Being needed gives us a tremendous feeling of value. As parents, we love to swoop in and save the day (even when we’re not asked). That kind of external validation can become addictive and so captivating, such that when it’s not there anymore we are devastated and lost. The mere thought of our children not needing us sends shock waves through our brain much like what happens when you hear the words, “you’re fired.”
A friend lamented to me one day, “I know this is a fantastic opportunity for me, but I can’t leave the country right now, it’s his first week away at college!!”
I delicately mentioned the focal point was, away at college.
“But what if he needs me what if something happens with his class schedule or he gets sick or worse he gets homesick or forgot something at home that he needs or the guys on his hall are mean or he can’t find his way to class or…!!!”
Her hands flew up in the air in exasperation, as the run-on sentence built steam.
“Whoa, let’s dissect this for a minute.” I offered. I held up my fingers counting and answering her objections.
“He’ll find his advisor for class schedule, there’s an infirmary on campus, you can’t bring him home if he’s homesick, if he forgot something then it’s his responsibility to make it right, deal with the consequences, or borrow it from someone else, you absolutely can not go beat up the kids on his hall, and other students will help him find his way.”
She breathed a huge sigh and her shoulders actually relaxed as she began to come to grips with the fact that she was not the center of his universe anymore.
The only way to combat the empty feeling ‘not being needed’ leaves in the pit of your stomach, is to begin to find your own self-fulfillment. No other human being can really fill our emotional needs (by nature of being human) and especially when they are off doing their own thing. It’s time for us to grow our validation internally.
Start by making a note of all the other things you are beyond being a parent. It may mean going back to the recesses of your mind even before they were born. Say for example; I am an organizer, event planner, entertainer, dancer, speaker, volunteer. Then begin to dream into those things. Take on a cause you’re passionate about, write that book, run your first 5k, go back to school, get a new job, plan a weekend away with friends, take up swimming or a hobby, whatever floats your boat begin to do it now.
And we must stop with the excuses. We can come up with a list a mile long of why we can’t do this or that so that we can secretly remain available and on call 24/7, because then we don’t have to go through the growing pains of reinventing ourselves.
We also use our children as a distraction. As long as they need us, we don’t have time to pause and look at our own life. We don’t have time to see that our own life is fairly empty and potentially devoid of real meaning beyond parenting. Every time we do slow down and examine, we get that sick churning feeling at the thought of being our age and starting something new, or that we really need to leave our spouse, quit our job, or go in a completely different direction. All of which equals lots of change.
But here is the coolest secret that most empty nesters don’t think about: It’s so much fun on the other side! Definitely worth the journey, and you will begin to experience a new high; that of personal accomplishment. It’s equally as addictive and extremely fulfilling.
Benefits of ‘NOT Being Needed’
– More mental and physical energy reserved for you to discover who you are now.
– Open space in your life to try new things purely for the enjoyment.
– More available opportunities for spontaneity.
– You become more interesting to your friends and your grown kids because you have your own things to talk about.
– Your children now have reasons to be proud of you, support and encourage you. (and brag to their friends)
– And let’s not forget, you finally have a chance to check things off your bucket list.
How to successfully ‘Not Be Needed’
– Divert your attention by diving into something new. It’s hard to start from scratch since we’re older, but it is so rewarding when we get past the awkwardness.
– Decide to be ok with being uncomfortable as you start anew and recreate yourself. Be willing to mess up, fail, look silly, and try again. Laugh your way through it.
– Be nice to yourself and stop with the negative self talk like, ‘why didn’t I start this long before now, or surely I can’t do that, or that will be too scary, etc.’ Instead say, ‘Yay, I finally I have a chance to try this thing I’ve always wanted to do.’
– Have a Truth Talk session with yourself where you get brutally honest and really go deep into the things you have denied yourself.
– Draw on the courage and strength it took to raise a child, it’s still inside you.
– Find your own fulfillment by pouring yourself into your own self discovery. Get clear about what you want to experience in your life now that there is so much more added to who you are.
– Begin to create your own new identity with the fullness of all that you have lived through over the last eighteen plus years. You’ve never tried these new things with the experience you now have under your belt. i.e.: you are a badass now.
So let’s not be clingy and needy. It’s unbecoming and doesn’t honor the magnitude of what we’ve just accomplished. We can build our own life, go after our own dreams, and validate ourselves by proactively creating a life we love.
And it’s not that you’ll never be needed again, it’s that you are needed in a different way. Remember teaching them to ride a bike and in that bittersweet moment when they actually ride off, you are simultaneously proud and sad because they are no longer a baby. She didn’t need you to teach her about bikes anymore, but soon needed you to help her find the right dress for the middle school dance.
Well now, what they need from you, when they need it, and how you deliver it will change just as it did then. In the next post we’ll discuss how to have the most influence in their lives and be the most effective partner for them today. How to become a Frienarent (friend parent) rather than a Parenemy (parent enemy) they avoid spending time with.