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For a Happier Family, Stop Doing This

Photograph by Twenty20

The anxious feelings started when my son was not yet 1 and was already covered head to toe in eczema. His skin was patchy white in places and fiery red in others. I would stare at him and not just feel the pain of his itchy condition, but worry myself sick about his future (would he ever look normal, be able to sleep well or have overnights with friends?) Often I would turn away in tears, anxiety overcoming my body physically just as the rash took over his.

Even as the eczema improved—with time and the help of a good holistic doctor—I soon found other things to be anxious about, especially when he hit school age. Would he make the select soccer team? Catch up in growth? Catch on to math?

My daughter gave me different worries, but they always brought the same type of physical response: a racing in my heart, a clenching in my stomach, a fretful look on my face. Will she do OK? Will she succeed or fail? If she fails, then haven't I failed, too?

A wise friend once said about mothers, "When our kids are doing well, we do well."

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I think that's true, but, from what I can tell, it's also gotten out of control. Riding the emotional wave of our kids' successes has become the Modus Operandi for so many mothers. As a result we are making our children and ourselves miserable, not to mention insufferably competitive. We are destroying our family's well-being and we are making ourselves sick.

This situation is almost certainly not going to make or break your child's life—or yours.

In fact, I just watched several friends go through the college application process and as one put it, "I'm glad nobody checked my blood pressure in the last few months of waiting to hear. They probably would have hospitalized me."

So there seems to be a problem seeing where we leave off and our kids begin. But the important question is how do we stop getting hooked by our feelings?

Well, there are several things to try, but it starts with taking a step back from the situation and then taking a deep breath.

So, your child just had a great success (YAY!) or miserable failure (8#&^@) and you can feel your own anxiety or happiness levels rise. Instead, try seeing what's going on and putting it in perspective. I don't care what it is, but this situation is almost certainly not going to make or break your child's life—or yours. It may feel like the most important thing ever, (I can hear you arguing with me) but if you can hold a bigger picture of the world, it's actually minutiae. That goes for the rejection from his top choice school as well as not making the school chorus.

If the situation is a bad one, this feeling of stepping back makes us feel vulnerable and out of control. As in, if I'm not involved through hovering, directing, controlling and panicking, this is only going to get worse. When actually, the opposite is true. The only way for your child to grow and learn from each experience, however hard, is if he or she has the experience without all of your anxiety and input.

This is just as true for the successes when we rush to Facebook to advertise what our kid just won or achieved. Just as we have to empty ourselves of anxiety and fear, we have to stop expecting fulfillment to come from a series of "likes" about our kids from our 452 friends.

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The great challenge in this world is to be present. And our presence is the best gift we can give our family. If you need them to be successful, then you are not doing your job. If you are only really happy when they are doing well, then you're setting your family up for a lot of misery.

So try this: Take this moment away from devices, from worry, from pride from fear and remember, as the Buddhists believe, that our children don't belong to us. While they are entrusted to us for some time, they really belong to the world. Be grateful for every experience you have with your children, but notice that your happiness must not come from them. It must come from loving them and being joyful no matter what experiences—good or bad—the day brings.

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