There were many things in my life I didn’t understand right way. There were things I had to study for, take notes on, research and then even start over again before being able to really comprehend it. But being a mother, was not one of those things. Not to say I didn’t do my research, but once my babies were in my arms, I barely remembered the things I had read about. What I knew was a deep love that did not need comprehending. It did not need definitions or explanations.
I will never forget the way my first-born son looked deep into my eyes, as if he could see into my soul. I will never forget feeling like he oddly understood it. Like he was saying, “okay, so you are the one that will always keep me safe.” That look like he too understood…that our eyes meeting, and our souls connecting was all this journey was going to need. Maybe he knew more than I️ did.
In a moment I had gone from pregnant, to mom and knew that my job from here forward was simply to love and protect this one sweet angel, which then turned into two sweet angels. I remember constantly thinking, “I will always keep you safe.”
False. We cannot always keep our children safe, nor is that always our job. So what is our job?
It is only recently that I have been able to transform that word into responsibility and only recently that I have been able to ask myself, ‘what is my responsibility?
I never thought of myself as an average mom. I didn’t just become a mom, I had an amazing love for my babies that could not be described. I had a yearning to care for, love, and give to them in a way I had never experienced. It wasn’t that I️ thought they couldn’t do for themselves, but was more about the overwhelming joy I got from giving. Whether it was folding their clothes just so, baking the goodies that warmed their hearts (or at least made them smile broadly) or making their lunches just so…was about me. It was how I showed my love for them. It was what I created as the thing that reminded them every day how much they were loved.
So what could possibly be wrong with that? Nothing actually.
When your child can’t tie his shoes, you tie them. When your child is too young to use the stove, you cook his meals. When your child isn’t tall enough to reach the washer, you wash his clothes. But at some point our definition of being mom gets confusing, and our purpose gets convoluted. The way we give becomes defined by the actual things we give or do…for them.
Giving, is not necessarily loving.
When your 7-year-old comes home and says he needs crayons for school, you get them. That is being a responsible parent. That is not love, though, that is responsibility. When your 20-year-old comes home and says he needs red pens for class and you run out to the store while he sits in front of the tv, that is not love. That is giving, but a different kind of giving. That kind of giving actually robs your child of ‘responsibility’. It crossed the line of helping into enabling.
Helping is doing for others when they cannot do it for themselves. Enabling is doing for others when they are capable of doing for themselves. Enabling – that which hijacks another’s opportunity for success. Ugh!
The first time I heard that I felt sick to my stomach. My brain began to scroll the hundreds of things a day that I had done for family members, that I felt were done simply to show my undying love for them. I was certain that giving was loving. I mean, if I wasn’t giving, then how would they know I loved them?
That is the million dollar question. For myself, what I have learned is that my constant giving was not as selfless as I once had thought. It seemed that if I was giving to others before giving to myself, then I was being selfless. That is what motherhood is all about, isn’t it? Apparently not.
Apparently if we are doing this motherhood thing the way it should be done, in a way that produces 18 year olds that are self-sufficient, independent and successful, then we should be working our way out of a job. What?! Trust me, that was never a part of my vocabulary. I wanted to be ‘mommy’ forever. I loved the job, the title, the satisfaction and pure joy it gave me. There was nothing more rewarding than this…Until, that is, I was forced to look at the aftermath of what I had created.
I was forced to look at how my constant doing was robbing the very beings in my family of their own independence. Stealing their opportunity for success. Convincing them without words that my way was not only better, but that perhaps they weren’t even capable at all without my help.
Neither of those things were true. I never believed my way was the best or only way and always knew they were capable of success without my help.
So why was I️ doing things they were capable of handling on their own? Why was I️ doing those things before they even asked for help? Why was my go-to always, “Oh, don’t worry…I’ll get it.”
Simple. It was how I showed my undying love. Right? Well…no. It wasn’t about that at all. Instead, although I didn’t know it at the time, it was really about me and my desire to feel needed. I mean, if I didn’t do for them, then why would they need me? Seems simple and harmless but actually has some negative consequences. Ones that keep our emerging adults from learning what to do with feelings of discomfort. Ones that keep our emerging adults from learning what to do in the face of challenges. Ones that keep our emerging adults dependent upon us…just the opposite of our hopes and dreams for them.
Motherhood is hard for sure, but finding a balance between helping and enabling is where the rubber meets the road. You can do this. Just keep asking the question: Am I helping because they are unable, or am I stealing their opportunity for success?
If you keep practicing, you will soon be able to see which kinds of giving gestures are simply acts of love…that which build strong family love and success.