Once you are a parent, to a certain extent your life is not your own. So many of your actions and thoughts are dictated by the actions of a your kids. Yes, you should focus on your kids. Yes, you should take pride in being a good parent. But know where the dividing line is between their life and yours.
Everyone gets one life. Yours is almost used up, and instead of treating yourself with respect, you have entrusted your own happiness to the souls of others.
I think what Marcus Aurelius is saying here goes back to the practice of focusing on what you can control and not wasting your thoughts on what you can’t. What is going to happen will happen, and other people are going to do what they are going to do – even your kids.
We give so much of ourselves to our kids, all in the name of raising them to be good people. Or at least what we think will be good people. I don’t think any parent intends to raise their kids to be selfish, or arrogant, or ignorant, or hateful, or lacking a moral compass. Yet we see these people. They exist, and they did not come from nowhere. If your child make poor choices and not absorb what you taught them, should your happiness suffer?
We can continue to try to teach them, to model the right kinds of behavior, to attempt to show them the error of their ways, but at the end of the day our happiness and our peace of mind should come from the decisions we’ve made for ourselves. If we are living a virtuous life, and doing all that we can to raise our children to be good people, that is what should bring us happiness – not necessarily the outcome. We don’t control the outcome. Try as we might, once our kids are out there on their own their happiness is theirs and ours is ours. Can you take pride in your kids? Absolutely. Can watching them bring you joy? Absolutely. Should your joy in life be completely dependent on them? No.
Even though you have a life that depends on you, your life is still your own. You were a whole person on your own before kids came along, don’t forget that you are still your own person now. Everyone gets one life, right? Marcus warns us that yours is almost used up, and compared to your kids it certainly is. Depending on the age of your kids, they could literally have their whole lives ahead of them. You might be coming down the home stretch. Continue to make the best use of your life, in all aspects, not just parenting.
Have you sacrificed time for reading, meditating, or journaling in the name of being a parent? After you’ve had kids, do you still make time to run, or hike, or bike? I think a lot of parents let these things go because they need to devote so much of their time to their kids, and taking the time for themselves feels selfish. However, taking care of yourself – mentally, physically, spiritually – will make you a better parent for you kids. If you are taking care of your own happiness, that will be reflected in your kids.
Today’s takeaway – take some time to develop and maintain good habits that will increase your happiness. Don’t do them with your kids, but model them to your kids.