The other day, my son went to school wearing one running shoe with pink grips on the bottom and one Adidas slide with a sock on underneath. My daughter couldn’t find her uniform skirt and took a patterned skirt and turned it inside out and went to school in a ‘black skirt’. My third child couldn’t find her glasses anywhere. My youngest was wearing a combination of camo, Superman and dinosaurs.
I used to be the mom obsessed with how her kids looked. Obsessively obsessed. The bow in their hair matching the frill on their socks, the socks on their feet matching the pocket square in their suits. If my kids looked perfect, then it showed the world they came from a home that cares for them, that loves them. If my kids looked perfect, then all would be perfect. If this sounds exhausting to you, that’s because it was. I used to care so much about how others viewed my family and children and by proxy, me. It was a thought I wasn’t even conscious of and didn’t even realize its existence until that internal pressure evaporated.
In a traditional Saturday morning argument of ‘I have nothing to wear’ from the preteen vs. “no way in hell are you wearing that” from me, it dawned on me; why do I even care?
Because she’s my child and I don’t want her embarrassed? Ok, her dress wasn’t my favourite but definitely a few Justice sale racks away from embarrassment.
Because I want her to look her best? But she feels good in this dress I hate.
Because I’m scared people will judge me and how well I’m doing through my child? BINGO
Infants have to learn to differentiate themselves from their parents. Babies believe they are one with their parents, they are the same person. The realization they are not is often startling and scary to a baby. When you leave your child and they scream like I do when someone finishes the frozen yogurt without telling me, because they don’t understand that you and them are not the same person. That separation of self and parent is a key element in child development. But the question remains, do parents ever separate themselves from their kids? Yes yes, we all love our kids and they are part of our souls and living breath blah blah blah. But they are not us. We are not them.
We love to blame parents for kids’ wrongdoings. We love to blame anyone really. A kid is in jail? Oh, bad parents. A kid bullies another kid? Oh, bad parents. But kids are their own people. Of course, it’s our job as parents to guide and direct them, but I don’t believe it’s our job to live their lives for them, or on behalf of them.
My kids look like like a hot mess sometimes because they choose to and I choose not to fight. My son doesn’t want to shower? Fine, he will when girls start noticing. My daughter doesn’t want to brush her hair? Fine, she will when it gets caught on something and it needs to be chopped off. My daughter doesn’t want to wear her glasses? Fine, she won’t see. My son doesn’t do his homework? Fine, he will fail.
It is my job to guide them, not walk life for them. It is my job to say ‘Do you have any homework?’- it is not my job to do it for them. It is my job to ask ‘hey monkey, where are your glasses?’-it is not my job to make sure they are glued to her face. Obviously, this is all at an age-appropriate level. When my 5yo asks for pancakes I don’t say ‘turn on the stove and make them yourself.’ Because who are we kidding? Pancakes come from a box in the freezer so that’s just crazy talk anyhow.
Separating myself from my children has been hard. Mainly because it has forced me to stand on my own, to take accountability of myself as a person, not as someone’s mother. It has taught me everything I am trying to teach my children. I am here for them like I am here for myself; with love, empathy, compassion, and humour but mostly, self-awareness, accountability, and self-respect.
Our lives have changed in the last four years quite dramatically. The kids have been through a lot, as have I. I no longer care to micromanage their wardrobe choices because I am far more concerned with their emotional state than which tights they decided to wear. My son may have on two different coloured socks but I can tell you exactly what mood he is in based on the events of the weekend, based on the time I spent cuddling with him in bed last night and this morning. I haven’t stopped caring, I’ve shifted my emotional efforts to where they matter most to me and where I see it benefiting my kids most. I’m parenting and living from the inside out now.