Several weeks ago, our younger son turned 18 and will graduate high school in a few months. As my husband and I prepare to send our youngest off to college in the fall I’ve had time to reflect on another lesson I’ve learned in my 40’s: it’s important to have a life outside of my children. Because I’ve known since they were born that at some point they will move out of my house.
Here are some ways that I’ve established a life outside of my children:
I made my relationship with my husband a priority:
I remember reading a book on parenting before our oldest was born and the authors said the child should be an addition to the family and not take over the family. I’m so glad I read this before he was born because it resonated so deeply with me and my husband. We both loved spending time together before the children were born and this gave us the permission to continue to do so. There were many years in early parenthood that we didn’t have the money to pay a babysitter so we could have a date night, but we had lots of friends who would pitch in and help so we could have a few hours away. We didn’t have regular date nights, and I always felt like I could use a lot more, it was so nice to have a few times a year that we could just be a couple again without the distraction of being parents. As they grew older, we found ways to line up our work schedules, so we had one day off a week together. And to this day, we still have Fridays off. I cherish these days off with my husband and because of the hybrid school schedule, we’ve been able to spend it with our youngest son as well (and our older one if he’s a around). This is one way that my husband and I have found to make our relationship a priority outside of the children. We still love spending time together and do feel like our children have been a great addition to what we already established.
I have a good group of friends:
In my counseling practice, I think this is one area where a lot of people have struggled. And frankly, I’ve had some challenges with making friends myself. I was listening to a podcast several years ago and I remember them saying that we are the “loneliest people at any other time in history because we’ve lost our tribes.” I don’t remember the name of the podcast because it was definitely one of those that I meant to go back and listen to and then forgot all about it. And I’ve spent some time trying to find who said it, again, I came up empty. This rings true for so many of my clients, they feel isolated and alone and have no idea where to start to make friends. While this is always an ongoing challenge for many people, one of the ways I’ve gotten to know some of my closest friends is through exercise. My roommate in college and I used to run together every morning before class. I work out almost daily with one of my best friends and it all started because she wanted to meet my Dad and I at the gym to workout with us. I’ve also met some good friends through places that I’ve worked. I’ve been intentional about making and keeping friends for several reasons. One of the biggest is because I need it, and two, I knew that there would come a time when I didn’t have the distraction of the kids and I needed to have an outlet for myself. While friendships are more complex than this, the point here is to be intentional about making and keeping good, healthy friends.
My identity is not in my children
While I do think my job as a mother is important, that’s not the only thing I offer my family or my community. I’ve made it a point to make the children a priority but also find my identity in my career, community, extended family, friendships and volunteering. I think it’s so important to have hobbies and interests outside of the children and things that help me to grow into a better person every day.
I take time for myself:
Taking time for myself took a lot of time for me to learn. I call myself a “slow learner” not in a negative, condescending way but more in the, “I need a lot of practice before I get it” way. Figuring out how to take time for myself definitely fell in this “slow learning” category. When the kids were young, I made a lot of excuses about why I couldn’t take time for myself. I thought it was selfish, we didn’t have the money and I didn’t have the patience for a pedicure, manicure or a massage. At one point I realized that taking time for myself could be free, I could stay in the house, or I could just be outside, by myself. Now, I love having the house to myself, even though it very rarely happens. Most recently, my favorite way to take down time is to sit quietly for at least 10 minutes. This helps me rest and recharge and feels fairly quickly. There are obviously a lot of ways to do this, and I love finding new ways to entertain myself.
I hope this list gives you a starting point for identifying the things that you can do to have a life outside of your children, and a check in so that you can get started on finding ways to take care of yourself. In the end, I want my boys to know that they don’t have to worry about me when they leave my house and go and do great things in their community and the world.
If you need help figuring out what’s important to you in this stage in your life and you think counseling or life coaching could help, please feel free to contact me at 317.496.0456 or email email@example.com. I’d be happy to hear what is happening and help you find the right fit for counseling or life coaching. If you are looking for help with burn out, depression, anxiety, trauma or behavioral concerns, you can read more about how I can help at my website peacefamilycounseling.