Is it possible to be using our children addictively? Anything or person that we use to get love, avoid pain, and fill up inner emptiness can become an addiction-even our children! If your children are your whole life-if you don't have a strong spiritual connection with a personal source of love and guidance, as well as other relationships and interests that you are passionate about, you might be using your children to fill an empty place within you.

It's not hard to see how this kind of dependency on children can develop. If you are a single parent-or have a troubled or unfulfilling relationship with your partner-your primary emotional connection may be with your children. If you don't have work or hobbies that are compelling and fulfilling to you, you might be using your kids to give meaning to your life. And if you don't have a daily spiritual practice that brings love and comfort to your soul, you might be using your children to fill this need.

Clearly, this isn't good for your children. It is a huge burden on them to be responsible for their parent's happiness and sense of purpose. Children who feel this responsibility often become miniature caretakers, giving up their own healthy development to take care of a parent. Or, on the other hand, a child burdened with this responsibility may rebel and grow distant from the parent, spending less and less time at home to avoid the burden of the parent's emptiness.

I grew up as an only child with a mother who had nothing fulfilling in her life-other than me. Her whole focus was on me, and because I couldn't possibly fill her up in the way she needed to be filled, she was often angry at me. I became a good little girl, a good caretaker of my mother, but the result was that I was a nervous and unhappy child, and wanted to be away from my house as much as possible.

Our children need to be an important part of our lives-but not our whole life. We need to demonstrate for them what it looks like to take personal responsibility for our own fulfillment. We need to show them what it looks like to take responsibility for making ourselves happy, rather than rely on them for our happiness. Your children want to know that they are important to you, but not so important that your well-being is dependent upon them. You might want to explore the following questions to see if you may be using your children addictively:

  • Do you feel bored, useless, or lonely when your children are not around? Do they alone give your life meaning?
  • Is your sense of worth attached to your children's achievements? Do you tend to take it personally if one of your children has a problem?
  • Are you overinvolved in your children's lives?
  • Are you overly sensitive if one of your children is angry or distant? Do you find yourself trying to pacify your children rather than set appropriate limits in order to avoid their rejection?
  • Did you have children in the hopes of getting love from them, rather than to share the fullness of your love?
  • If you answered "yes" to one or more of these, then there is a good possibility that you are using your children addictively. If this is the case, the best thing you can do for yourself and your kids is, first, develop supportive emotional connections with other adults-a partner, other family members, and friends; second, look for meaningful and productive ways to express your particular talents; and finally, move toward finding a solid spiritual practice that fills you with a sense of peace and meaning. These actions will bless your own and your children's lives.

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