by: Margaret Paul, Ph.D.
Is it possible to be using our children addictively?
Anything that we use to get love, avoid pain, and fill up inner emptiness can become an addiction – even our children! If your children are your whole life – if you don’t have a strong spiritual connection with a personal source of love and guidance, as well as other relationships and interests that you are passionate about, you might be using your children to fill an empty place within you.
If you don’t have a partner or your relationship with your partner is not fulfilling to you, and you don’t have deeply connected and meaningful friendships, then you might be using your kids as your major emotional connection. If you don’t have hobbies or work that are compelling and fulfilling to you, you might be using your children to give meaning to your life. If you don’t have a daily spiritual practice that brings love and comfort to your soul, you might be using your children to fill this need.
If this is what you are doing, it is not good for your children. It is a huge burden on children to be responsible for their parent’s loneliness and sense of purpose. Children who feel this responsibility often become caretakers, giving themselves up to take care of a parent. On the other hand, a child burdened with this responsibility may rebel and distance from the parent, spending less and less time at home to avoid the burden of the parent’s emptiness.
I grew up as an only child with a mother who had nothing fulfilling in her life – other than me. Her whole focus was on me, and because I couldn’t possibly fill her up in the way she needed to be filled, she was often angry at me. I became a good little girl, a good caretaker of my mother, but the result was that I was a nervous and unhappy child, and wanted to be away from my house as much as possible.
Our children need to be a part of our life, not our whole life. We need to role-model for them what it looks like to take personal responsibility for filling ourselves up. We need to show them what it looks like to take responsibility for making ourselves happy, rather than rely on them for our happiness. Your children want to know that they are important to you, but not so important that your well-being is dependent upon them. You might want to explore the following questions to see if you may be using your children addictively:
If you answered “yes” to these, then you are probably not using your children addictively.
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these, then there is a good possibility that you are using your children addictively. If this is the case, the best thing you can do for you and your children is to move yourself toward a solid spiritual practice, look for meaningful ways of expressing your talents, and develop emotional connection and support from other adults.
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