“The greatest tragedy of the family is the unlived lives of the parents.” –C.G. Jung
I know many of you are gasping just from reading the title of this article, but if you would put the pitchforks down for just a minute, I can explain.
I love my child. I love him so much it can be overwhelming, even scary at times. So much it keeps me up at night as my mind races with all the “what ifs,” hopes for his happiness, and prayers I’m not screwing him up. So much that I want him to always be successful and have whatever he needs and wants.
But as I reflect on my son turning 4 this past month, I’ve realized he can’t just have everything handed to him, and certainly not by me. That’s not my job as his mother.
My job as his mom is to love him unconditionally, make sure he feels safe, that he belongs, and provide him with the coaching and tools he needs to learn to advocate for himself and what he needs so he can create his own path to happiness and success.
I can’t and won’t make my child the center of my world and wrap my entire identity around his accomplishments. Placing the entire responsibility of his happiness and success on my shoulders is an enormous burden for one woman to carry.
It’s not always easy, especially because I more than like to be in control, but there are so many reasons for why I am choosing to live this way.
First, when I give everything I have to my child, over-involve myself in his academics and activities, and obsess about his achievements, I have nothing left for myself or my husband. How can I give my son a happy family where he feels safe and secure when my marriage is hanging by a thread resulting from the stress of over-parenting?
Having two tired, overwhelmed, disconnected parents who fight and are starved for affection benefits nobody and our child will suffer for it. I would rather model what a healthy, balanced, fulfilling relationship looks like. That includes regular date nights and taking trips whether they be romantic getaways with my husband or girls’ weekends while he stays home with a with a family member or babysitter.
I have also learned that I can’t do motherhood by myself. And honestly, I don’t want to. When I struggle with something, I speak up. If I don’t know the answer to something, I ask. If I need help, I admit it.
I want my son to see there is no weakness in asking for help. That advocating for yourself and asking for what you need makes you strong.
One day when my son is older, I will tell him about how I battled postpartum depression during the first year of his life and needed help to take care of him. I will share with him how I fought my way to get better and came out stronger, braver, and happier on the other side. And most importantly, how I learned to ask for what I need, accept my imperfections, share my struggle with others, and not feel ashamed about any of it.
I want to be the adult I’m teaching my son to be. A strong, independent, compassionate, hard-worker who lives life with passion and purpose. An individual who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, struggle, and fail. He needs to see his parent fail and rise up again so he understands that failures are unavoidable and necessary parts of life that can be overcome with a positive attitude and resilience.
These parts of life where we fall down or suffer tragedy are where we grow and learn. I won’t protect him from everything because I know that I can’t. Doing so would cause him a great disservice because he would miss out on the growing and learning. He needs to know that he will fail and make mistakes and that’s okay because he is human. The accepting of his failures, taking ownership of his mistakes, and finding the lessons in each is where integrity and character are built.
One day my son will be an adult and leave the house to travel down his own path. What will I be left with if my whole identity has been the acting supervisor of every single aspect of his life? How would I hold a conversation with my husband if all we have talked about for the past several years is our son? How would we remain connected when we put our marriage on the back burner to do his homework, write essays for college applications, and obsessively focus on the schools he needed to go to, sports he needed to play, clubs he needed to not only join, but lead and create? And all in preparation for the top tier college we decided he would attend (while forgetting to even ask him is that’s what he wanted in the first place).
On that day, I know I will cry all the tears I have, but I will also feel proud from knowing I raised my son to be a man who can depend on himself. Because when he comes home with a bad grade on a test, we will talk about why that happened, if he feels he deserved that grade, and what he could do differently the next time. I won’t blame the teacher.
If he feels the grade was given unfairly, I will coach him to have his own conversation with the teacher. When he decides he needs to drop a class, I will listen to his reasons and let him make his own decision, even if it’s hard to let go of what I believe is best for him. I will let him make that choice. When he leaves his term paper until the night before, I will bring him a snack while he stays awake to finish it, but I won’t write it for him while he goes to bed. When he forgets his science notebook with his homework in it at home, he will have to take the incomplete. I will not immediately stop what I’m doing to bring it to him.
When he gets benched during a sports game and doesn’t know why, we will practice what he will say to his coach to find out why. I will not show up to the field screaming in the coach’s face that my kid doesn’t deserve such treatment. When he has a disagreement with a friend, we will also practice what he can say to resolve it. I won’t call the friend’s parent and fix it for him.
When he decides he wants to quit a sport to make more time for a club, I won’t push my agenda on him. I will listen to him and let him have the final say in what he wants to do. When he decides to study abroad in a foreign country, he will get all the information he needs, fill out all the applications and forms himself and ask me for what he needs. I won’t call and ask about parent orientation because obviously there is no parent orientation.
If I’ve done my job as his mom, he will always know he can tell me anything and ask for my help and support. When he faces any obstacle that might present itself as he gets older, he will have learned the tools to face and overcome them. When he makes the mistakes that he will definitely make as he ages, he will understand that we are not our mistakes, but we learn from them and move on.
Also, I refuse to be that mom who accompanies my son to job interviews, negotiates his first contract, calls his boss to request his cubicle be moved away from the co-worker he doesn’t get along with, and ask if he can take more vacation time because he seems stressed and overworked. I won’t have to. He will be able to do all of that for himself!