By Nadine J. Larder
To be a mother of five children is my greatest gift, my greatest honor and has definitely been my greatest teacher in life. I’ve learned more about myself as a result of being a mother than any other role I’ve ever had in life. I’m so grateful for these lessons, because, for the last 27 years, my children definitely have been raising me as much as I’ve been raising them. They still are! It’s been an amazing, interesting, difficult, loving, and many times, painful journey.
From the time I was about 16, I knew I wanted no fewer than 10 children. That was my dream, my only dream. My plan had a few flaws like um…food, shelter and a man, but I was young, what can I say? When there’s a will, there’s a way. I didn’t make it to 10 kids, but half way there has been fruitful to say the least, trust me. It’s everything I imagined…and so much more.
As I look back on the last 27 years of being a parent to five, I think one of the biggest challenges I experienced was finding and understanding my own identity, one that’s separate from and not dependent on my children. Though it wasn’t easy, I managed to find harmony between what was important to me, above and beyond being a good mom, while being present to raise and foster the individuality of my children. All five are such wonderful loving and caring human beings, even on their worst days, that I couldn’t be more proud. Their current ages are 27, 24, 21, 14, and 11. The 21 year old is my only son. Poor guy!
I treasure every moment I have with them, especially with three of them being grown. And, here’s the reality with having grown children: There comes a time when kids move out and move on to build their own lives–lives that shouldn’t include daily parenting from mom. I’m not speaking of “not being there” for advice when it’s asked for, and just checking out. I’m speaking of adult children who REQUIRE parenting. Last year my 27–year–old daughter had to literally fire me from showing up to work! It’s not an easy pill to swallow; being a mother is all I’ve ever known as an adult.
I know I’ve succeeded when my adult children don’t’ NEED me or my parenting anymore, as harsh as it sounds. They love me to pieces (who wouldn’t! Ha! Ha!), but they aren’t reliant on me. They know how to take care of themselves and can definitely survive without me. And, I’m happy to say that I’m secure enough with myself to feel great about not being “needed.” I brought them up that way intentionally, and it’s partly the result of my working outside the home at different times in their lives. I wasn’t home 100 percent of the time to do everything for them. There were certain things they had to figure out on their own, and they did.
I showed them, by example, how to grow into themselves as I grew in to myself, and they helped me along. My adult children have their own identities and their own lives, and they make their own decisions, suffer their own consequences, and more importantly, celebrate their own victories. They know what they accomplish is all about them and the efforts they’ve put into whatever it is they want in life. It has absolutely nothing to do with me. I’m just along for the ride, cheering them on from the sidelines while I watch, encourage, and support them as they pursue their dreams. I’ve always felt the best way to prepare them for life is to teach them and prepare them for adulthood. Preparing them for finding their purpose, their way, their dreams and aspirations. Not mine…theirs.
Isn’t the best way I can do that is to lead by example, following my own dreams and paying attention to what life and my spirit wants from me? My calling…my purpose. We all have a purpose and I feel it’s our responsibility to find it, live it and share it to the fullest.
I don’t feel we do our children or ourselves any favors when the only identity we have is the one wrapped up in them. Frankly, it’s not fair to us, and even more so, it’s not fair to our children to have the responsibility of “completing us” while we live vicariously through them. Part of preparing my children for adulthood is helping them learn about themselves, their spirits, their gifts and talents by exploring them to the fullest. They can’t learn these sorts of things about themselves if I always have myself up in the mix. Sometimes mom belongs on the sidelines. We all learn by experiencing, not by watching someone else experience it.
I spent a long time pondering how any of us can raise happy, healthy children if we don’t take care of our own needs, no matter what those needs may be. We can’t give what we don’t have to give, and believe me when I tell you that I’m speaking to myself just as much as anyone. I have run myself ragged many times. Twice I put myself in the hospital, I was so worn down. It’s like what a flight attendant says at the beginning of every flight. “If you’re traveling with children and the oxygen masks drop due to a drop in cabin pressure, make sure to put the mask on yourself first.” It took me a long time to get this, as self-care still isn’t one of my best traits. I’m definitely a work in progress and hope to graduate by the time my youngest is 18.
I finally learned that fulfilling my dreams and listening to my own spirit and what it wants/needs are just as important as what my children want and need from me. I learned that, with the right balance, I can meet the needs of both objectives, and when I do, we all thrive.
For me, my own identity and purpose has been fulfilled by my work. I love to work more than most people and can border on being a workaholic at times. It’s something I’ve learned to keep in check about myself, because my children have always come first, which includes feeding and providing for them. My work and working is not about money or finances, it’s about contributing and being a part of something that’s bigger than me. It took me a long time to understand that idea. It wasn’t always that way with five mouths to feed, but it has certainly morphed in to that big picture over time and with maturity.
Fulfilling my own purpose, while providing for my children and creating a life that revolved around them, came in the form of building a business called PrinterBees, an online small business marketing company. It’s true that desperation breeds ingenuity. I have always been desperate to be a mom, and I love to work, but I didn’t like being away from my kids. Sitting in traffic jams for two hours a day along with working more than eight to support them wasn’t part of my plan.
I found I needed more than a JOB. I needed a way to express myself, my creativity, my intelligence, my entrepreneurial spirit and my gifts. I founded PrinterBees because I wanted to be with my kids, all day, every day. The real gift came when I realized I could provide the same for as many working parents or caretakers as the company can support as it grows. We have people waiting to get hired because they too want the flexibility of being home and more importantly. They want to parent without permission, which is exactly what PrinterBees is all about. To be able to provide jobs that support parents being able to parent their children for me is a true miracle in every sense of the word, because for most, work is necessary, if you like to eat. For me to work has been to serve and as I serve, I’m teaching my children to do the same.
Though I haven’t been home for every moment of their lives and witnessed every first, my kids know to the core of their beings how much I love and adore them. They are very secure in knowing they come first and that I’ve lived my life to the best of my ability around them and their needs.
As one of my friends put it, when we raise well-adjusted, secure, self-sufficient children who know they are loved and are love, they change the world in ways only they can. Love heals everything, and the way we love our children heals the world. It’s also important to note that the way we show love to ourselves heals the world. The best way to “be love” is love the life your living, and the best way to love the life your living is to live the one meant for you. You can’t do that when the only identity you have belongs to your children, and when they move on with their own lives, they take your identity with them, which is tragic.
It’s okay to live your dream while you meet the needs of your kids. It’s okay to express yourself in the ways that make your spirit sing the loudest. Your children will respect you as they watch you living your life, as long as you have harmony and balance. When things get out of balance is when the problems begin. I say this from a space of pure love, the type of love I have for my children, who have been the center of my universe since the day they arrived. I love those kids of mine!
We all have a purpose that’s so much bigger than ourselves, and getting in touch with that purpose is what heals us and makes us whole. Raising children is only part of the equation or our kids would live with us forever. If they lived with us forever, they would likely never grow in to themselves. Their whole selves. The ones sent here to heal the world.
The greatest gifts we can offer our children as we raise them is to show-up as our authentic selves. I’m loving you….big time!
Nadine J. Larder is the founder and owner of PrinterBees, author of “The Secrets I Share With My Friends: Everything I Know About Building a Small Business,” and fulfilled mother of five. Her second book, “The Secrets I Share With My Friends: Life Lessons from an Imperfect Woman,” will be published in May 2015.