Kids need to be loved and know they are loved. But that doesn’t mean everything we do as parents should revolve around them.
Unconditional love will look different for each of us, but it’s the essential basis for trust and security that helps kids thrive. It’s the ‘roots’ we talked about here:
We should be purposeful with the attention we give our kids. Kids need our time if we’re going to love and shape them for the future. And that time needs to be spent present with them, not half on our phones or humouring them. This requires self-sacrifice and often means you don’t do what you want to do for the sake of them. If kids don’t ‘take over’ to some degree, you’ve missed the point of your role in their life.
But this doesn’t mean our lives should be dominated by our kids. Spending time trying to make your kids’ lives as easy as possible, giving up on other parts of your identity to focus on them, disengaging from non-kids related communities to spend more time with can all be self-sacrificial ways to love and support them. But combined together it can easily cross-over from a life spent loving your kids and giving them what they need, to living in orbit of them.
The path is narrow and it’s not always clear till later in life whether you’ve stepped from loving to orbiting. It’s especially hard because the cross-over point changes as they grow up. Kids start off in need of time and support to do everything, but that will reduce over time as you give them space to grow in independence. It means we should constantly be reassessing and rebalancing our input in their life. That’s hard!
But it’s worth doing to ensure we’re not putting our kids at the centre of our world. Getting it rights has three major benefits.
First, it means you will put less pressure on your kids as they grow up.
Putting kids at the centre of your world starts out as a huge burden on you, but ultimately leads to pressure on your child to make you happy. It’s the tale of countless movies. Start with the overbearing parent, sacrificing everything to help their child become successful and they’re repaid with a resentful child who struggles with never being enough for their parent - or breaks off the relationship altogether.
Take the pressure off your kids by teaching them that their happiness is not key to your own happiness. Build your own life and show your kids that they are one part of what makes you, you.
Second, it helps make sure your kid is outward looking.
When you orient your world around your child’s needs and comforts it teaches them to put themselves first. If you constantly put your kid at the centre of everything, it should be no surprise when they assume they are at the centre of everything and everyone else’s lives.
But making sure your child is not at the centre of everything will point them towards a world outside themselves. It leads to greater kindness and empathy towards others. It also leads to greater curiosity. When they’re not handed everything, kids look for answers outside of what, and who, they already know.
Third, it will teach your kids that they have agency in the world and better equip them to face life’s challenges.
When you’re busy designing your life around your kids, you can’t help but see your role as chief obstacle remover. In orbiting them, you apply your knowledge, life skills, time and energy to solving their problems. You bring a huge amount of expertise and foresight to the table and unlike a child, you probably do a much better job of helping them avoid mistakes and pitfalls.
But this makes kids passive, removes the opportunity for them to learn from mistakes and leaves them vulnerable to feeling incapable in difficult situations. When kids get used to someone else removing hard things from their lives, they don’t practice what it takes to be disciplined, face hard choices, or fail. And without routine practice of these things as a child, they will struggle to handle them and respond well as an adult.
A good parent will always struggle with where the line is between loving their kids unconditionally and allowing their kids to thrive independently. It’s a hard line to find and it’s constantly changing. Embrace the struggle and know that your kids don’t have to be the centre of your world for them to be loved.