When Does Care Become Harm?

The mother in front of me works two jobs.  She is the sole caregiver for her two young boys.  Both of her jobs provide a substantial income.  She works very hard.

Both of her boys are struggling with some of their social emotional skills, but they are excelling in their academics. Mom has both boys engaged in their passions.  One plays hockey at a high level and the other is enrolled in soccer, math tutoring and music lessons.  Mom helps both boys with their homework, and electronic time is limited to after all their work is complete.

Mom’s children are her number one priority. A good amount of time and resources goes to her children. Mom’s response to her priorities is, “As long as my children are happy and as long as they are doing well in school, I’m happy.”

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Both boys receive enormous resources from mom – time, money, and care. In exchange, very little is expected of them.  Their household responsibilities are minimal – dirty clothes in the laundry hamper and dirty dishes in the sink.

Meanwhile, mom is exhausted.  She is 50 pounds overweight and has recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure.  Although her doctor has requested some significant lifestyle changes that include a clean diet and daily exercise, she has not been able to implement the changes. She has not yet sorted out her feelings of abandonment and betrayal brought on by the death of her marriage.

This isn’t a post about single parents.  I have seen the same imbalances take place in affluent two parent homes.

Children need love and connection, and they also need practice in contributing to a larger community.  That is one way social emotional skills get rehearsed.  Completing homework is great but it should not be the only requirement.  Children need to practice taking care of others.  If the flow of goods always moves in one direction, both parties become imbalanced.

Family resources – love, time and money – need to move back and forth. If the flow of resources is always set on give, you are likely taking care of your own fears.  The last thing you want is for your children to think that this radical imbalance is normal.  It is not normal.  Every ecosystem is designed to work in balance. When something is out of balance, a healthy ecosystem will work to correct the imbalance.

Teach all the relationships in your life to practice balance.  You are a vital part of your ecosystem.  You do not want your care to harm others.

Suggestions On Where To Start:
1. Publicly celebrate your birthdays.  Give your children some money ($10.00 is fine) and get them to buy you a gift or pamper you in some way.  Expect reciprocity. Expect your children to celebrate you.
2. Every member of the family should have responsibilities according to their capacity.  Give everyone daily and weekly tasks that are more than just taking care of personal needs.
3. Your body is a priority.  Do everything you can to take care of your body.  Children need to see adults in the daily practice of self care.
4. Acknowledge the contributions made towards helping the community.
5. Have family meetings that explore the question, “What can we do to take care of our home and each other?”  Make a plan, assign tasks and then get back to evaluate how it all went.
6. Get help and support.  Take time to explore the fear that resides in your unwillingness to allow your children the responsibility and practice of contributing to the home.