With your spouse gone (whether you’re widowed or divorced), or if you never were married in the first place, it’s only logical that your children will occupy a larger portion of the “pie” (think pie chart) that is your life, your time, your attention, your focus, your energy. Without a spouse in your life, it’s only natural that your children will be front and center in much of what you do.
But take care that your whole world doesn’t revolve around them. There’s such a thing as being a good mother… and then there’s also such a thing as going overboard. It isn’t healthy for them or for you.
First of all, you don’t want to be guilty of what some wags refer to as “smother love.” You don’t want to make your children utterly dependent on you. Even if you have a need to be needed, don’t emotionally cripple your children as a result. (The reverse scenario, of course, is that the children succeed in resisting your unconscious attempts to make them totally dependent on you, resulting in friction when they try to assert their independence. Neither one is a happy situation.)
But besides that, it isn’t healthy for you, either. You’ll only suffer more as each of three situations presents itself:
1 – The kids go off to summer camp, go away for a visit to Grandma’s (in another state or city) without you, or otherwise absent themselves for something longer than a sleepover at a friend’s house for the night.
2 – The kids hit adolescence and start growing independent, needing less parenting, and resisting your attempts to pull them back into the nest.
3 – The kids leave home altogether, whether for college, marriage, or simply to live on their own as adults.
If you make the kids the focus of your whole life, and then that focus is removed from you for one of the three reasons above, you’ll be ungrounded, empty, bereft of your prime reason for living. And your going into an emotional tailspin is all but inevitable.
When they’re three or seven and need their mommy, it may feel very good to know that something in your life is constant, that someone in your life still loves you, that you are needed and perform a valuable function, that your life has a purpose. And at that age the kids do need you… the more so if they have had their other parent removed from the household recently, whether by death or divorce. But please resist the temptation to make the kids the sole center of your universe.
Of course, if you have a career, that helps. Note that I said “career.” A job you hate and barely manage to slog through for the requisite hours each day won’t do much to help you when the kids no longer need you to the extent they do now, and you’re in need of other aspects of your life to occupy your attention. But a career you’re vitally involved with (or even a simple job if you enjoy it!) can take up a lot of your redirected focus.
Hobbies you can really get into are another good place to focus your attention and involvement.
A social life with good friends — I am not referring here to romantic/sexual entanglements — is also very helpful.
Volunteer work can be one of your best allies as your kids grow and need less of your time and help and attention.
The point is to have one or more(!) other aspects to your life besides your children that you focus on, give attention to, spend time on, and care about. Don’t wait till your kids no longer need you and you start floundering around, looking for a purpose to your life, and getting involved in 20 different activities in a desperate search to give your life meaning. If you have a career that’s meaningful to you and/or hobbies that you can really sink into and/or good friends and/or volunteer work that’s meaningful to you, you will only naturally begin devoting more time and attention to these aspects of your life as your kids grow older and begin loosening the apron strings. When you’re no longer needed to be a 24-hour-active mommy, you will, without even thinking about it, get more deeply involved in the other aspects of your life. It’s a healthy and happy situation.
Oh, you still may feel pangs of “They don’t need me anymore” and a certain wistfulness as you remember “the old days.” (Or you may indeed welcome your newly achieved independence from them as they increase their independence from you. Or you may feel both by turns.) But it won’t throw you into a tailspin. You’ll smile nostalgically and then return to planning that charity banquet whose committee you’re heading. Or you’ll throw your teenage son the car keys, watch as he disappears out the door for the evening, and relish the fact that you now have a whole evening in which to work on your new hobby project uninterrupted. Or in which to plan your new business venture.
Your kids are important. No doubt about it. But don’t make them your entire world. The major focus of your world, sure, but your world mustn’t revolve entirely around them. It isn’t healthy for them. It isn’t healthy for you. And you’ll only make it harder for yourself when, inevitably, the kids start transitioning toward greater independence. So start now to insure that you have a healthy balance of interests. It’s insurance against a major crisis later. You’ll thank yourself in the end.
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Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 100 books, many of them for parents or kids, many of which help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens, The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family, all in print, and such e-books as Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way. Learn more about them at Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiamacgregor.com.
Cynthia is available for copywriting, ghostwriting, and editing. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.
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