The need to be needed; accepting our relationship has changed

Mom, I don’t need you anymore

Keener has learned many things at school this year. One of the best skills is pumping his legs on a swing. I love taking my kids to the playground. However, I don’t love pushing kids on swings. So when Keener came home from school telling me that one of his friends taught him how to pump, we were both really excited.

The next time we were at the park, I went to go push Keener, forgetting his new skill. He quickly reminded me saying, “Mom, I don’t need you anymore.” In that moment, my heart sang and sank. Both/and at it’s finest. On the one hand I was thrilled. I’m still listening to How to Raise an Adult which constantly reminds me that I am raising adults, not kids. The goal is for them to not need me anymore. When they go to elementary school, middle school, college, etc. I am not going to be there. I want them to feel confident, competent, and have their own strong moral compass.

So why did this also sting? Hearing, “I don’t need you anymore,” elicited something inside me that I am still sitting with. My first baby, who turns five on Sunday, doesn’t need me in the same way he used to. Our relationship has changed. Which reminds me that change is the only constant.

The need to be needed

Having young kids, I am needed ALL THE TIME. Babies, in particular, are rather helpless. Mack relies on me for his survival. On the one hand, I love the feeling of being needed. It gives me a sense of purpose and belonging. On the other hand, I’m absolutely exhausted. Especially around 5:30 every evening when there are four (here’s looking at you, Hank!) who all have needs at the exact same time. What I wouldn’t give to be needed even a tad bit less!

But then there I am at the park, told I am not needed, and a little piece of my heart feels broken. Why is the grass always greener on the other side?

Dr. Edith Eger reminds us, “We need to give our children roots, and give them wings.” And she is exactly right. I know in my heart that I need and want to give my kids wings to fly. That might, in fact, be my number one goal for my kids. Which is why I need to work hard on my own stuff. Not just for my own sake but also for the sake of my kids. Otherwise, how confusing must that for my kids? She wants us to be independent but then is upset when we can do things on our own?

Relationships Change

Sitting with these feelings has reminded me that relationships change. And people change. I am a very different person today than I was five years ago, or even one year ago for that matter. Keener certainly is a different person at five than he was at two. It would be naive to think that Keener would always need me like he always has in the past. However, sometimes this naive headspace is comforting, and strokes my ego. Knowing this is a me issue has been an incredibly productive first step in accepting our changing relationship. These are my issues and catching myself from projecting my growing pains onto him benefits both of us.

What’s crazy about him needing me less is that it also excites me. I absolutely love and cherish our current relationship. Being able to talk about the gas shortage, enjoy longer and more complex books beyond Sandra Boynton, and watch him develop into a person — it’s magical. (Don’t worry Mack, I also love singing Patty Cake with you!) Accepting this changing relationship, seeing the strengths that it brings, and staying present help me from spending too much time looking in the rearview mirror.

Growth and happiness

I just started listening to Gretchen Rubin’s conversation with Dr. Chatterjee and she reminded me that a key part of happiness is growth. She mentions, “The atmosphere of growth is very important for happiness.” She goes on talk about how we should be asking, Does this make me happier? as opposed to, Does this make me happy? She also says there are four factors for happiness:

  1. Is it giving me more of what I love?
  2. Is it bringing me less of guilt, anger, resentment and other negative feelings?
  3. Is my life in harmony with my values?
  4. Am I growing in some way?

That last one really struck a chord as I think about Keener turning five on Sunday and how our relationship has changed. A key factor in happiness is growth and I couldn’t agree more. There is such value in growing, helping, and teaching both for ourselves and for our relationships. The last thing I want is a stagnant relationship with Keener. Hearing, Mom, I don’t need you anymore, left me feeling anything but stagnant. It left me spending some much needed time thinking about my ever changing relationship with him. Celebrating just how independent he has become while shedding a few tears in the process.

4 comments

  1. So insightful Jenny as always! Of course I believe they will always “need you” I’m in my 50’s and I still “need” parental support from time to time 🙂

    • I already have a follow up post written in my head about exactly this! I still “need” my mom every day!

  2. Jenny, it does take us aback to hear those words, and I know you recognize that he’s just referring to help on the swing, but it is mind blowing and heart wrenching. And you know he needs you in so many ways still. As you say, these baby steps towards independence are what we want to raise healthy, capable, confident adults. I need to check out How to Raise an Adult.

    One of the most memorable moments for me on this path was when my boys, as little people, maybe 2 and 3, maybe younger, started having conversations with each other, independent of me. I loved it and marveled at how I was out of the loop. I’m guessing the teacher part of me probably injected myself too much, but to this day, they have a lovely relationship as adults, independent of me or family gatherings. Additionally, I came to realize that some of the behaviors that drove me crazy (standing up for themselves and their siblings against me, arguing points of family procedure, philosophical discussions about homework) were those skills I wanted my four to have as adults.

    • Thanks Leslie! Yes, so often many of the skills they demonstrate will be incredible when they are older even though they are super challenging as preschoolers!!

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