Tangled Identities

I identify with my children. They are mine; I admit to living vicariously. I internalize their pain, I suffer their humilities, I rejoice in their victories.

A brief encounter made me question the healthfulness of identifying so completely with my children.
So there was this amazing woman who when introducing herself at a table of like-minded wine aficionados, described her many endeavors without mentioning her two under-ten year old children (they came up later). I suspected we were all mothers, and it became obvious that she was very involved in their lives, but she completely and utterly allowed her young children to be unique, separate individuals. They could have been 30 year olds living in a different state!

I left wondering if I could disassociate identifying so completely with my children while maintaining my passion for them. Can I unemotionally let my son ignore my suggestion to study for a test and let him sink or swim – without adding an “I told you so” if he did poorly? Can I?

And if I can’t now, when do I plan on letting him live his own life? What “right” age would I put on the calendar when I should give up the part that I’m clinging to as part of my identity? I wonder if that’s why so many mothers in particular grieve when their children leave home. Maybe part of it is a feeling of owning the child. It seems healthy to miss someone, but I don’t want to grieve! I want to celebrate that our relationship is ready for a new chapter, a relationship that develops now with physical distance between us.

The question is even more difficult when I think of my brilliant Aspergers son. He is more vulnerable, more at risk, more sensitive. He is the one that evokes all the defensive mother bear reactions all the time. But really, he is no more mine from an ownership or identity perspective than my neuro-typical child.

I’m going to try and untangle my identity from my children, recognizing and appreciating them more as unique, authentic individuals separate from me. Had I had this revelation years ago, I might have been able to look at a grocery store meltdown and said “Huh, look at him go – I wonder what triggered that?” instead of exploding in fury because he made me look like a bad parent.

I’m going back to the “you should be proud of yourself” phrases, instead of “I’m proud of you”; the questions like “What is your goal on this exam? Do you know the content well enough to justify that? Great!” instead of “you need to be studying”. I need to ensure that I don’t take the reins of their lives from them, that I am acting as a coach – in the arena, ready to assist, whispering words of encouragement but not trying to ride for them. Wish me luck! Reprogramming is a two-step forward, one-step back process!

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