Friday, October 15, 2021

Balancing Children's Needs With Your Own

I was talking to a friend recently that I haven't spoken to since I was deep in the midst of single parenting - my daughters were in middle school and high school back then. He was truly surprised that I wasn't broken up about being an empty nester. I think because he saw me put my children first always, he thought I would have a hard time letting go. I did not. 

I told him, I think it's because I was a full-time single parent for most of their lives. There were far fewer breaks for me than parents who split custody and certainly two-parent households. 

But I also think that I was making a mistake by putting my children first, always, for them and for me. 

As they got older, there was still an expectation that I would drop everything for them, and it took me not doing so a few times for them to understand that they were capable of figuring out the solutions for themselves. It's not that they weren't a priority, but what they needed me to do was let go so they could shine. They needed to believe in themselves as much as I believed in them. 

But this isn't really about them. I also lost sight of me.

While I have said many times that I'm not a fan of labels (and I'm not), I didn't realize how much I depended on them to define me. Mostly, as a single mother. Also, as a loyal employee and colleague, as a paralegal, a feminist, supportive friend, my cats' loyal human. And while I am proudly all of those things, there is still so much more to me. 

I've been reveling in the gift of more free time. Without kids to shuttle to and from school, without having to commute to work in these COVID times, and without locking myself into Boards of non-profits, my evenings and weekends are mostly mine. And what's non-sensical is how much I still feel like the hours are limited!

It's not that I'm running around like crazy, it's that there's so much I want to do! I'm not anxious about it, I'm luxuriating in it. 

I'm taking virtual tap dance classes, I'm reading multiple books, I'm watching whatever interests me, I'm writing in my journal, I'm writing here again, I'm trying new recipes, thinking about the past, planning a future, taking online classes, enjoying my cats, asking Siri random questions, coloring, I'm getting to learn and explore anything that interests me. 

And that's exactly what I wish my children saw me doing more when they were growing up. Instead, they saw me always giving to others, and role modeling that behavior. 

Now, I think they already understand this better than I did at their age, even with my mistakes. So my regret is not about what it did to them, but about the time I lost for me. 

Some of our fondest memories are the times we spent immersed in theatre together; being in plays together, going to see musicals, listening to them in the car. A lot of conversations were sparked by a song or a line. 

I know that sharing my love of theatre with them is what brought this connection. I think more connections could have been built if they'd seen me enjoying other things as well. 

And I think I would've been stronger, a better mother, a more patient human, if I hadn't let so much go. 

Now, obviously, we have to put our kids' safety first. We have to make sure their needs are met. Sometimes, just doing that can take up most of our energy. 

Usually, when mothers talk about "me time," it's a ladies' night with alcohol or a bubble bath. Those are great, sure, but they're indulgences. Somewhere along the line, I also lost sight of reading books for pleasure, listening to music when I wasn't driving, taking my eye off the to-do list. 

On a walk recently, I realized that even though I wasn't listening to a podcast or music, my mind was spinning with my to-do list - which was ridiculous because I didn't have my planner with me to write anything down, and I was actually doing something at that moment that was on my to-do list! I could just enjoy the rest of the walk and not think about what comes next. 

We mothers get criticized anyway you look at it - we're either hovering or negligent; too distant or too friendly with our kids; spending too much time at work or not giving the kids breathing room. Screw it. 

Once you answer these type of questions for yourself, the best thing you can do for both you and your kids is to remember what brings you joy and to share that joy with your kids. 

Yes, their grades matter, but more important is their mental health. They will learn to take care of that by you role modeling what works for you. 

It will probably help to think back at what you liked when you were their age and introduce that to them. They might not love it as much as you do, but they'll love being with you when you're happy! 

That's the crazy, cool thing about it - focusing on your needs is actually good for your kids, too. 

No comments: