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Your Kids Are Going To Leave: Stop Expecting Them To Fill Your Needs

Our children are miracles. They make us proud, frustrate and challenge us and they teach us a lot about ourselves. However, they are not ours to keep. We don’t own them and can’t expect them to fill our needs. We share our lives with them, guide them, love them and watch them go.

My daughter went away to college this past summer…1,800 miles away. Of course I knew things would be different, but I wasn’t sure what that really meant or how I would need to adjust internally. Being involved in her daily life for the last eighteen years and transitioning to not feeling her presence at all was certainly an adjustment. I am really becoming aware of my own needs and what expectations I have around getting them filled.

Little parts of our kids are always leaving us in some way.

  • When they learn to swing and don’t need a push from us anymore
  • Going to school for the first time
  • When they learn to pack their own lunch
  • When they start walking to their friend’s house by themselves
  • Earning their own money and deciding what to buy

Our kids are constantly growing and learning. It’s important to give them space to explore. They don’t always need us, even when we need them to. We can’t expect our kids to fill our needs. That is not their responsibility and an impossible task to expect from anyone.

Becoming aware of our own needs.

As we move through our children’s lives, we are getting needs met within ourselves that we don’t necessarily realize, until those needs aren’t being met anymore.

  • Our need to be needed
  • Our need to nurture others
  • The desire to feel connected
  • The need to be heard and understood
  • Our desire to be loved and appreciated
  • Our desire to see our teachings and contributions making a positive difference

We get used to having these needs filled by our children and begin to assume that it will always be this way. Guess what? Life is constantly changing. We aren’t raising our kids to fill our needs. We are raising them to be independent, effective problem solvers and creative thinkers.

Our kids aren’t always going to be home. It is our responsibility to give them a safe space to nurture who they are so they can go out in the world feeling competent and capable of being who they are (without us). We can’t expect them to nurture who we are and what we need. Truth: we are responsible for filling our own needs.

Examining our own expectations.

When our kids are young we place a lot of demands on them of how we “expect” them to behave or make decisions. This shifts a little as they approach adolescents because it’s a constant battle of compromise. They need independence and we struggle to let go of expectations. By the time our kids reach 18 they are free of all parental demands! At least, that is what is traditional in our society.

As parents, we may have acquired some unrealistic expectations of how our kids should explore their own lives. Also, we probably have a false sense of how much we think they are influenced by our needs. After my daughter went away to college, I had some expectations in my head of the way I wanted her to fill my needs:

  • She will call me just because (my need to feel loved)
  • She’ll let me know when she needs help or is struggling with something (my need to feel needed)
  • She will be home for every break and every summer (my need to feel connected)
  • She will tell me when she is dating someone and when she meets new friends (my need to be informed)

Attaching to our own expectations.

I found myself attached to the expectations that I had made in my own head. Expectations based solely on my needs. Needless to say, my daughter didn’t meet any of my needs. And why would she? They aren’t her needs to fill. I began to turn against myself and was also secretly beginning to get upset with her. I started asking myself where I went wrong and why isn’t she calling? Was I a good mother? Doesn’t she know what is important to me? How could she not involve me in her life? I was making it about me, me and more of me.

For eighteen years it has had to do with me on some level. My opinion on how she should handle a certain situation or my guidance around her choices. The truth: her adult life has everything to do with her and I have to detach from any personal expectation otherwise. My needs and expectations are not her responsibility to fill.

Our needs are our responsibility to fill.

Our kids are such a big part of our lives. They fill us up in the deepest parts of hearts and souls. Parts of us that were never even awakened until their existence. The parts that have the capacity for unconditional love and the unspoken truth of the desire to give up our own life to save theirs. So, it’s natural to feel empty inside when they are exploring more independence. We feel empty because we aren’t getting certain needs met. But, as adults, it is our job to manage our own emptiness, not our kids. They are busy trying to live their own lives, independent of us. It’s not our job to make them feel like they are responsible for meeting our needs. It is our responsibility to fill ourselves with what we need. Period.

Understanding our own needs.

We are human and we have needs. Our needs are important to our well being and it is essential to focus on learning how to satisfy those needs because we feel emotional pain when they’re not met. For example, if we’re feeling sad, we might not realize we’re lonely and have a need for social connection. Therefore, we may call our kids over and over again to get that connection and when they aren’t available (because they are out filling their needs), we may expect them to stop what they are doing whenever we need them, which is unrealistic.

To help, decide how well you are currently meeting your needs for each of the following areas:

  • Physically (food, shelter, movement, sex, etc.)
  • Emotionally (trust, acceptance, support, love, etc.)
  • Socially (family, friendship, community, companionship, etc.)
  • Intellectually (learning, communication, problem-solving, etc.)
  • Spiritually (meditation, gratitude, faith, inspiration, etc.)
  • Intimacy (vulnerability, sharing, connection, etc.)

For those areas where you are meeting your needs, congratulate yourself.
For areas where you are not meeting your needs, take some time to consider what might “fill you up.” Acknowledge that it might take a bit of trial and error to figure out what you need. Be kind to yourself as you figure out what that looks like for you.

Learning to let them live by their own needs.

My daughter couldn’t be happier living life on her own. She was raised to be independent and is practicing that in full force. I’m a very proud mama and don’t worry about her. Instead, I am learning more about me. I miss her energy. I miss seeing her walk through the door and knowing what kind of day she is having. I’m wanting to hug her, smell her and hear that she misses home. Those are my needs. She is discovering what she needs, independent of me.

Giving our kids the space to discover who they are and what they need, independent of us, is an important part of their journey (and ours too) that we must respect (even if it means they don’t need us as much as we’d like). It’s not up to them to meet our needs. It’s up to us to discover and learn about ourselves, independent of them, because they are not ours to keep.

Amy Norris

Amy moved from the east coast in her early twenties to attend the Institute of Art in Denver. Little did she know how much she would love the area. She has been married to her husband for almost 20 years and together they are raising two bold and courageous teenagers in Loveland, CO. She works for a warmhearted non-profit and has been teaching yoga for over 10 years. Amy recently returned to her passion of writing, which fills her soul and gives her a voice to share her story through an authentic and raw heart. She hopes to inspire and enrich your life in this incredible community of women and remind you that you are so loved, always enough and oh so worthy in every way!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Trina

    Amy – your insight is always bang on. This is no different. Written, spoken, heart space, you’ve got it down. Thank you for writing his piece at just the right time. Parenting our granddaughter has made this as relevant to me today as it was when my children left home more than a decade ago. While your words don’t stop the pain I sometimes feel, you’ve offered solace. And that is as good as gold.

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