If you’re like most humans, you get used to things being a certain way. But if there is one thing that is constant in life it’s that it is always changing.
Part of your identity has been wrapped up in your relationship with your kids. This is totally normal if you’re a mom, and will continue until you die. It feels good to be needed by your kids. It is very rewarding to see your children succeed and be happy, yes?
So when your kids go off to college, or graduate from college, and/or spread their wings to be adults in some way and leave your home, it can feel tumultuous. You might feel unmoored and lonely.
How do you separate your ambitions from theirs?
If you’re a successful entrepreneur or executive, you may be used to compartmentalizing your business and work lives. Perhaps you believe that business is business and should be separate from your personal life. Further, business has kept you fulfilled for years.
On the other hand, your personal life with your partner might feel like it’s in disrepair, because it’s taken a backseat to business and your kids. If this is the case for you, disconnection will become more evident when the kids leave the nest.
This blog addresses how to navigate the murky waters of when your kids leave the house and how to get “you” back.
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Many women get their connection needs met by their children. They feel safe with them because they unconditionally love their kids, and, in return, they feel loved by their kids. It’s a natural bonding.
However, sometimes this reliance on your kiddos (and grandkids) can be taken too far, and when this happens, the following can result:
1) Your children and grandchildren feel burdened because they feel overly responsible for your happiness. Kids are naturally protective of their parents to start, and they can unconsciously feel your “needs” and want to meet them.
2) You miss opportunities to connect with your spouse, and it can begin to strain the marriage.
3) You sacrifice friendships and potential friendships because you’ve adapted to leaning on your kids for emotional support.
4) When the kids leave your home as young adults, you feel lost, lonely, and disconnected. You compare your special connection with your children to the one with your spouse, and the spouse comes up sadly lacking.
5) Affairs may occur if you seek your connection needs outside of the marriage due to this void in your heart.
Do you relate to any of the above scenarios? If so, it’s important to realize what is happening and what to do about it.
Self Awareness is the First Step
When my daughter, Maddie, died 5 years ago, I went from my husband and I being her caregiver as she lived with us, to wondering, “Who am I if not Maddie’s mom? I’ve devoted so much of my time and energy to her care, and now she’s gone.”
On top of grieving, I had lost my identity. After 22 years of living with her cystic fibrosis diagnosis, the looming death sentence, I was emotionally exhausted. I thought, “This is MY time now.” It might sound selfish, but it’s what occurred to me.
Part of me began to pull away from my husband, Steve. It was subtle, a blind spot, that I didn’t understand. You see, I’d gotten so much of my connection need from Maddie.
When our connection need tends toward codependency rather than mature love, it’s not a healthy way of relating. Sure, it feels good, but it’s not LOVE. It’s neediness. But sometimes that’s all we know. And that’s OK. No judgment here.
By continually looking within for my answers, during the year after Maddie’s death, I began to realize what was happening with my connection need and was able to course correct. I owe this to the fact that Steve and I have a solid foundation, and we are used to honestly communicating with each other.
Finding a New Harmony
I suspect you want something more for you, your kids and spouse. You want real, healthy relationships that can weather hard times. You’ll know if your relationships are weak, because they’ll crumble at the first sign of deep trouble.
It’s time to navigate these murky waters and fulfill your connection needs in a healthy way. How do you apply this knowledge? Self-awareness is not enough to move the needle.
Discover New Hobbies and Interests
This hobby can be anything that brings YOU joy. Don’t look to others to tell you what you enjoy. Place your hand over your heart, and ask yourself what brings you pleasure. Then visualize in your mind’s eye this activity. Is it being in nature, painting, walking your dog, gardening, watching a movie, having tea with a dear friend, sculpting, baking, cooking, reading, journaling?
Redefine How You Relate to Your Children
They may unconsciously feel superior to their kids because of the above reasons. If this is the case for you (and I’m not saying it is), I ask that you consider a new narrative. Our children are often our best “teachers,” in that they mirror back aspects of ourselves we need to love and accept more. It can be a very painful process.
Children and everyone for that matter deserve to be respected. Up until age 7, they don’t have the developed filter called the EGO. They just say it like it is, and they absorb everything as well. Most kids are brilliant in their clarity, and often naturally sweet and loving, until this nature gets programmed out of them. Children will also adapt to their enviornment and can become entitled. The point is not to blame the parent either. Life can get complex, and all relationships are co-creations between two people.
Do you have a power play going on with your kids in which you are the mom or dad who knows best? If so, I totally get it because I did for years and still do to some extent. I had to take a look at how close I was to my remaining daughter, and I decided to course correct.
If you want to be closer and more connected to your kids (and it’s OK if you don’t), is it time to change how you see them? People tend to live up to our expectations of them.
If we begin to see our kids as capable and worthy of respect, they will often live up to that. Let’s give them the space to grow and be healthy adults, and try to make peace with the Diving Timing of it. It reminds me of this quote: “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”
Give Yourself a New Identity
If you’ve seen yourself as Mom primarily, that’s OK. You’ll always be Mom, no matter where your kids are, out of the house, 1000 miles away, or even in heaven, like my Maddie.
But what if you add to this identity? Realize you are a Woman who has needs that are distinct from your kids. You are a Human with needs, wants, dreams, desires, hopes, longings. At first, these words may sound obvious, but are they?
Do you treat yourself like a human being, a woman with real needs? If not, give yourself permission to do so. By doing this, you actually become MORE of a humanitarian who serves from a whole heart.
If you’ve gotten your connection needs primarily from your kid(s), this can cause them to feel burdened and overly responsible for you. It also negatively affects the connection with your spouse because you compare your relationship.
To mitigate the pain and loneliness from your kids leaving the house, consider finding a hobby or interest that brings you joy. Redefine how you see your kids as capable adults who are happiest when they feel sovereign. Give yourself a new identity: you are a human with needs, not simply a mom put on this Earth to serve everyone else.
Join other women who are seeking to reclaim their identity and become Loving Self Advocates. I offer two group programs as well as private coaching. Let’s figure out this together. You can simply reply to this email if you’d like to take the next step.