When Giving is NOT Better than Receiving: Insights on Parenting

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I don’t know about you, but when the doctor placed my baby in my arms for the first time, he did not include an instruction manual. So I, like most of you, have done my best to pour love, attention, and everything I have into being the best parent possible. I figure giving my all will make up for my shortcomings, and give my kids a better childhood than I grew up with, possibly even heal the wounds of my own childhood.

Sound familiar?

Often I sacrifice what I want or need, in order to give them “The Best  __(fill in the blank)__ .” The best education, the best neighborhood, the best clothes, the best opportunities, and the list goes on. But guess what I’m not giving them? The best parent!

The Dilemma

Growing up we’ve all been taught the phrase, “It’s better to give than receive” and distorted it to mean to always put our children and loved ones first.

Because when I am constantly giving, and not allowing myself to receive, I get out of balance. I become depleted of vital resources I need to keep myself functioning properly. Usually it comes in the form of lack of sleep, time, energy, or funds to spend on myself. I end up operating at a lower level, and therefore have less to give. It becomes a vicious cycle. That turns into “mommy burnout”, and then no one’s needs are getting completely fulfilled.

What to do?

Having three kids in three years meant I had to quickly create healthy boundaries between constantly giving, and allowing myself to receive as well. I forced myself to carve out time for just me, even if it was just going to the grocery store alone or taking a long walk.  Eventually I worked up to getting massages, taking Girls’ weekends away, etc. But even now, 15 years later, I still find myself slipping occasionally. Like last week for instance.

In my research to find cool and unusual things to do in Wisconsin, I found a pilot who gives rides on his 1929 bi-plane. I was jumping at the chance to fly over the city with the wind in my face, “Red-Baron-style”.

On the day of our flight we had a small window of opportunity to go up because of the scattered rain showers. Only four passengers can go at a time and so I let my husband and kids go while I videotaped from the ground. Ted, our pilot, said he’d try to take me up for a few minutes once they got back, weather permitting. However, another group dropped by the airfield wanting a spur of the moment ride, so that took precedence over my bonus flight. Once that flight concluded the winds picked up and my shot at going up in the biplane were dissolved. My heart sank.

What I learned 

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I was thrilled to have given this experience to my husband and kids, but I was the one who was the most excited about it. Dino read the expression on my face and immediately knew how upset I was. Then, in his effort to console me he said the stinging words I had been too afraid to admit to myself:

“Shannon, you should’ve gone up first, it meant more to you than to me and I would’ve happily given up my seat.”

He was right. I should’ve taken the chance when I had it. It was my opportunity to receive something I really wanted but I had deflected it in the distorted notion of giving to my loved ones – being a selfless mother and wife.  There are definitely times for that, but this wasn’t one of them.

 It was my opportunity to receive something I really wanted but I had deflected it in the distorted notion of giving to my loved ones – being a selfless mother and wife.  There are definitely times for that, but this wasn’t one of them.

As we walked back to the parking lot I got teary-eyed, not just because of the missed opportunity, but because of what it meant.  My self-love and self-nourishment were a little out of balance.  I had a chance to receive what I wanted and didn’t take it.

Your turn

Listening to my friends, I think it’s a universal struggle most of us mothers have. I guess it’s one of those things we get to work on through our journey as women.  I don’t have all the answers, and I’m far from perfect in this area of my life (as noted above) but I keep working at it. So – as one mother to another – I urge you to learn from my mistake and listen to your inner guide. She’ll tell you when it’s time to choose You; to receive, to nurture yourself. Imagine the legacy of give & receive cycles you’ll leave your own children… and that’s the best __(fill in the blank)__ you can give them.

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When Giving is NOT Better than Receiving: Insights on Parenting

Shannon is a mother of 3 teens, who hit 40 and decided that instead of a "mid-life crisis", she wanted an adventure of a lifetime. She convinced her wonderfully open-minded husband to pack up their house, sell most of their possessions, and travel the USA in an RV for a year or two. Besides homeschooling her kids, running their online program, Watts in the World, Shannon loves to explore new places. Nothing is more exciting than waking up in a new city everyday, and discovering what's great abou ... More

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