As a popular post that has been making its way around Facebook
proclaims, being a Mom means giving up many things, but it’s one of the most rewarding jobs you could ever have. When your children are small, it’s about giving up things like sleep, spontaneity and spending more than five minutes in the shower. In their teenage years it can mean giving up your ability to relax until you hear the car pull into the garage and when your kids are ready for college, it might mean giving up your retirement plans just to fund their tuition.
But there’s one thing you should never give up: yourself.
In a recent study of 1,300 moms, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that moms who work – either part-time or full-time – are healthier and happier. Now, I’m not about to fight the battle of working mom vs stay-at-home mom, as I truly believe that each family has to decide what works best for them, and certainly, I’ve known working moms who are miserable and stay-at-home moms who are very happy. But I think the study makes an important point about maintaining balance and a sense of self- something that working moms may find easier to do. It’s no surprise that the happiest stay-at-home moms I know are those who have something going on outside the home that is just for them whether it’s a hobby, a volunteer position or a pursuit of higher education. These moms almost always have good relationships with supportive spouses who share the parenting responsibilities, as well.
I don’t think there’s a mom out there who would argue with the idea that being a mom is their most important job. That said, as the APA study underscores, there’s a great danger in allowing your life to revolve solely around your kids. And it turns out, this lifestyle is not only bad for you, but it wreaks havoc on your little ones, too. A recent article in the Huffington Post examined parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives and can’t let go – the so-called “helicopter” parents. Many moms think they are being great parents by doing everything for their kids and shielding them from the harsh realities of the world. While we all want to protect our children from truly bad situations, it turns out that if we shelter them from making mistakes and facing consequences, they will be ill-equipped to handle college life, job interviews and the day-to-day responsibilities of living on their own in our big, complex world.
So how do you determine if you’re sliding down this slippery slope of focusing so much on your kids that you lose yourself in the process? I thought of a few questions that might be helpful…
1) Who was I before I had kids and who will I be when they are gone? If you’re a working mom, you probably have an easier time with this question, as your daily life, by necessity, includes non-child related activities and your job is probably an important part of your identity. There are plenty of stay-at-home moms who have successfully answered this question, too, finding a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction through volunteer work, classes to further their education or through hobbies that give them that important sense of self-accomplishment. If you don’t have any of these things in your life and find that all you can think about and talk about are your kids, ask yourself: who was I before carpools, homework and diaper changes took over my life? Were you an avid reader? A passionate chef? A cyclist? A theater-goer? You need to revisit the things that made you, YOU. After all, our most important job as parents is, ultimately, to transform our little jewels into successfully independent adults. And this depends on you letting them go — a task that will be much easier if there’s still a YOU left when they’re gone.
In addition, part of who you were pre-kids was probably a spouse or significant other and hopefully, it still is. But there are countless stories of marriages that end right after the last child moves out. Why? Because when your life revolves solely around your children, there’s no room for your relationship with your partner. Letting your relationship languish while the kids are still around means it will be difficult to pick up the pieces once they are gone. So make sure that the part of you that is separate from your mommy identity spends time with that other person who lives in your household.
2) Are you confusing your kids’ accomplishments with your own? Social media has made it easy for the parents who live vicariously through their children to show their true colors. Facebook posts like “Johnny got straight As again!” or even worse, “WE got straight As again!” are the obvious red flags.
Now before you yell at me, I know, I know…it’s natural for us to take pleasure and satisfaction in our children’s accomplishments (and sorrow in their defeat) – that’s part of the joy (and grief) of parenting. And it’s natural to want to brag a little when your kids accomplish truly great things – I am as guilty as anyone on that count. But if you find you’re touting only your children’s activities and accomplishments as if they were your own and have nothing to say that begins with the word “I”, it’s time to ask yourself what you’ve accomplished lately that didn’t involve your child.
3) If you’re a Mom, you’re a role model…but what are you modeling? In a previous post, I talked about the problem with the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality and why, if you want your kids to exercise for example, you need to show them that it’s important to you, too, by letting them see you sweat occasionally. Similarly, as your child’s primary role model, day in and day out, shouldn’t you consider what behaviors you are modeling that will help your child become an interesting, successful and independent adult? Do you have a variety of interests outside of what your kids do everyday? Do they see you working, reading, attending classes, volunteering, voting, supporting causes, being interested in the world at large? Do they see you going out with friends and most of all, your significant other, thereby modeling what good relationships look like? It’s pretty clear that what we parents view as important has a profound impact on what our children view as important. If you have no interests outside of your children, what are you modeling for them?
4) If you do it all, how will they learn to do it for themselves? Having a laser focus on your kids can become a problem for them, as well as you. Let’s say your child is in 6th grade and you still wake her up every morning, pick out her clothes for her, make her breakfast, pack her lunch and check her backpack to be sure she has everything she needs. Let’s say she calls from school to tell you she has forgotten an English paper and you rush over to deliver it, lest she face the teacher’s wrath or have points taken off for a late assignment. And let’s imagine that after school, when you’ve questioned her about her day, checked through her backpack to see what she has for homework and then taken her back and forth to dance or soccer or whatever her activity of choice may be, you spend the evening researching summer camps, and emailing her teachers and coaches to find out how she’s doing.
While this case study is fictional, I’m certain it’s not too far off of some real-life examples. The point is when you look at this day, you can see there is no YOU in it. More importantly, there is no opportunity for your child to learn, take responsibility and yes, fail, because after all, making mistakes in life is how we learn.
I wouldn’t give up being a mom for anything and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. But I love that it’s one of many hats I wear and that my kids know that I’m also a spouse, a friend, a reader, a writer, a marketing consultant, a student and many more things. To me, one of the greatest joys of parenthood is watching my own kids try on different hats as they evolve into independent adults with their own complex and many-faceted identities. I sure hope that if and when they become moms themselves and realize the sacrifices required, they’ll be sure not to sacrifice the one thing they shouldn’t – themselves.