Why you shouldn't need your children
Yesterday I reviewed Girl in the Water by Nancy Kilgore, a true story about sibling abuse, which is a very tame and insipid word for the torture and oppression the writer experienced at the hands of her sister.
Her problems weren't just confined to one sibling, however. The relationship between Nancy and her mother was seriously problematic.
Early on her life, Nancy became her unhappy mother's confidante. She told her all sorts of things, most of which were inappropriate for a child's ears.
Nancy understood very little of it.
What she did understand was that in some intense way her mother needed her. And the need didn't disappear as she grew older.
"My mother bullied me," Nancy writes in her book. "She didn't want me to be independent. I was not allowed to have separate thoughts. She became increasingly clingy as I tried to experience a late adolescence. She voiced her thoughts of losing her role as a mother... I was admonished for thinking about leaving. The innuendo of many conversations was that I was spoiled and unappreciative. Mother kept trying to impress me with my need to be dependent on her... When I tried to talk again about leaving Mother took to her bed and spent a whole afternoon crying."
This is what scares me.
The second I begin to need something emotionally from my children is the instant our relationship heads into unhealthy territory. I can feel it inside when I do it, and I do it more often than I think.
Some of the things I've needed at different times from my children include: their appreciation of how hard I work for them, for them to like the same things I like, their admiration of me and an ability to see how I feel and fix my feelings.
This is more than a simple desire to be treated fairly and kindly. This is a deep-seated, soul-scarring, crazy-making belief that I can only be okay if you act the way I want you to. And if you don't, and I suffer, it's all your fault.
When I feel needy for appreciation and admiration and all the rest, I see myself get resentful, angry, impatient, snarky and rude. I begin to use sarcasm, to try to control, to overtalk and to use emotional blackmail.
All of these things ruin relationships. Which is a bit ironic, really.
As soon as I begin to need things from my kids, my relationships with them suffer. And I know that if I keep doing it, being needy and manipulative and controlling and using emotional blackmail, eventually I won't have any kind of functional relationship with them at all.
So somehow I have to not be needy.
But what about the needs? I can't just dump them or suppress them and pretend they don't exist, right? That's another super-highway to dysfunction.
Hard as it is, and humbling as I find it, I have to keep going back to God's love.
When I know I'm truly loved, I don't need that admiration. When I remember that I'm treasured, I can take my own feelings to the one who treasures me. When I'm enjoyed just for being who I am, I can set boundaries and work hard without having to be a martyr.
This is not a cliche. It's absolutely true. When I find my emotional needs met by Christ, I love my children more and love them better.