Dear Dr. Norquist:
I know I'm too involved in my kid’s lives, but I don’t know how to pull back. I worry they won't be on top of things, so I'm always reminding them of what needs to be done. I guess they see it as nagging. They are getting older now – in 6th, 9th and 12th grades – and I know I have to be less involved with the details of their lives. I just hate seeing them make mistakes, like not studying for a test, or forgetting about a practice. I work a part time job at a local doctor’s office 15 hours a week, but mostly I'm home for the kids after school. My husband travels a lot, so he’s not involved with the kids in the detailed way that I am. What will I do when they are gone?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Your last sentence may be the crux of the matter. Perhaps your over-involvement with your kids serves the purpose of distracting you from an emptiness you feel inside. Their lives are your life.
This is necessarily so to a certain degree, when our kids are young. But as they grow, our job is to help their gradual development into confident independent young adults who are capable of managing their own lives. The longer you stay in the “managing” role, the less they have the opportunity to develop this skill for themselves.
There is a consequence here for you as well: the more you focus your energy on managing their lives, the more out of touch you can become with the need to embrace and develop who you are as a person. Perhaps this is why you fear the fact that they will eventually move on.
Who are you when you are not being their mother? This is a question you must start to focus more of your energy on. What do you want to do with this life you’ve been given?
Your job as mother will be diminishing more and more over the next 6 years. It is time to think of new beginnings for yourself. Doing this will help you to allow your kids to gradually take more responsibility for managing their own lives. This will make their transition to adulthood much smoother and more certain.
One of the hardest things for a parent to do is to let their child make her own mistakes (within reason, of course). As parents, we are teachers, of sorts, about love, relationships, and life. Teachers do not do the work for their students – but they do provide structure, guidance, feedback, and course material that is age appropriate, and sometimes individually tailored for the student. Perhaps this analogy can be useful to you as you evaluate how to best respond to your kids needs.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2009 Chaitanya Counseling Services