Parenting in a Nutshell
When my children were small I sought to learn as much as I could about parenting so I would be the best parent I could be.
I had an early start in this education: my sister gave me an excellent book, while I was expecting my first child, a book that my husband and I read together every night. It formed our approach to parenting, putting us on the same page, so to speak.
All I really knew for sure was that I wanted my children to know they were loved – to feel loved by their parents. That was my guiding principle.
I wish I knew then what I learned some thirty-two years later. After all these years, I believe I’ve stumbled upon the best parenting advice ever; the way to let your children know they are loved, over and over again.
It has to do with self-esteem, communication and the attachment bond.
Our sense of self-esteem is developed in early childhood and is dependent, in part, on the calibre of the attachment bond we have with our mothering figure. If we had a secure attachment bond, our subsequent relationships tend to be secure. If the attachment bond is damaged, severed or neglected for various reasons (some unintended, like illness or premature death), our later relationships will suffer as well until/unless we’re able to heal.
What is a secure attachment? To use my daughter’s words, “Secure attachment is fostered by sensitive responsiveness. It is a safe haven from stress and trouble, and a secure base from which to explore the environment”. We needed this as young children: we need this as adults where the environment we explore is the landscape of life itself.
We still need a safe haven in life.
How do we as parents foster the growth of a secure attachment bond with our children? I believe we do it by giving our children the four messages that provide the foundation for developing healthy self-esteem. As small children, and even as adults, we are seeking (albeit unconsciously) positive answers to these four questions:
- Do I matter?
- Am I worthy of your time and attention?
- Am I competent in your eyes?
- Can I influence this situation?
We deliver the first and second messages when we give our children our full attention whenever we can and listen with interest to what they have to say. This says, you matter to me and are worthy of my time and attention.
We deliver the third and fourth messages when we teach them how to approach problems – that never-ending aspect of life – rather than attempting to solve our children’s problems for them. This says; I believe you’re competent and can handle what comes your way in life.
It’s natural to want to solve our child’s problem yourself so we don’t have to watch our child struggle. The helicopter/snowplough parenting approach of today is the unfortunate evolution of this desire to protect our children.
But we can and must do better because this approach answers the four self-esteem questions negatively.
It says; you don’t matter enough for me to listen all the way to the end of your story.
It says; I know what you should do – we don’t need to waste any more time talking about the problem.
It says; you’re not capable of solving this problem on your own.
It says; you have no power to influence this situation.
It’s hard to simply listen, reflect and empathetically inquire while trusting that your loving presence will unlock your child’s process of finding solutions within. It’s painful to watch your children struggle. But the struggle is valuable and the sense of empowerment and affirmation they experience when they learn they can triumph over problems builds their confidence as well as their self-esteem.
We want our children to grow to become wholesome, empowered citizens of the world who know they are valued, competent and influential.
We want them to know they are loved.
We want them to know that, as Barbara Coloroso says, “there is no problem so great it cannot be solved”.
As parents, the power to convey these messages to the leaders of tomorrow is in our hands.