I use this question as a guiding principle for my life. I am writing this article on a plane in February headed on vacation with my husband. No kids. Do I want my kids to go on vacation someday with their life partners and leave their kids with a trusted sitter? Yes! When I go out with my girlfriends, I ask myself, "Do I want my kids to have nights away from the family with their girlfriends?" Yes! When I made the decision to be a working Mom and write a book I asked myself, "Do I want my kids to follow their career dreams?" Yes!
Of course, I would not wish every decision I've ever made on my kids. I'm human. I've made, and continue to make, lots of mistakes -- more than I'd like to admit. But with all the bumps, bruises and imperfections in my life and relationships, I would wish my life on my children. Would you wish yours? If not, what can you do now to change the answer to YES?
My career path led me to write a book about parenting because many families with loving, well-meaning parents who want the best for their children are struggling. A great deal of the parents' happiness and self-worth has landed squarely on the shoulders of their children. Children are beautiful beings who shouldn't have to handle this pressure. They should be enjoying this awesome time of innocence.
Childhood isn't easy. And it's a whole lot harder when parents are counting on their children to make them happy -- with a good grade, a positive attitude, a full social calendar, a home run at the game, a scholarship, great SAT scores and perfect attendance. The list goes on and on. Could you live up to these expectations? I know I couldn't.
All kids want to succeed. That's a truth I've come to realize in my 25 years as a practicing psychotherapist. But, sometimes it's hard because life is hard. When those hard moments come, kids need parents to remind them how temporary their challenges are. "This too shall pass." Instead, many parents do the exact opposite, pouring salt in the wound by overreacting and sending non-helpful responses such as, "What were you thinking?", "Look what you've done!", "How could you disappoint me like that?" or the one that makes me shudder the most, "Do you realize you're a junior this year? Colleges are watching you. One wrong step and you won't get into that school you wanted so badly!"
Guess what? It's OK if they don't get into that school they wanted so badly. It really is. They are going to be just fine. But will you? That's the question you need to ask yourself. Who is this really about? If it's about your child (as so many parents tell me it is), then wouldn't a better response be one of reassurance? Ask yourself what you would say to a beloved friend in a similar situation. You would probably say something reassuring like, "It's not the end of the world, give it time, and don't fret about it." Why, when it comes to our children, who we love most in the world, do we resort to the most unhelpful overreactions?
In short, parents react this way because we are scared. We mistakenly think that our success is dependent on our children's success. Our self-esteem; our self-worth; our reputation in our families, the community, the world; our joy; our bliss; our pride -- they are all on the line. Does that seem fair, healthy or appropriate? Of course not. But I see kids suffering needlessly from parental pressure. And the suffering shows up in depression, anxiety, aggression and various types of acting out behavior, from the extreme (suicide) to the benign (can't decide what class to take or what to order for dinner at a restaurant).We all love our kids. But if our self-worth is tied up in our child's achievements, it is far from loving behavior. It doesn't serve your children at all. So what does?
This gets us back to my original point: Are you living the life you would wish for your kids? The best thing you can do to remove this pressure from your children is to show them that your happiness and self-worth are not dependent on their actions. Show them what it means to live a life you love, to be in a partnership you love, to spend time with friends you love and to have fun on your own, away from them.
It makes sense that if you build a joyous life for yourself, your children will grow up to emulate it, but this isn't just about creating healthy future adults. If the family hierarchy is restructured so that you, as an individual are at the top, followed by your partner relationship and then your children, the whole system thrives! Kids feed from the overflow of this family dynamic. But continue with the "kids first" philosophy that is plaguing many families today, and it all falls apart and the most vulnerable family members- - usually the children -- struggle the most.
If we believe this and know it's true, why do parents resist this so much? Parents resist it because it is easier to think your children are the problem than to admit that you might be the problem. It is easier to take your children in for a fix than to address your own issues.
When your family operates on a kids-first philosophy where everyone's self-worth is tied up in the success of the children, it follows that when a problem arises, it must also flow from the behavior of the children. So, parents intervene at the child's level -- seeking out child psychologists, medication and behavior modification -- before they ever consider that the root of the problem may actually be in their own actions. The truth is that most "parenting issues" are actually "parent issues."
Rather than rushing off to the nearest child psychologist, why not try healing from within yourself? Work on your own issues, find your own bliss rather than put the burden of your life happiness on your children. Work on your marriage, find a hobby and stop focusing on your children and their issues. They'll be OK. And soon they'll be out of the house. And you'll be an empty nester. What will you do? With whom will you spend your time? Live the life now that you wish for your kids. That's your best chance of having your dreams of raising happy, emotionally stable, independent thriving adult kids come true. Maybe start with something small just for yourself -- like a nice long, hot bubble bath!
Robin M. Kevles-Necowitz is in private practice in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania working with parents for nearly 25 years. Kevles-Necowitz is the author of Go Take a Bath!: A Powerful Self-Care Approach to Extraordinary Parenting and has been published in numerous periodicals, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Bucks County Courier Times. She is the parenting expert for More 101 in Philadelphia. She lives in Yardley, PA with her husband, two daughters, and dog, "Nugget Necowitz." Find her on FB by friending Parent Assist or follow her on Twitter @RobinNecowitz