Only as happy as your least happy child? It’s killing you both...
How many times have you heard (or said), "You're only as happy as your least happy child"? Wink, wink, nod, nod. It's code for 'My kid is miserable, and so am I.'
I spent a good part of my parenting years going down into the pit with my children. Our family has had more than its share of challenges. And even though my children are adults now, there is no shortage of things that I worry about, some serious, others not so much.
The truth is that I'm a champion worrier and it’s exhausting, mentally and physically. Something has to give, because I don't want to live like this anymore. There are too many of us out there. This way of living is slowly killing us and our kids.
We worry and then hope things will get better. We build up our hope and are let down. Build up, let down, build up, let down. It really is insanity.
There are things going on in my family that are distressing. The stories aren’t mine to tell; however, I can share how I react and respond.
Initially I went into the pit of despair. When things are uncertain, out of my control, I go to ruminating and worrying and problem-solving… all in my head, of course. And what rolls around in my head I quickly feel in my body. It’s the pattern of a lifetime.
Up until recently, I could be aware of the thoughts and sensations and feel trapped. I didn’t have an inkling that I could feel otherwise. Now I’m more aware and more responsive. I’m starting to catch myself ruminating (all right, obsessing), and shifting to a more productive thought, meditation, breathing exercise or other activity.
I can only do what I can do in this present moment. Regret is about the past, and worry is about the future. None of us have any control over either one. Louise Hay, a healer and one of the founders of the self-help movement, said, “Your power is in the present moment.” These are words to live by, and I’m working at it. This includes working with a coach who has been helpful and supportive beyond words.
When we live in the past or the future, we give up any power we have to positively influence our own life and the people we love. Notice the word ‘influence’, not ‘control’. This idea of control is mostly an illusion that gets us into trouble.
How is your being miserable about your ‘least happy child’ hurting both of you?
If you’re a constant worrier, it’s taking a toll. You may feel powerless and hopeless, in a state of agitation. It can affect your sleep, your eating, your productivity, and your health in general. And like many parents, the more you worry, the more you try to control and micromanage. It’s a normal reaction to want to fix the source of your distress.
All this has a spillover effect on the child you love so much, about whom you worry. Parents who attempt to fix everything and smooth the way are doing their children a disservice. These kids take longer to learn self-regulation and responsibility for themselves and their actions. They are deprived of opportunities to develop coping and problem-solving skills. If you do it for them, they don’t learn how to do it for themselves. Our parenting job is to step aside and allow them the dignity of their own journey, of figuring life out for themselves.
The best of intentions work against them. What you really want - a child who is self-reliant, confident and ready to enter the adult world - drifts farther from reach. You end up with the opposite: a child who relies on you to take care of his or her life.
Of course there are times when you have to make a unilateral decision on behalf of your children. Their health and safety are paramount. Then there are instances when you can step back and let them begin to handle problems and mistakes themselves. You can be available to help, if they ask for it. They may not get the desired results, but there will be important learning along the way.
‘Letting go’ may be simple to understand, but it is not easy to do. You’ve spent their whole life nurturing, protecting and teaching. Changing that mindset is not easy, yet it is critical that you do it. Being miserable doesn’t help you or your child. There are many resources available to you: parenting workshops, therapy, coaching, clergy, books, mindfulness/meditation, recordings, support groups.
Choose one. Take one small step out of misery and into calm, so your children can step forward into a more confident and satisfying life.
Fern Weis is a Parent Coach and Family Recovery Coach, supporting parents going through challenging times with their teen and young adult children. She helps parents build a relationship based on trust, have healthy boundaries, and improve communication so they can confidently prepare their children to reach their potential and thrive through life’s challenges. www.fernweis.com
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