In our corporate work, we often talk about “engagement” and the drivers of an engaged workforce (committed, present, proactive). I was thinking about how parents sometimes are “under-engaged” (passive) and other times we are over-engaged (enmeshed). It’s a very challenging balance, and perhaps it’s at the heart of being an emotionally intelligent parent.
First, to clarify what I mean, I made this little graphic:
Some essential questions:
Where are you, and where is your partner/coparent if any?
When you lean too far over to one side or another… which side? Why? What needs of your own are pushing you there?
What’s in the middle? What’s it like for you, your child(ren), and other family members when you are in the middle?
What would it take for you to hang out in the middle more often?
The the moment, I’m just left of center. Patty probably leans a little toward to the right.
When I’m out of balance here, usually it’s leaning toward disconnection. I find the chaos of family life sometimes overwhelming, and my pattern is to withdraw – to here, on my computer. I tell myself I have important work to do, but often it’s just escaping to a quiet place where I can be “in charge” (ha).
In the middle I feel more alive as a parent. I’m able to step back and watch my kids growing, treasuring that, without feeling that their mistakes are somehow “my fault” … and without feeling any need to take ownership of their successes. In the middle, I can set up boundaries and guard rails, and let them have immense freedom within those parameters. I can be more proactive and less reactive. I think they find it more challenging, but in a positive way.
For me to be in the middle more often, I think I need to let go of “doing something” and focus more on “being someone” — I tell myself that I need to have a plan or activity to engage, but that’s probably a way of avoiding the feeling of chaos. The truth is, a certain level of chaos is actually fine if I remind myself that this isn’t going to “spin out of control” because I can monitor for that and take charge if needed.