Wow! I have been really struggling in the parent department lately. There have been so many unforeseen and unpredictable changes in the last two and a half years that have really affected my relationship with my kids and none of them are in my control.
The ongoing pandemic has ripped us all away from our usual social environments and has taken away many traditional milestones and events. As adults, we have missed out in person interactions with work colleagues, family gatherings, and the ability to be at loved one’s side during illness or hospitalization. This has been difficult but our capacity to recover is greater because, for the most part, we have plentiful stored memories to fall back on. For our kids, they are missing once in a lifetime experiences like prom, last sports games, and in person graduations. It has been argued that they should “get over it” because these events are nothing compared to high schoolers of the past who had to leave school to go off to war, etc. Last time I checked, no one is comparing prom to Nam and they shouldn’t start now. Missing these key social interactions has caused some long-lasting psychological damage for these kids. They will never get these moments back. The level of depression that I have seen is tremendous and it affects everything.
On top of the pandemic, I got cancer and my husband had a heart attack, one right after the other. My kids almost lost both parents in one year. As much as they put up an outside facade, I know this affected them tremendously. How could it not? They don’t treat us the same way. I get the feeling that, even though we survived, a part of them didn’t. A part of them walks around every day waiting for the next shoe to drop and they can’t seem to stop. There is just a little air of underlying depression and doom almost every day. It kind of breaks my heart.
There has also been a sense of life is too short no matter what is going on for them. This sounds like it should be a healthy realization, encouraging them to live life to the fullest, but instead I worry that it has become an excuse for unhealthy choices and directions. I am just at a loss as to how to handle it.
As a parent, I feel like I should be jumping on or punishing these poor choices or at least trying to redirect them. I worry that I am not doing my job if I don’t. I am concerned that it will seem like I don’t care if I don’t react. But really, it’s not true. I talked to my therapist about this. She explained to me that punishments don’t really work in this situation. Most punishments that I could think of would really only punish me and the other people relying on my kids in the long run. Taking away phones, jobs, privileges, and cars just mean that I will have to do a lot more driving, spending, and won’t be able to communicate remotely with my kids. She assured me that I am not being a bad parent by not reacting to every single thing and leaving some things up to my kids to figure out. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care. It doesn’t erase my validity as a parent. Ultimately, the consequences of their actions need to be theirs. Making myself overly upset about it does not help anything and is counterproductive. She advised me to take a step back and I think she is right. Overly obsessing and punishing and trying to address every little thing only increases my stress, increases the negative attention impact on my relationship with my kids and gets me no where. It can only end badly. I need to put a stop to the distracting inner struggle and keep growing and moving forward. I need to refocus. I need to no longer punish myself for not being there when I was sick or my husband was sick. I need to be patient. I can help them more by living my best life by example than fighting every day. I am not saying that I plan to let them run me over. There are limits. I am just saying that I need to pace myself and realize what is really important. Everything I have been through, my kids have been going through too and it’s not over yet. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.