If your child is struggling—socially, academically or behaviorally—he is probably getting a lot of your attention right now. So much attention, in fact, that you may feel like you have nothing left for yourself at the end of the day. Working, taking your child to tutoring or counseling, running back to school to pick up his forgotten homework, and arguing with him daily about responsibilities can leave you depleted—physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Remember: the only way your child learns what it means to be a grown up is by watching and living with parents who are grown ups.
In this article, I’m going to talk to you about three things your child needs from you right now, and they don’t involve giving him more attention. Rather, I’m going to suggest shifting more of that attention to you. Because, believe it or not, the more we focus on ourselves, the more our kids benefit, whether they are struggling a little or a lot.
- Your child needs you to grow yourself up.
Growing yourself up is the only way your children can grow up. It means standing on your own two feet and managing your own “self” well. It’s the key to having your kids learn how to stand on their own. If we constantly manage them instead of ourselves, then they learn to rely on our two feet instead of their own. And no one ends up being a real grown up. We are all just leaning on each other to be able to stand tall.
Think of it this way. When your kids are young,you help them to learn to tie their shoes. But once they have mastered that skill,you have to get busy tying your own shoes well and let them struggle to tie their own.
This applies to almost everything in their lives. For example, if your child once again forgets his homework in his locker, you can help him to grow up by remaining a grown up yourself. The grown up parent calmly asks the child how he plans to manage this situation and then she gets on with her day. The grown up parent does not anxiously run back to school to rescue him by getting him the books, nor does she lecture, scold or punish. She manages her own anxiety about her child’s lack of responsibility and allows him the space to solve his own problems. This way she does not interfere with his development or her own. It is the way her child can learn responsibility.
- Your child needs you to focus on your adult relationships.
Managing your “self” means spending less time worrying about your child’s latest crisis and more time focusing on your adult relationships. If you fall into the pattern of making your child your primary focus, it can actually prevent the development of healthy family relationships. Here’s how this plays out in families all the time. See if it sounds familiar.
Mom and Dad both work 10+ hours a day. Business hasn’t been good for the last year at Dad’s workplace, and he’s constantly stressed. Mom has started putting in extra hours on the weekends when she can. She’s painfully aware that she never has enough time for herself. She’s also angry and upset that her husband doesn’t make time for her anymore. Instead of addressing that with her husband because that can be difficult, without even being aware of it, she over-focuses on her child.
Her child provides a natural place for Mom to put her focus. It’s easier than dealing with the problem. Now we have a triangle. Having a third person diverts the anxiety away from the issues between her and her husband. It places it onto her child and they never really resolve their issues as a couple. This might serve to stabilize the marriage (for a while), but it ultimately burdens the child because he takes on the unresolved parental anxiety. Over time, the child gets too much attention and the marriage (or adult relationship) gets way too little, taking a toll on both the child and the marriage.
The fact is that the more you invest in growing your own self up and maturing your adult relationships, particularly your marriage, the more your child will reap the benefits from you as parents. Remember: the only way your child learns what it means to be a grown up is by watching and living with parents who are grown ups. Watching you care for yourself helps your child learn how to care for herself and make herself a healthy priority. She learns how to be a good marriage partner, a good parent and a person who manages herself well. These things cannot be taught; a child needs to see and live with parents who live it.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care for your child’s emotional and physical needs. It just means your child needs you to balance the amount of energy and investment you’re putting into her with what your putting into yourself.
- Your child needs you to not “depend” on him
We all want our kids to be successful and behave well. But if we rely on their success and good behavior to help us feel valued and affirmed, we become dependent on their achievements for our own validation. We have to allow our kids to be kids. Whether they’re two-year-olds, 10-year-olds or 25-year-olds, we have to allow them to make mistakes, fail, falter and find their own way.
Imagine the dad who needs his son to be the super star soccer player. When Dad needs that success, he’s doing more than sharing in the glory; he’s reflecting off his son’s glory. Often, the child feels the pressure of this expectation and either tries to please his dad or gives up the sport altogether even though he loves it. The pressure is just too much. Dad would do better if he joined his own soccer team and competed to be a top performer, if that’s important to him.
We have to find our own sense of worth, affirmation and balance—apart from our children—so we don’t burden them with our neediness.
Taking good care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually is what your kids most need from you now and always. When you grow yourself up, they will feel free to grow themselves up. Then, an open and healthy relationship can result.
Take some time and think about five ways that you can better care for your self this month and every month moving forward. Your kids will appreciate it…and so will you.
About Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC
For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.