[This is a revision of a post from 2016. I consider this one of my most important topics.]
How to make your wife and kids feel unneeded…
It’s quite simple, really–hardly worth even blogging about. You pull them aside and you just say these four words, “I don’t need you.”
But feel free to be more creative if you like.
Personally, I prefer using the phrase, “I have no need of you.” Somehow it sounds a little more theatric, yet it accomplishes the same thing. I’ve used that phrase often with my family over the past 26 years.
If you don’t believe me go ahead and ask them yourself!
Now before you call DHS, indicting me for shattering my girls’ fragile self-esteems, let me explain why we should be telling our family members that we don’t need them.
Here are five reasons why I suggest we not tell them we need them.
- It’s not helpful to others. It’s much more important to tell them we want them. I am always clear to communicate “I want you,” “I cherish you,” “I delight in you,” “I enjoy you.” “I like being with you,” etc. — even while using my epic line “I have no need of you.” Communicating “I want you” tells them that they are desirable, lovable, interesting, and treasured. They don’t need to be needed, but they do need to be valued.
- It manipulates others. Making them feel needed, can create an unhealthy sense of co-dependency, where their identity and worth is defined how well they meet the expectations of others. I know people whose entire adult lives have been consumed with having to please other people. It feels like enslavement because it is.
- It sets us up for interpersonal conflict. Viewing our loved one as a “need” puts us in the position of consumer with them being our provider. It creates high expectations, where our happiness depends on their performance. Such expectations easily cause us to manipulate others, pressuring them to provide what we think we need. This “you owe me” attitude is a setup for serious marriage, family, and friendship conflicts. Some may comply with our demands for a while, but most will eventually pull away relationally, causing a wall between us.
- It’s a deviation from what is true. I believe that God is truly our only real need; everything else is merely a want. This mindset encapsulates the very first of my 40 Life Resolutions: “God is my only true need.” Everything else pales in comparison. I would redesign Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” with God at the top and a “Hierarchy of Wants” underneath. If God is truly the giver and sustainer of life — both now and for eternity–then the Christian technically needs nothing else. Period. Not even oxygen–in fact, being deprived of that will make us more alive than ever before.
- It’s a setup for our own misery. We must not remove God from his rightful place as the one who satisfies us. If we do, viewing our loved ones as what we really need, this is idolatry. It is also a setup for deep disappointment, despair, and bitterness should we lose them to death, disability, deficiency, distancing, or desertion. Let me expound on each.
- Death. We have no guarantees. Life is fragile. We live in a fallen, precarious world. Our family members are mortal. It’s conceivable that the God who gave us our loved ones could choose to take them away. How would we handle that? I’ve seen two responses. Those who see their family members as a “need that they’ve been robbed of” invariably shake their fists at God and descend into a dark tunnel of bitterness. One dad who lost a son became so bitter that his other sons lost their dad (emotionally) for the next 10 years. How unnecessarily tragic! On the other hand, I’ve seen families lose a child yet praise God for the precious years they had together. Although they grieved their terrible loss, they were eventually able to press forward, knowing that their child’s earthly presence wasn’t something they “needed” in order to be joyful. In my daily prayers for my family I tell God, “Help me to treasure my family more and more, yet hold them looser and looser.” If and when they are taken away–it’ll be ok.
- Disability. We can probably all think of marriages that dissolved after one spouse became disabled. A Christ-centered marriage shouldn’t depend on our spouse’s physical prowess or functionality. “He (or She) didn’t meet my needs” should never be an excuse for splitting up. That’s not what Christlike, unconditional love is. “In sickness and in health, till death do us part” is the commitment that was made. Thankfully, our spiritual disabilities don’t keep Jesus from loving us. We can’t need others to function as we wish they would.
- Deficiency. Parents often “need” their children to be star athletes, musicians, performers, scholars, etc. This then becomes a point of contention when kids don’t live up to their potential. Parents sometimes derive their own esteem from their kids’ performance or try to live out their own unreached dreams through their kids. This pressure adds stress to kids’ lives and often builds walls between parents and kids. If parents stopped “needing” their kids to be something the parents want, perhaps these parents could help their kids explore who God wants them to be.
- Distancing Kids naturally pull away relationally from “needy” parents. Unfortunately, when this occurs, these parents often resort to blame and shame, nagging and scolding as attempts to try to get them back. Such manipulation always backfires. So many fractured families are the result of this. We also can’t need our kids to be physically close. For example, we have to be ok if God calls our kids to move to Africa for the next 20 years. As much as we might want our future grandkids to grow up close to us we can’t need it. Thankfully, we can be perfectly joyful and content even when we don’t have all the things we ideally would want! It’s a lie to think otherwise.
- Desertion. Kids who abandon the beliefs, values, or lifestyles of their parents can cause devastation for parents who “needed” their kids to stay true to the faith. These parents often try to scold, nag, or pressure their kids to come back to the fold, which ironically has the opposite effect. On the other hand, parents whose joy doesn’t depend on their kids’ choices are free to live their own lives abundantly. Though they will certainly remain concerned about their child’s choices and well-being, they don’t lose their own ability to worship, serve God, and take care of themselves. Ironically, the best thing a concerned parent can do to influence their wayward kids is not to attack the waywardness, but rather joyfully trust God and love others amidst heartbreak. A genuine, unwavering, and unshakable faith may be the very thing that influences their kids to come back to the fold.
So do yourself, your wife, and your kids a favor by telling them you don’t need them! And then tell God that He’s all you’ve ever really needed. It’ll transform your life and theirs!
[Please note that in this article I’m using the word, “need,” in a technical or literal sense. I recognize that “need” is also commonly used in a more figurative or pragmatic sense, such as, “We need to work together as a team,” or “I need help making supper.” I take no issue with such “needs”! Yet I have found it helpful to limit my use of the word “need,” substituting “want” or “would like” whenever possible as a way to ensure I don’t fall into any of the pitfalls listed above.]