We grow up in households that are busy or struggling, and somehow not quite nurturing enough. From this we learn everything about how to stay busy and struggle, but little about how to nurture ourselves. — Dr. Jonice Webb, 4 Ways You May be Keeping Yourself Running on Empty
Dr. Webb’s quote resonated with me. I watched both my parents stay busy and struggle. Sometimes my mom struggled because she did not have quality endeavors to keep her busy. My dad was always busy – which left me missing him. Both parents struggled financially.
Reliability feels good
My mom’s life was mostly wrapped up in raising my sister and me. She was very consistent about household routines like dinner at 6 and laundry every weekend. If Mom said she would do something, she did it. The reliability was soothing to us. She always put us first, even before herself.
We also saw her suffer as we left the nest. She chose insecure partners to fill our void. She did not know how to care for herself. She did not stay active and gained a lot of weight.
Sometimes you have to choose yourself
My dad had a full life, including raising my sister and me. He remarried a few years after my parent’s divorce. My stepmom has been in my life since I was ten. They had two more children together. Dad also owned shoe stores, topping out at five stores at one point. His family and intensive business required a lot of irons in the fire. He also had a passion for car racing and invested time in participating and watching the sport at tracks in Michigan and the surrounding states. Dad was almost always in motion, racing from one thing to another.
Of my two parents, my dad was definitely happier. He was not lonely and he made time for business and fun.
It appeared being busy and active was the way to go, although both households felt stress financially.
Different styles, different gifts
I am not sure which house felt the most nurturing. My mom was the most consistently there for my sister and me. She attended more of my school events and was the one to get me a car. My dad was often late or tied up with activities not related to us but when my dad was there he was the most physically affectionate and the most present. He taught us how to do hard things like work around the house and interact with the public. As I have grown older, I also see more clearly my step-mom’s contributions to my development. She brought family traditions and an openness to discuss topics like sex and family dynamics.
Preoccupation breeds insecurity
Both of my parents were busy working and trying to pay the bills. Since my mom was single most of the time I lived at home, she was often preoccupied with home maintenance. She had to do it all herself. My dad was preoccupied with the stores and his young family.
I am not sure that being busy is a detriment to a family but I know too much preoccupation with things other than the care of children, leaves the children feeling anxious or rejected. They feel insecurely attached to their parents. I felt this. I have written about it extensively. If the child feels anxious, as adults, they will rely on others to make them feel nurtured. If they feel rejected they will not trust others to nurture them and may have a hard time nurturing others.
Predictability breeds security
Not surprisingly, I ended up being a blend of my parents. I have a penchant for rhythm and routine in my home and I like to get involved with many activities like my dad. I crave reliability and predicability but I also crave adventure and action. Both are ways I nurture myself.
It’s not how it looks, it’s how it feels
I am also guilty of focusing too much on household maintenance and family image with my own children. I stayed very busy. I thought that’s what mothers in upper middle class families did. It was how I earned my keep. Keeping everything looking polished. I realize that did not leave my kids feeling nurtured. It made me tired, so when it was nurturing time I had no gas in the tank. I just wanted time to myself to recharge. I regret this misappropriation of my efforts.
I know there were some times when I hit the mark and gave me kids a loving, fun experience. We did nature walks at night. We visited incredible museums. I read to them and sang to them. I have always put a lot of time into the meals I prepare for them. I did their laundry until they were in high school. I stayed home as long as possible before going back to work because then I could continue to be there for them after school and not be even more run down at the end of the day. I wrote, coached and substituted in the school district while I stayed home. To be perfectly honest, I was not sure I could work a 40 hour a week job outside the home, run the house and give the children quality care. I thought I might be even crabbier, depressed and more preoccupied.
We become our parents?
But they often saw me as busy or struggling with my patience and emotions. For seven years, I ran the house as a single parent. Like my mom, I preoccupied myself with the maintenance of the house and financial worries. Behind the scenes arguing with my ex-husband about finances, took a toll on my energy too. I did not know how to fill myself up enough to restore my energy properly.
I’m not sure how I could have engineered the situation so there was less struggle and busy-ness to witness. There was no extended family in the area, so no babysitting or household repair relief. Living near my family was not an option. I could have made less healthy and more convenient meals. I could have moved into a smaller, less labor intensive home, but honestly, I think staying in the same home brought a level of stability that might outweigh the stress of taking care of it. The kids would have to speak to that.
Wish I would have done this sooner
Once the kids were older, I had less childcare to do. This gave me a little breathing room and more energy to invest in our connection. There is more eye contact and more presence in our conversations. I used to do most of my talking to them while I was driving, cooking or saying goodnight. Needless to say, that was not as nurturing.
What did your parents teach you? Are you teaching your kids to be busy and struggle or to nurture?
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