorce I’ve been doing a lot of things that make me uncomfortable like dating, traveling alone, and learning how to repair the central vacuum. My children do not want me sitting here alone while they are with their father. They are happier knowing that I have plans whether I’m staying in to read a book, going out to dinner with girlfriends, or dating someone I’m excited to spend time with.
Showing my teenagers I have a life outside of them has been the best gift I could have given them, and it has made me a better mother in so many ways. My head is clearer, when I take the time to invest in myself, I feel refreshed when I return to mom-mode, and I am showing them no matter what path they choose in life, their needs are important and must come first sometimes.