The Preoccupied Parent
Bright and early Saturday morning 10-year-old Daniel runs to his mom: Mom Mom Mom. Look at me. Watch me! These are the petitions of Daniel while his mom stares intently at her laptop. It is apparent she is working. Daniel is begging for her to watch a new dance that he learned on social media. This continues for about 10 minutes when finally, she turns around and says, “I am working, and will watch later!” At this point Daniele is in tears as he walks away. His mom’s response completely deflated him. The disappointment in his face was very apparent.
Two weeks later Daniel is yelling and demanding his mom watch him play his game. He has now moved into a place of distress when communicating his wants and/desires to his mom. This intensified behavior goes unnoticed. His mom is clearly preoccupied. What does it mean when someone is preoccupied? It usually means they are singularly focused on one thing and cannot be distracted by other things around them. In Daniel’s case his mom was preoccupied with work, which is in most cases is a necessity to survive and provide.
I am all too familiar with being preoccupied with work. My young adulthood was extremely stressful. I was struggling at all ends. I was constantly chasing money and “success.” I thought if I worked hard and tried to shield my children from certain things and people, they would not experience some of the things that I experienced. I thought: graduate from college, get a “good” job, find a “nice’ place to live even if it meant long hours away from my children, it would all be worth it. I had absolutely no balance. I was running away from parenting. The truth of the matter is I had no idea how to be a parent. I only knew how to be a provider. Eventually as I chased the money and more people became familiar with me I allowed myself to become preoccupied with the image of success and being “known.”
In 2017 while at Macedonia Church of Pittsburgh, Pastor Brian Edmonds preached about the “preoccupied parent.” The revelation I experienced during this sermon hit me like a ton of bricks and I know it touched many others. After the service several of us were still discussing the impact. I had to admit to myself that my lack of presence negatively impacted my children. Children need their parents, not just things from their parents.
I struggled with finding balance as a single parent. So, I immersed myself in the area that I was most comfortable with school and work.
There are many reasons parents, especially single parents may be preoccupied: school, work, unstable mental health, lack of parenting skills, lack of support. They could be trying to improve their lives which will hopefully improve the lives of their children. This can be done by way of employment or higher education, both are usually very time consuming.
Chasing the money
I have recently been thinking about my relationship with money. I had to ask myself a very simple question, “Is it a healthy relationship?” As I pondered on this question, I acknowledged that I have truly grown to a healthier place as it relates to money. I can also be honest enough to say as a young adult I was operating with a poverty mindset. A poverty mindset is basically thinking you will never have enough. This mindset stems from my childhood and my perception that I did not have “enough.” Which in reality I had what I needed. Maybe at a later date I will write a blog about wants versus needs as it relates to healthy impacts on our adult thinking. But for now, let me get back to this blog.
The poverty mindset that I subscribed to throughout my parenting was my financial driver. It was the thing that laced up my sneakers to chase the money. I remember working a full-time job and multiple contracted positions at the same time. I did this while my children were young and into their teenage years. I was chasing money not because I was on the road to wealth but I thought it was never enough. I had very little time to truly engage and support my children. I justified my actions by saying I wanted to make sure my children did not experience some of the things I did, but in reality, my actions were not about them. It was about me trying to escape the idea of living in poverty. The idea of never having enough, so I ran myself into the ground trying to catch the money. Once I got back up, I dusted myself off, told myself what I was doing made sense and I starting the vicious cycle over again. I began suffering from depression and isolation, even from my children. I would stay in my room most days. This crash from the chase completely took me out. I knew I had to make changes or else I could possibly not be here for my children at all.
This same crash and burn can happen when chasing success. You just keep going. Some of us have convinced ourselves that the hamster wheel is healthy and it’s a sign of “hustle” and being a “go getter.” I am not disputing this, but I am saying it comes with sacrifices.
What is success?
Success is defined as the accomplishment of goal or purpose. Most people have a defined goal/purpose that they are trying to accomplish. There are times when you may allow the idea of success to take over your entire life. Well, I will just speak for myself and if you can relate that is cool too. If not, please continue to read so that you may help someone else.
Chasing success does not mean that you do not have specific goals, it usually means your goals keep changing without completion or that your goals are changing based on what you see happening in the lives of others. Just to be clear, I am not stating we should not desire and pursue success, but I am stating we should be mindful how chasing success can impact you and your children. Many of us who have chased success sacrificed time and emotional support with our children. If we are honest “chasing” can be exhausting. You can exert a lot of energy and time when chasing something. Chasing is usually continuous until you think you have reached your end or you physically, emotionally and mentally cannot chase anymore.
Who defines an individual’s success?
Most times success is not initially defined by the person. Success is defined by others that you may observe and whether conscious or unconsciously you say, “I want that.” Or you may say, “I want to be in that position.” It is at this point that what you deem successful is planted in your mind. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being introduced to something and determining that is something that you also would like to achieve. The danger on your well being is when you do not assess all that it takes to achieve that desired goal and you begin sacrificing to keep up with the idea of that successful thing.
Each individual’s success and definition of success should be their own. Your individual success should be determined by you and not what the culture has determined to be success. Remember life is full of filters and “adjustments.” If you hold true to this you will find peace on your journey of working to achieve your own success.
Whew! Adulting is hard, but parenting can be even harder! I never imagined peace would be the thing that I was chasing as a single parent. Peace is being free from disturbance. Peace is something that you feel from the inside out. I am going to go out on a limb and say peace is necessary for healthy mental and emotional health. It plays a role in your well being as a whole. Chasing peace can cause you to fall into a state of anxiety and depression. Life as a parent, especially a single parent can feel like you are on a hamster wheel and may never willingly get off. Life has a way of throwing you off and depending how hard you land the recovery may take longer.
Most of my career as an adult has been as a helping professional so I typically engage people all day. Unfortunately, once I came home, I did not have the mental and emotional capacity to engage my children. I would go in my room and allow the television to watch me. I began struggling with suicidal thoughts, not because I wanted to die, but because I wanted to rest. So, I resorted to what made me feel comfortable and at peace. It took me years to acknowledge and accept that this is not what my children needed. While I was struggling to find peace, my children were in need of my physical and emotional presence. There are tons of parenting books, but not one is applicable to everyone’s, culture, experience, economic status, educational level, emotional availability, household dynamic, etc.
The bottom line is many of us are learning how to parent while parenting. As we chase the money, success and our peace, we have to remember not to leave our children behind.
My chase has been my chase. I encourage you to search your heart and identify your past and present chase. Simply complete the sentences below:
I recognize that I have been focused on and chasing_______________________.
This action has impacted my relationship with my children. I recognize that because I have been chasing _______________________________. I have not given them support they may have and still need.
I also recognize that due to me chasing ________________________________ it does not mean I am a “bad” parent. It means that I am working on myself and believe that my relationship with my children will grow to a healthy place. I will not hold myself hostage to my past and I will move forward beyond the chase.