I often provide family therapy to adult children and their parents. This type of work can be incredibly powerful and healing for everyone involved. Years of pent up shame, anger and regret often get transformed into curiosity, empathy and significantly more connection across the generational divide. One thing I’m yet to hear adult children tell their aging parents is, “I asked you for that Super Nintendo for Christmas and you got me socks instead, I haven’t been the same since!”
What I typically hear is the description of a child who didn’t feel seen, heard or understood in some way and a parent who did the best they could but didn’t recognize or know how to deal with their own anxiety, grief, depression or other issues.
I know that you’re working very hard on behalf of your child. You want nothing more than for them to be happy and to have more than you ever had at their age. You wouldn’t be reading this otherwise. But sometimes as parents we get in a rut and end up spinning our wheels. We get focused on the immediate needs our our kids and can miss the forest from the trees.
What are you and your child likely to remember and appreciate in 10 to 20 years?
The most lasting gift you have to give as we enter a new year isn’t going to be those gift cards, skis or a new computer. The best thing you have to offer is a growing and happier you. (Note: please don’t return the gifts and tell your child that a therapist said that they only really need happier parents for the holidays).
What most of us remember are the quality of experiences we have together, or lack thereof. This may or may not require spending more time, but consider how your child would benefit from a more present and less stressed and worried you. Kids absorb the tension, stress and anxiety going on within and between their parents much more than we, or even they, often realize. The good news is that they also internalize the joy, enthusiasm and peace of mind as well.
In order to be more present and emotionally available for your family you will likely have to spend more time at yoga class, in nature, meditating (try Headspace), volunteering, working on your marriage, with other supportive adults, at the gym, reflecting and growing as a parent, etc.
Your child isn’t going to ask that you take better care of yourself for at least another 10-30 years if at all. Just know that the time and effort you expend on your own personal growth will have a profound and positive impact on those you love the most. So push through the guilt, throw away the “don’t have time” excuse and be the model of self-care that you and your family deserve.