In my last three articles, I had shared three main reasons why some of us, as mothers, find ourselves stuck in unhealthy worrying about our children after they have left home. I had addressed the first two reasons and elaborated on the ways to counter them. In this piece, I am speaking to the last reason: the 20-year habit of doing things for our children.
When we were new mothers, we enjoyed caring for our babies – for the tiny, cute, helpless and totally dependent human beings. We fed them, cleaned them up, clothed them, played with them and put them to sleep. They grew up and started school. We woke them up to be on time, made sure they had breakfast and took their lunch bags, and dropped them off at school. When they returned, we fed them, reminded them to change their clothes, and helped them with their lessons. Fast forward a few more years and we expected them to relieve us of some of these tasks. Sometimes they did not heed us even when we prompted them to do their chores. We were annoyed, but executed their jobs because it took so much energy to keep nagging them. For example, we expected them to put away their books and toys, but when that did not happen to fit in with our schedule, we tidied up after them. After all, we can’t have an untidy house when the guests came for dinner, can we?
You can see how this practice of doing things for our children (that they are capable of doing for themselves) got ingrained in us. Often, if we were not doing things for them, we were reminding them to do things that they should be recalling themselves. This became a way of life, and is very hard to break when our children leave home as adults. We then worry about them, wondering who will take our role in their lives and how they would manage without us.
How do we address this hard-to-break habit so that when our children have flown the nest, we can focus on the next phase of our lives, and enjoy new pursuits, new roles and identities? I have shared three pitfalls below — to recognize and correct early on — so that we can avoid this problem altogether.
- Refrain from taking the monkey on our shoulders: Many years back, I read the book, ‘The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey” which talks about how we add on other people’s responsibilities onto our shoulders and how it impacts us. We tend to do the same with our children. Getting up in time to go to school, making sure that they are ready, keeping their spaces clean – are all our children’s jobs as they grow up. Probably because we have to drop the children off at school and then proceed to our work place in time, we take on all the kids’ morning jobs on our checklist of things that we need to do (instead of them). We find that easier and more expedient. So, let’s be aware of this behavior in ourselves. Inculcating self-care practices in our children will take time, patience, and persistence. But in the long run, it will pay off and curb their dependency and lack of responsibility.
- Stop imposing our standards on our children: When we think of what our children should be accountable for, we often expect the children to fulfill ourexpectations of them and meet our high standards. We do not allow them the choice of how they would execute the jobs. We don’t listen to their reasoning. As an example, we might plan the children’s weekend hour by hour and get annoyed if they don’t comply exactly with the schedule, instead of outlining the requirements and asking them how and when they would complete the chores. Their failure to satisfy our specifications becomes another reason for us to either do it for them or make it our responsibility to get the tasks done. Let’s watch out for this behavior in us as well. Encouraging children to think and plan for themselves helps them learn to take charge of their life and actions. It teaches them how to prioritize and make decisions amidst all the distractions.
- Change our attitude of needing to be needed: Often we are unconsciously driven by our desire to feel needed and wanted as mothers. As the kids grow older and more independent, get inputs from the outside world and their friends, we start feeling insecure that our children no longer need us. We react to this feeling by over-doing things for our children, hoping they would appreciate us and thinking we are carrying out actions for their happiness. We think this is the way to show our love. After all, the children are not going to be with us permanently; why not pamper them while we have them? Let’s replace such thoughts with the belief that we have done our best for our children to be independent and happy adults; the less they need us, the better we have done our job.
So, knowing the above mental traps and counteracting them, help us avoid inculcating dependent behavior in our children and experiencing the worry in us, once our children are on their own.
In my next series, I will be sharing with you a new mothering and parenting philosophy that will further help you be the parent you want to be for your children. Happy Mothers’ Day!
(Janaki Chakravarthy is a certified life coach and author of the ebook “From Broke to Breadwinner – A Single Mom’s Guide to Financial Independence and More.” She lives in southern California and helps single moms recreate their lives as breadwinners and beyond, through her practice Possibilities N U LLC. For a free copy of her book, email her: Janaki@frombtobbook.com.)