Did you know a common, universal truth? It applies to all of us, and double for parents. Here it is. Indispensability is a curse. That’s it. When you try to be all things to all people, especially to your children, it is not only impossible. You are also depriving them of a learning opportunity, to see how well they can stretch their capabilities.
“Moooom,” Derek hollered from the laundry room. “Come here,” he demanded. “I can’t doooo this,” He threw his school shirt back into the churning waters of the filling washing machine.
Allison heard the commotion way across the house, as she was straightening up Emma’s bedroom. Her 5 year old daughter played with her doll house close by. Derek’s mom sighed and whispered to herself, “What now?” She then scurried to the laundry room, where Derek was near total meltdown. Wanting to avoid an inevitable catastrophe, Allison gently tugged her son aside, “Here. Let me do that.”
Wow! I’m worn out just writing this story. Imagine what Allison is feeling. No one, not you, not me, certainly not Allison, can be all things to all people. You can’t pour yourself out without refilling the well. Trying to be all things to all people is a quick trip to impulsive anger, high blood pressure, and an early grave.
First things first. By doing for her children, Allison both overloads herself and deprives them from learning responsibility for themselves. Rather than doing his laundry for her teenager, Allison could have started with active listening, to help him calm down. When he became able to listen, she would then ask his permission to show him what to do. The lesson follows, as Allison watches to be sure Derek gets it right. She then has opportunity to praise her son for a job well done.
Second, even at 5 years old, how is Emma getting off the hook for her chores? With youngsters, explain your direction and help them get started. As she gets it, back away and let her do more of the straightening, followed by your praise both for her accepting responsibility for how her room looks and for getting the job well done. For both children, to avoid the “I forgot how’s” write down the steps in completing the chore and post it where the chore occurs, keeping a copy for yourself.
Finally, what about mom? In Matthew 22:39, Jesus calls us to “love one another as you love yourself.” I describe this as your source of self-care. If you give to others without making time for yourself, then your giving leads to conditional love. That is, “I did this for you. Now you owe me.” If you give to others while making time for yourself, then you show agape, or unconditional love. “I’m doing this because I want to. Have a nice day.”
Examples of renewing self-care include exercising, personal devotional time, journaling, taking coffee breaks between functional activities, and such. These self-care measures require you to set boundaries with your spouse and children, use family meetings to equitably divide up household chores, and know that you are your best version of parent when you are the best version of yourself. Since indispensability is a curse, the ability to lovingly say “no” to the mutual benefit of all family members is the cure. Changing habits is always a struggle at first. Stick to your guns and share the load. What a fountain of great teachable moments for all of you.