Q: I share custody with my ex-husband over my children – I’ve have always been very attached to them and put them above myself during their life, whether it was for school or their soccer practices, etc. They have never been the type to spend lots of time with my ex-husband, but I am having a very hard time now as they are growing up and in their teens. They now prefer his company over mine. They are almost avoiding me at times…and I feel abandoned by them. We get into fights and I’m going out of my way to make them feel welcome, but I don’t feel appreciated anymore. I overheard them once saying that they couldn’t wait to go back to their dad’s. That was devastating to me. What can I do to deal with my anxiety over this situation?
A: Well, this is a sordid topic in our world – the question regarding the role of parents and of their children.
To start with, there is one statement that I want to point out to you in your question which should cause some alarm – when you say that you have “put them above myself during their life”. Anytime, and I mean anytime, you put yourself second to something external, whether it is a child, a job, or a relationship, you now enter the world of conditional happiness. For example, if I have a good relationship with my child, a standard of success, then I am happy. In your case, if I have a bad relationship with my child, then I am unhappy. In spiritual terms, you are playing the game of the ego, which thinks in terms of “if/then”, i.e. if I land this promotion, then I will be happy, etc.
A very common mistake I see parents making is that they allow themselves to be defined by their children. It is very sad to see honestly, because being defined by something external, over which you truly have a limited amount of power, power over another human being that is, is not beneficial nor is it healthy.
To start with, you must accept that you have no real control over which parent your children prefers. The farmer can water a seed, nourish it, but ultimately, the seed has to grow and germinate on its own. Similarly, you can provide love and nurturing for your children, but you cannot predict what their actions will be in the future. Regardless of whether they love you or they hate you, you have no control or ownership over them. The real question is: Why do you need your child’s love and approval to be happy?
One of the teachings on this website is that the human ego is constantly looking for ways to convince you to define yourself by external things. For example, the ego wants you to think, “I am a doctor” rather than “My profession is that of a doctor.” Similarly, the ego wants you to think that “I am a mother” rather than “I am playing the role of a mother for a short amount of time”. For those mothers who find this a particularly hard pill to swallow, ask yourself if your children are going to come with you once you die? If you are a mother, I mean internally and inherently completely identified with that role, that means even after your death, you will still be a mother. Just like a rock is a rock – past, present, and future.
The truth is that you are, in reality, playing the role of a mother for a relatively short amount of time and that there is a finite end to this role. You are not going to keep the costume of Hamlet on once you’re done playing your part and the play if finished – you’ll change back to your regular self.
Now about the point where you speak of your children preferring your ex-husband’s company to your own. What is so wrong in this? If they prefer his company, then they enjoy his company. Maybe you are not cool anymore or perhaps because of your desire to put your children above you, you are smothering them at a time when they crave for freedom and autonomy. Whatever the case may be, it is perfectly fine if they prefer one parent over another. As a society, we have this unrealistic belief of what an ideal family looks like, where the child spends exactly 50% of its time with each parent and gives exactly 50% of its love to each parent. This simply doesn’t correlate in reality, and it’s time to accept this.
If, however, you are depending on their approval for your happiness, then this is going to be a massive problem for you. Your fear of losing your children or even the relationship you have with your children is what is causing you a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety. But how can you lose your children if you never really owned them to being with? Let’s look at the question of ownership, as fear of loss implies ownership. If you truly owned them, then will they drop everything once you die and they will come with you to the afterlife. Will that truly happen? Or will it be the more mundane version, where you will die, your children will still be here on Earth, and… life goes on, because you do not own your children and as a result you cannot lose them because you never owned them in the first place. Your fear has no foundation whatsoever. Your children have not been, are not currently, and never will be…yours. This perhaps bitter truth should be a cause for comfort and may give you the opportunity to get rid of some old and false beliefs you have holding on to that are causing unwanted anxiety in your life. You can then live your life with a fresh, new, and healthy perspective on this issue.
So, in short, stop depending on your children or anything outside of you for your happiness. You are and have always been more than the roles you take on. Be yourself and be happy with who you are, not needing anyone outside of you to validate that.