published in April 2014 Organic Hudson Valley Magazine
Parenting with connection. It’s multi-faceted and layered. It’s about the connections we have with and within ourselves --with our elders, our spouses, friends and community and, of course, the connections we foster with our children. Connection is at the root of all human interactions. In the best of scenarios, our connections have the power to make us feel strong and grounded. On the contrary, when opportunities to connect are repeatedly missed it can leave us feeling lost and empty; sometimes even angry.
By the time a child is a year old they have developed a strong tie to their primary caregiver. This connection develops out of instinctual behavior, an innate need and desire for children to be in close proximity to their primary caregiver(s). What inspires and interests me --as both a psychotherapist and parent-- is that these early ties are closely linked with other social behaviors, such as mating and parenting.
Chances are, if a child doesn’t experience satisfying connections with their parents they may also struggle in maintaining connections with others. The relationships we have as children with our own parents shape how we relate both to our partner and to how we parent. Parents’ attitudes towards themselves and their children are an opportunity for learned styles of connection. Interestingly, satisfying connections with others blossom when you cultivate an awareness of your values, replenish your reserves and hone your priorities.
Make time for yourself. Parents often come into my psychotherapy practice when things aren’t going well at home. The needs of the family are out of balance. Many parents, with the best of intentions, devote all of themselves to their child(ren). The problem is that this leaves you with empty reserves and depletes your resources to care for yourself or others. Think of what they tell you on the airplane: if there’s a loss of cabin pressure, air masks will deploy; put yours on before assisting someone else. You must care for your own physical, emotional and spiritual needs if you expect to have resources available to care for someone else.
Make time for your relationship. It’s the little things that matter most. Staying available to your partner with both body language and responsiveness --that’s the stuff kids watch, absorb and model themselves after. When you repeatedly miss opportunities to connect with your partner your children see parents who are at odds with one another instead of on the same page. Parents connect with their children in a much more effective way when they parent as a team. When you make an effort to connect to your partner on a daily basis you are modeling what healthy relationships look like. It helps your kids create a healthy framework for the relationships they will have later in life.
Slow down, re-prioritize and listen. The more we create and include our children in daily routines, the more we seize the opportunity to connect. When we connect, we influence and we create opportunities to pass down our values.
A personal example: recently, our young daughters have become finicky eaters. They want this, they don’t want that, and then they change their minds mid-meal. A result of their pickiness is often wasted food. While we don’t want them to feel they can’t change their minds, we also need to respect our resources. My husband and I share these observations with them. Then we each reopen the discussion while planning food shopping lists as a family. We discuss this need to respect our resources again while we grocery shop together. Of course, they still change their minds, but less frequently and with awareness.
Understand that you are cultivating a relationship that --for the rest of their lives-- will enable your children to feel confident as they explore the world. That is the parenting connection.
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