It’s Not the What. It’s the Why.

WARNING!  Some of you ARE NOT going to like this!  (Please take a deep breath before reacting though.  And try and be honest with yourself.  Plus, this — you don’t have to be a mom to get the point of this essay.)

Not long ago I was talking to yet another woman who has lost herself in the lives of her children.

It’s so easy to do.

When they’re young, they require our attention 24-7. But they get older, and some of us mothers refuse to notice this.

Many of us, as our children get older, are still hovering over them, managing their lives, “helping” them correct their mistakes, and basically throwing ourselves in front of them and their natural consequences for their actions (or inactions.)

What complicates this is that the ENTIRE process of parenting is a gray area.

Not SOME of parenting.

But ALL of it.

In this case, the kid-in-question was getting what his mother thought was an “unfair consequence” for a choice that he made. And while she wanted to let him “handle it on his own,” after a day or two of watching him “not do it her way,” she swooped in to take over.

Now this kid will be leaving the nest in less than two years. And this kid WAS working it out.

But his mother was too afraid to let go. To her, the “risk” to her kid was all tied up in one of those myths from our own childhood – his Permanent Record.

Because of her fear for his Permanent Record, she just couldn’t let it go.

So, now we come to our topic for the day.

It’s not the WHAT. It’s the WHY.

When we are making a decision about how to handle situations with gray areas (which is basically, EVERYTHING), for the sake of our own selves, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves this question:

Not “WHAT do I need to do?”

But, “WHY am I reacting this way?”

Because the WHY informs the WHAT.

People who aren’t clear about their MOTIVES for action make all kinds of mistakes in life. Worse, they don’t just screw things up for themselves; they screw things up for OTHER people.

When I asked her WHY she couldn’t pull back from the situation, all she could talk about was the WHAT. WHAT the consequences might be (his Permanent Record).

She couldn’t see that I was asking her to take a look at her own fear. Because it is our FEAR that keep us tethered to “the problem.” Our fears limit our ability to see better choices.

Now here’s the thing, love – once you take a step back and look at the WHY of what you are doing, you may still take the EXACT SAME action (the WHAT) as you would have WITHOUT considering your motives.

But more often than not, once you get clear about your motives (your WHY), new options for responding – BETTER options for responding – become apparent.

But you can’t see those options if you are all tied up in your fear.

Plus there’s this:

Women have a tendency to lose themselves in their relationships. We make choices to do this. But then we resent others, or life, or society, or circumstances for “making” our lives insufferable.

But really, truly, we’ve got to own up to our own role in this problem.

If we are just “beings who react,” if our anxiety for the people we love leads us around life by an invisible ring in our noses, then WE ARE AT FAULT.

We have only one real MUST here at Life After Tampons.

We MUST keep the focus on ourselves.

We don’t talk about our kids, our marriages, our lovers, our “others” here. We keep the focus ENTIRELY on ourselves, our choices, our lives.

There are PLENTY of other places to lose yourself to others on the internet. But it ISN’T here.

That’s because if we want a better story for our lives, then WE have to change.



Not the unfair expectations placed on Mothers v. Fathers.

US!!!!  (Technically, I believe it is “we” but you get the point!)

It may be that you still “march on the school” and have a “talking to” the principal about “so and so’s” unfair treatment of your kids.

Or, it may be that we allow our kids to imperfectly handle things and catch them when they fall, so we can teach them how to help themselves when we are no longer around to intervene on their behalf.

It may be any number of other options.

But, when we consider the WHY before the WHAT – we live more in the spirit of clarity and truth.

We stop hiding a bad motive under a good action. We stop looking for “plausible deniability” as in “I DID NOT have sex with that woman.” We stop saying our version of this “Yes, I smoked it. But I did NOT inhale.”

You see what I mean?

We own our own truth. We avoid acting mindlessly out of FEAR but calling it PARENTING.

It’s a Big Girl Panty action, to be sure.

But ultimately everyone is better served if we are able to take it.

Love — truly, truly — Jennifer

Photo: Flickr, rumpleteaser

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29 Responses to It’s Not the What. It’s the Why.

  1. Amen! Parenting is not for the weak of heart. As a mother of 2..daughter 23 and son 29…I have had to move from “mommy mode” totally dependent to “Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma…ake fix it come to the rescue…and the beautiful transition but HARD to “Mother/ \Mentor/ Talk things out wither. I never wanted to take the joy of figuring it out from my kids. Let them know they are very capable decision makers.
    Beautiful post Jen.

  2. Tracey says:

    Articles like this one illustrate your brilliance and the reason why you are going to keep soaring. No one really talks about this stuff. Lots of us are thinking it, to be sure, but until the words get out into the open air it’s easy to remain in denial. Each one of us LAT peeps MATTERS. Thanks for the constant reminder, for your humor and, again, for your bright light.

    • Tracey, you are AWESOMETASTIC!!!! I’m gonna read this and read this and read this EVERY DAY for the REST of my LIFE!!!! I’ve already discussed it with my husband. The boys are out because it is the last day of school, but, when they get home, they get to hear about it, too!!!

  3. roxane says:

    I am about to become an “empty nester” in 2 short months. I do wonder who I’ll be then…even though I am “busy” with running a nonprofit and completing my doctorate. It’s like I’ve spent my entire life “being a mom” (single mom; father died at 8) and now what??? I can’t even allow myself to think about waking up in the morning and seeing an empty bedroom.

    • Hi Roxanne,
      Kathleen here…your post struck a cord with me. I was widowed at 43 and our kids were 8 and 14. It was a rocky road managing without someone to play “good cop/ bad kid” with when it came to parenting. Some days I did it well…some days not so much.
      I asked myself the exact question…what’s next for me? How will I make MY way in the world…as a mother of ADULT children? You will always be their mom…but it is not only their time to fly….but also YOUR time to fly too.
      I just want to say…it will be ok. Take the time you need to feel what you will feel..but then it is Momma Time! :o)
      I would be more then happy to be a person you can bounce feelings and ideas off in the future.
      Have a great summer day.
      kathleen warner…

      • Thank you both. For your love. Your picking up the slack for the kids. And now, for sharing that with each other. You know, when I started this space, I hoped for just this sort of thing. That, through our space here, we could share our experience, strength, and hope with each other.


    • Blessings! See my comment to Kathleen next, too. Jen

  4. It’s a long process to learn to let go, to learn to let your kids deal with things themselves, and to learn to allow ourselves as mothers to live our life. I think it evolves over time. I’m learning little by little with my 21 year old working full time and my 19 year old who has moved out of the house to go to school. I find it’s something you learn day by day.

  5. Diana says:

    The best gift we can give our children is to prepare them to lead their own lives, and then step back and let them do it. Otherwise we are telling them you don’t think they’re capable, smart and resourceful.
    Sometimes the kindest (and hardest) thing we can do – is nothing.
    I raised four. I love them all with my whole heart. And I’ve set them free to live their lives, while I cheer them on from the sidelines as I pursue my own self-growth, independence and joy.
    It sure feels like the right thing to do.

  6. Sandy Morris says:

    Jen: You are a very wise woman. Don’t ever let YOUR fear of what may make others angry stop your voice. This here issue today is a very important one. When my older son was going through this very same stage and I was faced with the ‘permanent record’ issue I told the judge to throw the book at him and he didn’t. He was a minor and we just let those minors keep making those mistakes, blah, blah, blah. As a result, my son had to go ahead and make even more life-shattering decisions and went on to use drugs, go to jail as an adult, and really really do all of the other hard stuff. I kept telling him I loved him but did NOT give him money to fund his insanity, nor did I support him in it. I DID, however, keep him in my heart and in my prayers, and when he made the decision to take a leap of faith in himself and move away from everything and everybody who was making him crazy I supported him and helped him and he DID finally grow up. But the mistakes HAD to be made and he did have to go to jail, and he did have to hurt very badly, hurt others very badly, and damage himself in order to grow. Unfortunately, it’s the pain that helps us grow. We don’t do it without it. He is now a successful and happy adult. It does happen, but not if you don’t let it. You are right, for whatever it’s worth!

    Again, thank you for your wisdom and the courage to say what we don’t want to hear. You are love, my dear!

  7. Jeanette says:

    Ah…I got lost in the other side of all of this…the fact that I was not, am not a mom. I have 2 step sons, but they did not, do not want that role from me. Though I had been assured by their parents that I would be a part of family, for reasons not important, here, that was not to be. By the time it became obvious, the decision not to have more children was moot due to the ole’ Pause sisters. I spent the first 7 years of my marriage lost in what not being a parent meant, blaming, resentful…hopeful…that it would, they would change. It was not until I accepted that I was why I was here, my perspective was the only one I could change, that I began that journey of putting down and away expectations and their adjoining resentments. Through the Grace of God and hard work, I have come back into my own joyful skin, again. But in order to do so, I really had to look at the ‘why’ of my heart, from all angles…I did not always like what I saw, for sure! However, as you have written so eloquently, it is that answer, over and over, which has empowered me to grow. While I do not have sons, I do have two young men I adore and we have a uniquely sweet relationship because I finally learned how to accept what is and made the choice to make it good for myself.

    I love your posts! I have been away and will be again, soon. But it is reassuring to return to your humor and direct honesty. Best of luck and self to all participating in your workshop! J

    • Hi, Jeanette. The first part of your share made me so sad. I wanted to be next to you and hug your neck!!!! And then, you came through, and made lemonade out of the whole thing. You. Are. Amazing!

  8. Andrea says:

    Wow, Jen…thank you so much for offering that guiding question…I am going to practicing pausing and asking myself that question every time (not just around parenting) I need to respond to something…I’ve never really looked at my responses to things from that perspective…yet, I am beginning to see how much I operate out of fear.

    • Yep. Acting out of fear make us and others crazy. And then we’re running all over hell and back trying to catch and control everything. And THEN we’re wondering why we don’t have enough steam left for ourselves.

      I do it, too. Sometimes.

  9. Lynn Hess says:

    I love this! Usually I think of “why” as an unproductive rabbit-hole kind of question (“Why did this happen?” “Why didn’t I get this thing or that thing?” “Why is he acting that way?”) — but the way you’re asking it here it is highly productive. I think the key, as you said, is keeping the “why” focused on OURSELVES and not OTHERS.

    I find that, for me, overinvolvement and losing myself in others is 99.99999% related to anxiety. When I am in a clear place and remember that life is FOR me, not against me, that it’s a friendly universe, and that things always work out for the best, it’s much easier to stay in my own business. Because I can trust that it’s all going to be fine and I don’t have to run around trying to control & fix things (which never works, anyway).

    I love and respect your emphasis on keeping the Life After Tampons focus on US. You’re right, there are plenty of other places we can go for the other stuff!

    • Yep. You’re so right about the difference. We ask “why” about our motives but not “why me?” One is a question that leads to right action. The other is a question that leads to a dis-spiriting sense of victimization.

      They do sound an awful lot alike though, and I need people to remind me, too.

  10. Kate Britt says:

    I like your allusion to the ‘control’ aspect that keeps coming up in parenting. As in, If you don’t do things my way…. I won’t like it / I won’t know how to cope / I will disapprove / I will try and control you until you do. It applies to so many aspects of life — believe me, as a recovering control freak, I know. With everybody else, well, they’ll get over it as soon as I’m out of their view. But with our own kids, our attempts at controlling their decisions and actions can affect their lives — *that*, too, is a permanent record!

    So I like your wisdom, Jen, and that of the others who commented here, in having all of us explore WHY we’re doing what we’re doing for our kids, most of whom are teens or adults by now. Is it “for our kids”? Really? What a great idea you have for us — at times when we catch ourselves still “parenting”, we must step back and figure out who we’re *really* doing this or saying that for.

  11. Teresa says:

    Interesting after seeing photo, I thought this post was about what you eat and why, and our relationship with food emotionally…but I guess that post can happen another time.

    My favorite part is the quote about grey area with ALL of parenting.
    It’s so true and I guess everyone has to come to terms with their parenting issues in their own time. We all have them and hopefully if we keep company with people like you, we are empowered to love ourselves and kids enough to change them.
    Thank you.

  12. Teresa says:

    You are one of my top 5 these days Jen!!!
    I have grown to really love your writing, your honesty, your kindness
    and your humor is off the charts.

    You are a Gem.

    We will work together one of these days.
    I was tempted to do your comeback offering, but I had to say “not now”.

    Right now, I have a full plate and a coach I am very connected with, but you are on the list.

    Thank you for showing up in all the ways you do
    and making mid-life fun!

  13. Christiena says:

    Hear, hear Jennifer.

    I find that when my kids struggle or go through a painful or difficult time, the urge to make the bad go away is almost overbearing. I don’t act on this urge though – not for some years now. Instead I call a friend and talk about the issue to really get a realistic grasp on the situation. 99% of the time the decision to sit back and let my baby take care of it them selves is made.

    If they fall, I am there to give them a ‘hand up’…if they’re interested and without judgement. If they succeed I cheer for them. One child isn’t interested at all in my support or feedback at this point in time. I don’t ‘feel’ ok with that. I am ok with that. I was much the same at her age lol.

    I always try to remember that I am where I am today by having a go at life…not having someone clear the path for me. I recently told one of my angels that I expect her to fail lots – not because she isn’t capable but because you have to have a go in order to succeed in life. I told her that if she ever needed bailing out, I’d need at least a 2 weeks notice to save up. Humour takes the heavy out but leaves the message intact for us.

    They will be ok. I have faith in all of them.

  14. Pam says:

    I’ve been good at backing off and letting my grown children handle and deal, because I think the more they figure things out as younger adults, the better they will be as they get old and become parents themselves. One of my sons is angry with me, essentially because he is a person who will never be happy no matter what, and he must think I’m the one person will take his berating and bullying. I’m walked around the last few weeks feeling like I can’t breathe and that my heart is breaking. I’m thinking of the consequences–“my granddaughter isn’t going to know me, because of silliness.” Then I realized that it’s her parents choice, not mine. Not a lot I can really do. As a single mom, I put a lot of time, effort and energy into raising my sons. They’re all good young men, responsible, with families and jobs. In those child raising days, I longed to be able to shop alone, go to dinner where I wanted and on a whim, go anywhere that didn’t involved a ball. And I realized, “these are the days I wished to have.” So I’m going to attempt to enjoy my life, and my son knows where I am. I’m not hard to find.

  15. Chris says:

    Please tell me you are working on a book–at the very least, a collection of these great essays so that I have something to write all over and keep. :}

  16. Jan from Asheville says:

    Good call Jen!!! No matter our space in life, it does fit… I am not a parent, or grandparent but I am present for my friends, my siblings, my partner, kids I mentor. What I know is this. If I don’t take the oxygen bag first and fit it to my head, I can be of no help to others!!! And boy, have I had a career of “helping others”!!! Like taking hostages on a plane bound for nowhere! Controlling others kept the focus off of me. I continue to learn that lesson, but today, it doesn’t have to be so painful before I say why? Why am I unhappy? Why won’t they just do it right? Why don’t I get off my big girl arse and take some action?

    Keep up the good focus my Sister!!

    P.S. Is that true about tepid water and frogs? lol

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