Relationship With Children: Kale or Kryptonite?

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Guest Blogger: Liza Baker

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my relationship with my kids these days, mostly because there are some huge changes in our home life coming at us at the end of August; but also because “relationships with children” is one area of life in which many clients score themselves fairly low when we do the Kale + Kryptonite exercise I do during the first session.

The challenges in this area of our lives seem to be increasing as more and more adult children move back in with their parents, a situation which is more challenging for women who spent too many years putting themselves on the back burner while raising kids.

“Wait, what? Didn’t I launch you out of the nest already?”

If we haven’t found our way back to firmly prioritizing ourselves in our 40s and 50s, there’s a real danger that living our best (Kuel) life will be seriously sidetracked or, worse yet, put solidly in reverse when those adult children return for any reason and for any extended length of time.

It’s a scenario I’ve worked through with a few clients—and one I’ve yet to experience myself. So I’m not going to go borrowing trouble—“Sufficient unto the day…” and all that—and am trying to stay grounded and focused on the current life stage of my kids: one 16-year-old and one almost-20-year-old.

The girl

Recently, a much younger colleague gave birth to her second child, and it’s been giving me odd flashbacks to the tiny human I had almost 20 years ago…and all the stages along the way.

Of special note, a tiny little girl of three, wearing a wild get-up that had to include a very particular pleated red wool skirt without regard to what else she had on, standing at the top of the stairs and screaming, “I hate you Mommy! You’re ruining my day!”

I went to work a bit shell-shocked that day, only to be “comforted” by a well-meaning colleague who said, “Ha. Just you wait—at 13, it’s ‘I hate you Mom! You’re ruining my life!'” Gee, thanks?

I think first children teach us about our own crazy: we urge them to roll over, then crawl, then walk, then run, only to try to yank them back when we feel them pulling away.

My husband and I joke (and I often warn new parents) that life is really just a series of “Remember when she couldn’ts?” Remember when she couldn’t roll over, and we could leave her on the bed? Remember when she couldn’t crawl, and we didn’t have to childproof the house? Remember when she couldn’t talk, and we could get a word in edgewise? Remember when she couldn’t…?

But then there are the delightful surprises along the way: I remember thinking, “I’ll never be ready for her to drive,” only to realize “I’m so done driving her all over the place…and now she can help with driving her brother!”

The best surprise? The “you’re ruining my life” horror movie never developed, and that little human has grown into one of the coolest, smartest chicks I know—and my best friend.

“How did you manage that?” is something I often get asked when people observe us together. Um. I didn’t. I really feel like she came that way. I did read parenting books voraciously, and I do recommend that after you read, study, discuss, debate, get what you can out of all the resources you have, then get out of your head and be with your child.

The boy

Big changes in my world this summer, as my youngest got his driver’s license recently! He’s a social one, and in some ways, it’s wonderful that he now has the freedom to get places without having to rope me into driving him, and since his father travels a lot, there’s usually a car available.

The upside? He’s out fishing or swimming or socializing and not glued to a screen. And (for now) the use of a car is a wonderful card to hold when chores need to be done—his room has never been this clean for this long!

The downside: it’s like exchanging precious brain space for precious time. We’re still at the stage where I get caught up in the worrying vortex: “He should be there by now, why hasn’t he texted? But I shouldn’t text in case he’s driving. But he should be there. Has he just forgotten to text? Should I be worried?”

If our first babies teach us about our own crazy, our last babies must suffer our interminable babying—it’s our last chance, after all, to baby someone.

And if we don’t have someone to focus on (teenaged boy translation: nag), we might just have to look at ourselves, and sometimes that’s not such an appealing prospect, which is definitely a topic for another day and another blog post!

On letting go

As I watch my husband struggle mightily with the urge to baby our son, I’ve been thinking about why it’s such a different experience for the two of us. He fails miserably in his efforts, and I only succeed on the surface, biting back every urge to s/mother the boy.

Yes, as a couple, our life experiences are as different as our genders: he’s from a different culture, he was a child in Cultural Revolution-era China, went to a different school, took a different career trajectory—and, yet I wonder whether it isn’t really a matter of the mother-child relationship as opposed to the father-child one?

Let’s face it—these beloved little parasites sponged off our bodies and changed them irreversibly and forever. After those 9 months, we had to let them go, turn them out into the world.

If we nursed them, weaning is another letting go.

And it’s still predominantly mothers who feel the ripping apart at the first day of daycare, preschool, school….

Most fathers still don’t have this repeated assault on our relationship with our children. (Yes, I’m generalizing.) Do we get better at letting go? Perhaps.

This July, I had one of those moments that define ambivalence: my daughter is away at her college on a summer fellowship, and we were trying to figure out whether we’d go down to see her over the 4th or whether she’d come home. The first option turned out to be unviable. The second was possible …

“But you know what? I’m having so much fun here, I think I’ll stay on campus.” It was like getting a slap in the face and a pat on the back at the same time. Sadness that she would rather be there and a sense of accomplishment, “high five self” as she’d say, for raising her to find her own joy and speak up for it.

I do know that letting go does make space—for prioritizing ourselves if that has slipped and for exploring our own potential. And for making our 40s and beyond the best decades of our lives!

About the Author:

Liza is a health coach and sanity whisperer to the under-appreciated, under-listened-to, under-taken-care-of, under-valued, overwhelmed, overworked, and OVER. IT ALL! Her coaching style and offerings can be found in Coaches Also, Liza regularly shares recipes with our Kuel Life community. You can find other Liza-inspired recipes on her Simply:Health Coaching site.

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