By Neil McNerney, Parenting With Purpose
We’ve been told over and over that parenting is one of the toughest jobs out there. I agree and disagree with this statement. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s not a job. It’s our life. Our family is everything to us and we can’t just turn it off like we can with our job. We are thinking about our kids at all hours of the day and, if we are not careful, it can be all-encompassing.
One of the risks of being a parent is being too emotionally involved in our children’s ups and downs. I believe that our ability to be a good leader for our kids, at some point, decreases because we are too connected with our kids’ difficulties.
My friend and fellow author, Hal Runkel, put it simply: We should take our children’s issues seriously, but we should not take their issues personally.
We should take our parenting job seriously. Being such a major influence on a child’s life is extremely important. If we don’t take it seriously, we are not doing all we should for our kids. But when we take it personally, we tend to get confused, hurt, angry—and we become much less effective.
This got me to thinking about the concept of the gravitational pull our children have on us. I don’t mean the real gravitational pull, but the emotional pull they exert. If you remember your high school science, the more massive object will have a greater pull on the less massive object. Therefore, the less massive object will tend to be much more affected than the more massive one. If you think of planets, it means the less massive object will begin to orbit around the more massive one.
We have been told, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, that our kids should be the most important thing in our lives. That the minute we have kids, our center of gravity should completely shift, and we should begin to orbit ourselves around our children. And in the beginning, that certainly is the case. Their lives take complete precedence. They call the shots.
But as our kids move into the school years, our center of gravity should shift much more back to ourselves and not as much on our kids. If we can find a way to balance the gravity issue so that our kids don’t have as much effect on us emotionally, I think our ability to be strong leaders in their lives will increase significantly.
What happens if we don’t shift our center of gravity? Our kids become our whole lives. If our kids become our whole life, then it is very hard to not take things personally. We get mad at them over things that had nothing to do with us. For instance, you child comes home with a bad grade on a quiz. It is important to take this issue seriously, but not personally. Getting mad about a bad quiz grade tends to do nothing but create hurt emotions. When we get angry about things that weren’t done directly to us tends to muddy the water and makes it harder to be a good leader in our children’s lives.
When we take our kids’ actions too personally, it is because we have gotten a bit too emotionally close to them. One of the great things about being a human is balancing the fact that we are individuals, and at the same time we are driven to connect with others. But when we over-connect, we lose our sense of self.
In the long run, the more we take our kids’ actions personally, the more it will backfire on us—and ultimately on our kids as well. Whenever I start to feel parental anxiety creep up on me, I ask myself, “Am I taking this seriously or personally?” That one question has saved many a conversation between me and my kids. Plus, it then calms me down enough to carefully consider what my best leadership action should be.
Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!and The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org