…and other things parents say. When I was a child, my mother was very open about wanting to get some distance from me. She would mournfully say she wanted to “go home.” In time, I came to understand that “home” was heaven. In other words, she wanted to die and be as far away from me as possible. I’m sure many parents can relate to the feeling of wanting to escape. But, let me speak for the kids. The more I understood what she really meant, the more anxious I became. I would try to alter my own behavior, as a young child, to try to keep her from feeling bad. The more she pulled away, the more urgently I felt the need for connection.
Those wounds haven’t healed. So, when I see parents openly talking about getting away from their children, it scratches at those scabs. I see it online and wonder if the kids can feel their parents pulling away like I did. I see it in person too and I know the children are listening, because I listened. I write this not to shame parents or suggest that we don’t need alone time to recuperate and center ourselves.
We absolutely do need that time. Every person, adult and child alike, needs time to do the things that energize us to take on the challenges of life. Setting aside time to do this is a healthful behavior. Encouraging our kids to do the same prepares them for a lifetime of positive self-care. But, making our kids the reason we need a break – rather than our own very human need for time spent alone away from adult responsibility – may end up remaining with our children into adulthood, like it has for me. It’s not the kids that are the problem. The problem is trying to pour from an empty cup.
It is always positive for children to see us set healthy boundaries in a gentle way with them. It can be as simple as “I’m starting to run out of emotional energy and I need a little time to recharge. I’ll be ready to paint with you then! Give me about 20 minutes and I’ll be right back with you. I love you!” Try to let your kids know what you need and then make sure take your own boundaries seriously. That’s how they’ll learn to do it themselves.
This past weekend was Mother’s Day and the half-joking, half-exasperated posts online about life-draining children abounded. It’s so uncomfortable for me to see; people relishing the time they have away from their kids to feel “complete again.” I have to wonder how these parents might feel if someone were to say the same thing about them.
I ask you to receive this as a vulnerable insight and not as a criticism; to remain available and connected with your children without laying the responsibility of your mental health at their feet; to find the things that genuinely recharge you and seek them out; to model positive self-care; to recognize the importance of knowing when it’s time to disconnect and recover; and to frame the problem not as one’s children but as a valid need for sustenance of spirit.