Being a good parent requires a tremendous amount of time, love, and energy, but what happens when a well-meaning mom or dad becomes too enmeshed in their children’s lives? Over-involvement can unknowingly do damage to kids, who then become responsible for their parents’ well-being and happiness. On the other hand, parents who can draw a separation between themselves and their children are emotionally healthier and are actually able to give more to their families.
LCSW Julie Hanks recently discussed this topic on KSL’s Studio 5. Below are some questions she suggested to ask yourself to determine whether or not your kids define you (along with some strategies to help you reclaim yourself if you find that you’ve taken on a little too much):
1) Are you uncomfortable being alone or away from your child?
If you feel uneasy when you’re not taking care of your kids, they may be defining you. I have given clients a “homework assignment” to do something that they’ve never done before, and to do it alone. If you feel like you have a hard time being separated from your children, try spending 20-30 minutes with yourself, unplugged from technology, and getting reacquainted with you (outside of your role as mommy).
2) Do you base your worth on your children’s accomplishments?
It’s natural and good to want to celebrate our children’s achievements and mourn their losses, but we should be careful not to own their experiences. The use of language can be very telling here: parents who say “We got an A on that test!” or “we won the soccer game” are too involved. Instead, use “I” statements and let your children own their responsibilities, both their successes and their failures.
3) Do your adult conversations revolve around your children?
We’ve all known a woman who, when asked how she is doing, responds by telling about her children. Because we invest so much of our time and energy into raising our families, it makes sense to talk about them in conversation, but remember that there is more to your life than your kids. You don’t have to report everything about your child. Try instead to verbalize or articulate how you feel about something, whether related to your children or not. Don’t neglect your own emotions and experiences
4) Have you let go of your interests and friendship?
Parents (mothers in particular) sacrifice so much to give their children opportunities and make them happy. But a warning sign that you’re becoming defined by your kids is if you have let go of the activities and people that make you happy. We often think that our kids’ play-dates are so important, but adults need play-dates, too! Invest in your own well-being by devoting time to things that fulfill and nourish you.
5) Does your child’s mood dictate your mood?
When your child is having a bad day, does that mean you also have a bad day? Are his/her emotions so closely tied to yours that you essentially do not have your own? If so, you are likely being defined by your child. Of course we are to be empathetic to our children’s feelings, but there is wisdom in letting them have their own experiences. By not fully taking on their emotions, you are able to better support them and help them through challenges.
If you feel like you are taking on too much of your children’s lives, visit Wasatch Family Therapy to find a counselor who can help you rediscover you. And for a limited time, if you mention this segment, you’ll get $50 off your first session!
Also, check out my Julie’s book, “The Burnout Cure: An Emotional Survival Guide for Overwhelmed Women” to help you learn how to take better care of yourself and live a happy, more fulfilling life.
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