“My daughter told me I need to get a life,” my friend said, and we laughed because her daughter is in sixth grade.
Like many kids her age, she is pulling away from her family. She is craving more time with friends. She adores her mom, yet she’s excited about her budding independence.
Chances are, you had a rich and interesting life before you had children. You had passions, interests, and the energy to stay awake past 10 p.m. on a Friday night.
But having a baby shifted your priorities. You became perfectly content nesting at home and marveling over your miracle. As your baby grew up – especially if siblings came along – life became a circus. Some days your only goal was survival. You had to put things on the back burner to conserve energy. You sacrificed things to make room for a new calling.
In the tween and teen years, your busyness doubled as different kids needed to be in different places at the same time: a dance competition, a baseball practice, a birthday party, a friend’s house, a mandatory meeting. Gone were the days of keeping one schedule as a family, taking the whole crew to the park or a playdate and calling it a day.
I don’t regret any time I’ve spent with my kids or invested in their lives. When I look back, I’m so glad that my husband and I have made our family a priority.
What I recognize, however, is how today’s culture of all-in parenting often veers to unhealthy extremes. While it’s great we engage in our kid’s lives (too much parental involvement is far better than too little), going overboard can create an imbalance in our adult lives.
Somehow, we’ve become a generation of parents who wrap our lives around our kids – often to the detriment of ourselves, our marriage, and the family unit.
Dr. Madeline Levine discusses this dynamic in her book Teach Your Children Well:
“We hunker down and immerse ourselves in our children’s activities at the expense of our adult relationships and our own continued development. Decreasing the sphere of our own lives makes us increasingly dependent on our children for a sense of meaning and accomplishment.”
This passage is powerful. I think one of the many reasons we see so much stress among kids and despair among parents is because our kids feel the weight of pressures and expectations as we rely on them to make us happy, and we feel let down when things don’t go as planned.
Our kids carry burdens they aren’t meant to carry when we make them our ultimate source of joy.
God wants Jesus to be our ultimate source of joy. He created us to be Christ-centered parents, not child-centered parents. With Jesus as the center of our universe, we can have hope apart from our kids. We can widen the sphere of our adult lives, defining ourselves – first and foremost – as a child of God.
Being a parent is important, but all of us are far more than parents. And as Sissy Goff points out in her book Intentional Parenting, it’s good for your kids to see you as a multifaceted parent:
“Yes, your heart is interconnected with the heart of your child. But you are still you. And they need you to be. They need you to have hope outside of them. And ultimately, any real hope comes from the fact that God has poured out his love into our hearts – and theirs.”
As my kids became teenagers and started to pull away and spend more time with friends, I realized I’d wrapped my life around them. My instinct was to get clingy, to pull back my center of gravity, but that pushed them away. They needed space, and as I gave them space, they started coming back to me by choice. I didn’t have to force the connection.
I’ve learned that parenting older kids is like being on call – they don’t need us all the time, but when they do need us, they want us close by and available. We can be available while also stepping back, unwrapping ourselves a little from their world and finding new ways to broaden our world.
It is fun, I’ve discovered, to take old passions off the back burner. It is good for the soul to invest in other things that ignite joy – like our marriage, our friendships, our health, our spiritual growth, and new hobbies/interests (one of my recent discoveries is Pilates) – and let our kids see a joy in us that doesn’t depend on them.
Healthy relationships have breathing room, and it’s easier to give our growing children breathing room when we have additional sources of joy. Ultimately, joy begins with Christ. It begins with finding our identity and purpose through Him. And while this isn’t the norm in a child-centered culture, it’s a goal worth working toward so we can become multifaceted adults who love our children well while teaching them about a hope that’s greater and bigger than them.
Thanks for reading this article today. If you found the message helpful, please share it through social media.
Also, I’ve written two books for teen & tween girls designed to empower them through faith. The newest one, Liked, is getting a fantastic response as a unique resource for girls of the digital age, and along with the bestselling 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, it’s being used widely across the U.S. for small group studies.
Thanks for stopping by, and have a great day!
Posted by Kari on April 9, 2019