Are you a Mom who helps with the family finances?
Do you feel guilty for not being 100% attentive to your children?
That’s how I felt for many, many years.
There’s something even better (and easier) than a sincere, heartfelt apology.
I didn’t realize I was doing damage in a way I had never considered, simply by the way I thought about my situation.
All the time that I felt frustrated and angry about having to work, I wanted my children to grow up believing that our situation was NOT the standard. I wanted them to believe that mothers should be 100% attentive to their children. I wanted them to grow up expecting things to be more “ideal” in their future families.
I’d say things like, “I’m so sorry I have to work so much! I really should be spending time with you, and I promise, we’re doing all we can to fix the problem!”
Or, “I wish I didn’t have to work! I hate the way things are, but we’ve just got to keep hoping that things will get better. We have to be patient; can you hang on just a little longer until things can be better? I really believe this won’t last forever…”
My intentions were good, but what I was really communicating was doing more damage than I realized.
1) I was teaching my kids that my husband and I were doing something wrong, when in reality, we were doing precisely what was necessary.
2) I was teaching my kids that it was acceptable to complain about doing what was necessary. I realized my error when I noticed them complaining about their necessary work, and expecting things to be easier for them, too. For example, they complained about having to walk to school because I was too busy to drive them a measly 1/2 mile in beautiful Arizona weather. They complained about having to cook, clean and do dishes because I was too busy to do my “regular motherly duties”.
3) It became easy for my kids to conclude that Mom and Dad just don’t keep their promises when the need for me to work stretched from months into years. I believe our children had a harder time believing the things we said because of it.
4) The “guilty Mom” syndrome caused me to overcompensate in other areas. If they begged for more privileges (even privileges that contradicted family policy or went against plain good sense), I was more likely to give in, just because I felt guilty about working too much. (My friend Matt Reichmann who works for LAPD and sees plenty of domestic dysfunction says there’s nothing more dangerous than a guilty parent.)
One of the best shifts I’ve ever made in my life was the day I decided to stop apologizing for working.
Yes, I still thought it would have been more ideal for our family if I had been able to give more time to my children, but under the circumstances, the next best thing I could do for them was to change the way I felt about it:
I decided to accept my situation and make the most of it. Instead of saying, “I’m so sorry for working so much; I wish I didn’t have to…” I started saying things like, “Hey, this is what needs to be done, and you know, it feels really good to work!” Or, “Hey, let’s both get some work done, and at 4:30, let’s go to the park! What would YOU like to accomplish?”
The energy in our home shifted in an incredible way. We also decided to make our children more involved in our work, and help them see the impact that it had in the lives of others.
We showed them how doing their chores and helping the family run more smoothly (picking up the slack where Mom couldn’t do it all), was actually helping people all over the world have better lives. We helped them see the bigger picture, and they started doing family chores more cheerfully. They even started doing what needed to be done without being asked.
My children are incredibly independent. They became that way because they had to be. But I have no regrets – they are learning how to work, and how to feel good about a job well done.
This family is certainly not perfect, and my kids still complain just like anyone else’s kids, but every one of my children has had at least one wonderful moment when they made that shift, and expressed great satisfaction from being independently productive. It only takes a few of those successes for a child to have a memorable comparison between how they feel when they’re cheerfully productive and how they feel when they are not.
I’d say it’s the Law of Polarity in action: what I thought was so horrible (me working) has turned into a tremendous blessing in our family – but only because I first decided to stop apologizing.
No matter what your work is, it’s helping someone. Talk to your children about what you do, and the difference it makes in the lives of others. Teach them by your example to learn how to enjoy being productive. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give them before they leave the home: a love of work, and an acceptance of what “is”.
(Accepting what “is”, is the first step toward major transformation. Test it!)
Do you see how children learn from our examples, whether we work or we don’t? Teach them to find joy in making a contribution when necessary. Teach them by your example to accept the things they cannot change, and find happiness, no matter what.
If you don’t have to work, I hope you’ll still find work to do – a hobby, a project, community service, whatever – so that your children can learn these lessons. It’s worth it!
See, no matter how well you parent them, they will face challenges in their adult life. How well they turn out will have less to do with whether you worked or you didn’t, but more with how they saw you to respond to your challenges.
For more on this topic, read Portal to Genius.