Written by: Jenny Smith
Oooh that’s a bit of a question isn’t it? First off, what does vicarious actually mean? It is the word given to the behaviour of trying to experience something second hand, through another person’s experience. We all do it to some extent, for example, when people are telling us about their travels we imagine ourselves there, it can sometimes feel as if we have actually visited the same places. Celebrity culture encourages vicariousness by focussing in on the minute details of famous people’s lives, giving the ordinary person a message that their life in comparison is not really up to much.
A potential problem comes about if we do it to those close to us without realising, it can become a very easy dynamic for us as parents to slide into if we are not careful. In the early days of parenting it is very common for our little ones to be our whole lives. They need our attention; their lives literally depend on it so it makes complete sense to have them at the centre of our world. As they grow however, there is a natural process whereby they move more into an independent sense of life, with their own friends, interests and points of view. At this point in our lives it is important for us to relocate our attention back to ourselves.
So what does that actually look like? What would be the signs of remaining unhealthily dependant on our childrenâ€™s lives to give our life meaning? In a nutshell, it is about having a much broader identity than being a parent. It is where the whole of us encompasses parenting, but alongside a whole host of other roles and identities too. Our work life is an obvious place to start. Our job potentially gives us a whole area of life that is removed from our role as a parent; it feeds different parts of us. Pit falls to look out for here is whether all we talk about at work is our children! Of course there is nothing wrong with sharing our delights and our frustrations about our offspring, but if that is all we bring to the conversation then we are in danger of being too hooked into them rather than ourselves.
Our friendships offer similar opportunities. They can bring out different sides to us, they are created on much more of an equal footing and can be relationships where we can enjoy activities that might be restricted by having little ones or teens hanging about! Again, it’s important to clock how much of your children’s lives you talk about to your friends. Decide that you are going to really balance out what you say, by talking about other things that you are interested in.
Try something new
If you notice that you are someone who finds it hard to stop focussing on your children and know more about their friends that you do about your own, see if you can find a couple of ways to branch out into your own life a little wider. Try something that you’ve always wanted to do but have never prioritised before. Go and see a film that only you enjoy or set yourself a goal that you’d like to achieve within the next six months. It might feel strange initially to take the focus away from your kids and back onto you, but in the long run everyone will benefit. As you feel better about yourself, your kids will enjoy that and will follow your modelling of self-care as well as care of others.