My Kids Aren’t My Whole World

We all love our kids.

Children bring us extremes of emotion — joys and sorrows — like we’ve never known before. Our hearts swell, and we become completely enrapt with these little gifts. I’m the first to admit, I probably over-indulge my kids on occasion just because I want them to know how loved they are.

But it disturbs me when I see parents (myself included) getting completely lost in their children. In the digital realm alone, it’s painfully apparent. From viral Facebook pictures reading, “Share if your child is your whole world” to the pressure of being a perfect “Pinterest mom,” there are implicit and pervasive messages that we should feel badly if our world doesn’t revolve around our kids. It’s a sad and dangerous trend that parents’ identities are merging with those of their kids. One that gets me every time is when one of my friends puts up a profile picture of her child instead of herself, as if her child has completely eclipsed her own identity. I know many women who feel their children are more special, more beautiful, than they are. I want to tell them: “You are beautiful! You are special! You are unique!”

While our kids certainly are often the center of our thoughts, and almost always the top priority in our lives, we have to be careful not to let them drown out our individuality altogether. Here’s how.

Nurture your own identity — it’s better for everyone

It’s hard to believe, but you are actually raising adults, not children. If you do your job well, they will leave you one day. When that happens, you don’t want to look in the mirror and not recognize yourself. Certainly, your job as a mom is never over, but there will come a time when your day-to-day, hands-on parenting simply isn’t needed. So, who are you when that’s stripped away? Don’t neglect to nurture those parts of you amid the hectic daily parenting so that you’re constantly growing the parts of you that aren’t the mom.

For your kids, you have an obligation to be a whole person. It is an unreasonable burden to instill in a child the thought that all of you is wrapped up in him, singularly. Kurt Vonnegut says this about spreading the burden of our needs among many people: “When a couple has an argument nowadays they may think it is about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without really realizing it, is this: ‘You are not enough people!'” The idea is that no one person can fulfill all of our needs, and certainly, that one person can’t and shouldn’t be our offspring.

To feel like your parent’s life is hinged on you and your actions creates not only an unhealthy symbiosis between parent and child, it also feeds an extrinsic reward system whereby kids learn to do things for your praise and pride, not for their own good. I want my kids to know their actions reflect on them, not me.

Value the qualities that make you, you

Today, and every day, remind yourself of the parts of you that aren’t the mom. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in your daily responsibilities for and obligations to your kids. Nurture your friendships, your hobbies, your volunteerism, your work, and your emotional, physical, and mental self so that you can be a whole person for your kids — and for yourself.

Here’s a little game you can play: Make a list. What are the top five things that make you most you without your kids? Write them down. Ask yourself every once in awhile how you’re doing with each of those things. Value those things now and always, because those parts of you can atrophy if you don’t work on them.

Mine are:

  1. Maker/creator
  2. Professional
  3. Mentor/volunteer
  4. Athlete
  5. Aesthete

What are yours? Tell us! And share with your friends.