I Love My Kids (And I Want Them To Leave Me Alone)

Internal ConflictYou have an angel on one shoulder. And you have a devil on the other.

I don’t mean you are embroiled in some kind of spiritual battle (although, perhaps you are). I mean you are caught up in the tension of an inner world that is not whole. In some corner of your life, you are pulled taut by a conflict in your personal opinions, beliefs, desires or feelings.

This doesn’t mean you’re broken.

It means you’re human.

But it feels broken, so must of us are, in some way or another, always trying to exit the tension.

But I think we need to stop trying to exit the tension and learn to exist within it…

Play is not something we do; it is a way of being in the world. I’ve known this for some time. My kids have been teaching me about it for more than eight years. But, recently, after a discussion with some friends about relinquishing control, I decided to actually try living it.

I quickly discovered when I relinquish control, when I enter into the chaotic silliness of life happening all around the edges of my plans, when I let go and become playful with my kids, they love it.

They eat it up. They want to be around me every second. They are attracted to their daddy like a magnet. This is a very good thing. I love my kids. I’m excited to be with them, and I feel blessed when they want to be with me.

But this is also a very, very bad thing.

Because I love myself, too. (There, I said it.) And I’m an introvert, and introverts who love themselves want to be alone. A lot.

So, when I become playful and my kids soak it up—and they don’t want me out of their eyesight and the oldest one wants me to laugh at the Sunday comics and the middle one wants me to tickle him until his eyes tear up and the littlest one wants me to pour “tea” and sip air with her—I feel like something is going to explode in my chest.

Last week, in the midst of the play, I think a little bit of brains leaked out of my left ear.

Does this make me a bad father? Or, are you are bad parent when you meet needs all day and finally heave a big-weary sigh?

I don’t think so. I think it makes you human.

As human creatures, we are constantly living in the tension of opposing feelings, torn between choices, stretched thin between incompatible desires. We live in the middle ground of all this internal conflict, and it creates anxiety and frustration and sadness.

According to most parents, bedtime is the worst. You see, we love our children and we want to give them a sense of belonging, but most of us also want a place just for ourselves. And this tension is ratcheted up around bedtime. We want our children to slumber with gentle dreams of a loving parent tucking them in. But we can almost taste the proximity of that “other time, “ when the kids are asleep and the house is at rest and the sanctuary of quiet is ours. So, with every request for another sip of water, the tension builds.

But parents aren’t alone, are they? Aren’t we all living in the tension of opposing desires and emotions?

I think we all have places inside of us in which a battle rages. We may have relegated the battle to some forgotten corner of our interior world, like a genocide happening in some small nation half a world away that the evening news will never cover. Or, we may feel like a total war is being waged right in the middle of our lives, and anxiety and depression and hopelessness are the casualties of the war. What does your internal battle look like?

A spouse you love…but you’re pretty sure you no longer like?

A career that pays the bills…but you sense it is slowly, subtly suffocating your soul?

A house that brings you happiness or security or status…but with a price tag like a millstone around your neck?

A faith that worked for a long time…but is currently riddled with doubt and uncertainty?

A loud internal voice that says you are right…and a quiet whisper-inside urging you to apologize?

A part of you which cherishes that end-of-the-day drink…and another part of you which knows it’s becoming more important than it should be?

A belief you are living a decent life…but the nagging awareness you create more loneliness in the world than belonging?

An interior voice like a good friend, encouraging you to go to therapy…but a serious resistance to undergoing an entire overhaul of your being?

A certainty that you must leave your country-of-origin because it is riddled with violence and war…but an equally powerful certainty that your roots are there and they are deep in the soil of your homeland?

The tension of our internal battle stinks.

Most of us want certainty and solutions and some hope of comfort and ease. And so we try to exit the tension. By ignoring it altogether. Or by attending to only one side of the conflict. Or we shore up only one side of the internal struggle by seeking people and information and evidence that will reinforce a particular conviction.

But exiting the tension temporarily doesn’t make it go away. The battle will rage on, and eventually, it will show up in your backyard.

So, when one of my clients asks, “Do I want to stay in my marriage, or do I want to leave my spouse?” my answer is usually, “Yes.”

When my son asks, “Should I read a book or go play with my friends?” my answer is usually, “Yes.”

Because we must learn to live in the tension. We must learn to wisely hold it all. And if we can do this, we will find spaces in the tension—space for wisdom and peace and community.

We need to make our home in the tension, because all of life is happening in the middle of it. In the middle of our tension…

We find a space where acceptance of ourselves, and of our embroiled humanity, can take root and grow.

We find space for a cease fire, in which we can quit trying to constantly fix ourselves, and instead begin to really live our lives, as broken but breathing creatures.

We find a space in which we can become aware of all of our parts—the good and the bad and the ugly. And we can learn to love ourselves in the midst of our light and our shadows.

And when we have learned to be gracious with ourselves in the midst of all the contradiction and conflict, we will be ready to encounter a world that is ripe with both.

The urge to do violence to the ideas and beliefs of people with different political beliefs or faith traditions or worldviews will subside. Because we will have discovered the battle really isn’t between us and them. If we are willing to look closely, we will discover the battle is contained entirely within us.

We will experience each other as prisoners of our own internal wars, and with intimate knowledge of the experience, we will find ourselves eager to free each other, as well.

We will find a way to encounter conflict with strength…and with forgiveness.

We will walk into hatred and bring justice…as well as mercy.

We will stumble upon ignorance and shine knowledge there…with humility.

We may even find a way to deliver that tenth sip of bedtime-water with patience, in a moment of love that encompasses our children…as well as ourselves.

So, open yourself to the tension within, find a home there, find a deep and abiding love for yourself there, and then scatter that love everywhere you go.



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Note: For the image of space within tension, I owe a debt of gratitude to Kim’s blog

Photo Credit: Photo taken from How To Write A Book.com 

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

18 thoughts on “I Love My Kids (And I Want Them To Leave Me Alone)

  1. Wow…so perfectly expressed…what a lot of us parents can feel. Very honest yet providing a helpful solution. Basically, “it is what it is” to acceptance that this is life and life has tension.

    I wrote a post about my kids here http://www.shoeaxis.com/2012/05/sole-inspiration-what-i-learned-from-my.html and I do feel torn many times, hoping that my own humanness hasn’t effected them negatively and realizing that my love for them will hopefully overshadow that and having faith that they are going to be okay, because they are beautiful kids.

    • Cheryl, I’m looking forward to reading your post! I think you make a great point about the fact that our “humanness” inevitably effects our children in a negative way. But I think that can be redeemed when we own it. Because by openly owning our humanity, our brokenness and our failings, we are honoring them, modeling humility, and initiating a process of forgiveness and reconciliation. Blessings to you and your children.

  2. Have you been spying us? Because I pretty sure you described the members of my family perfectly! With my children, I am able to enter the present moment and bask in just “being”. But man, isn’t it great to leave the house and get away from them! And I love when they are finally asleep at the end of the day! I have been thinking about what you wrote today for a few weeks now. Thank you for helping to add more words to my thoughts with your insight.

  3. And when we have learned to be gracious with ourselves in the midst of all the contradiction and conflict, we will be ready to encounter a world that is ripe with both.

    The urge to do violence to the ideas and beliefs of people with different political beliefs or faith traditions or worldviews will subside. Because we will have discovered the battle really isn’t between us and them. If we are willing to look closely, we will discover the battle is contained entirely within us.

    Wow! So true!

    • Carrie, Kelly, and vineet: I’ve discovered in my clinical work that the truest things we don’t often say out loud. But in many cases, we should, because others are experiencing them, too. I’m glad this resonated with you!

  4. Wow. Always amazed at the timely blogs..
    Living in the tension is the scariest thing ever, if not in my mind and heart.

  5. A necessary thing for sure, but easier said then done. How do you begin to accomplish this?

    • Exactly my wife’s comment after reading the post! And I don’t have the whole answer, as I’m still working it out myself. But I think it at least begins with finding a relationship in which we are completely authentic and known, and still accepted and valued. I think this can lead to a kind of radical self-acceptance that allows us to be honest with ourselves about all parts of our internal world. Sound like a good start?

  6. Amen to all of the above! I’m forever torn between self-less service (compassionate care), mercenary service (work), and selfish service (self-care)! It does seem though, that first two are more joyfully accomplished when the third has been attended to. Thanks for your blog. Your comments always strike a chord.

  7. And then one day you wake up and your children are grown, with some of them (Kelsey & Katie 🙂 ) living halfway across the country, and you’d give the world to spend some of those overwhelmingly hectic times with them again. I have plenty of time for self-care now. If I had known how fast the time would fly, I would have spent less time complaining about “never having a moment for myself” and more time cherishing the time I had with them. Food for thought.

    • Mary Kay, Yes! This is the tension isn’t it? The precious, irretrievable moments are slipping away, and yet in the midst of it, some part of us WISHES them away! The challenge is living now in the light of what we will only fully know then. Thank you for helping us!

  8. Amen. Thanks so much for your wisdom. I’m learning how to live in the tension by learning to live in the middle of pain–an undiagnosed health condition. I am forever trying to push it away and keep it near to learn what I’m meant to from it. What an interesting ride from day to day. Keep writing. We need it.

  9. This post is incredible! The tension within which I’m trying to exist right now is a desperate longing for the family and friends and dreams I left behind in America, and my calling to live and work in China. People ask me, “Are you used to China, or do you miss America?” I say, “Yes.” They ask me how I feel about my job. I say, “I hate it. I love it.” And I often ask myself why I’m not in America pursuing my from childhood dream of becoming a Shakespearean actress/director/educator. All I can answer is: I don’t know….because I’m here. Because I love it here. Because God closed all those doors I wanted to go through, and somehow dragged me here.

    Also, I have to say, this tension you write about is exactly why I love poetry. (Especially Shakespeare….) All of my favorite poems are my favorites because they are perfect expressions of that taut cable which holds two leaden-weighted desires – always pulling together, always pulling apart – somewhere deep inside my being.

    Thanks for this post. It has helped me in my war against shame. I no longer have to feel ashamed for missing America and loving China at the same time. Or for being excited about the opportunities God has given me and sad about the ones He took away.

    • Thank you, Morielle. Your response is wonderful, too! Poets are usually great articulators of the tension. Scientists can be, too. Is light a wave or a particle? The answer: yes. I love that the tension is built into the very light of the universe. : ) Blessings upon your time in China.

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