Josep Ma. Rosell via CompfightThere are no household hints, directions before using, or universal antidotes to be prescribed in the rearing of a child. It is the quality of our understanding, often the intuitive understanding of a parent who is in intimate rapport with his child, that provides us with the right method at critical moments. (Fraiberg, )
Connection is at the heart of our parenting model. It is the lubricant that ensures that our inevitable family entanglement will be composed of silken threads as strong as steel. Not barbed wire or chains. Not twisted and knotted strands—but loving and reliable ties that keep the family machinery running smoothly. It is through connection that we convey our commitment to our children and provide assurance that we will always be there for them. Through this vital link our children receive the parenting messages that shape their development. Connection allows us to teach our children rules and boundaries, principles of right and wrong, and ways that we want them to live. Even more than the words they hear, the child’s awareness of this connection establishes trust and encourages the child to listen willingly and internalize our messages. The expression of our connection will, of course, be modified as our children grow and develop, but it must always be present. This is easier said than done. Knowing we are committed is one thing, but demonstrating it through positive connection is another. Here’s Bob’s take on it:
Commitment is far deeper than a concept or an intellectual assent to its importance. It flows from an inner sense of love, desire for and need to be bonded to another. As the boys came along there was never a doubt about their being incorporated within the boundaries of my commitment. They were my responsibility. In my mind my job was to see to it that they grew into men of character, ability, faith, citizenship, and possessed the capacity to relate at the deepest level of the human soul. That meant that I had to get off my “commitment laurels” and be a father who could communicate love as a driving force in my relationship with my sons.
Therein lay the rub. I had commitment, but didn’t know what to do with it. How could I best let my children know of my love for them? I thought that having it was enough. I knew I had it. Why didn’t others see that? Why did I have to struggle so hard against inner forces that held its expression in check? My wife pointed that out to me in a continuous array of comments, suggestions, insistences, and some pretty harsh arguments. I had to start acting in a way that signaled to my family that they were paramount, that nothing else had as much priority, relatively speaking. I had to start being on time to pick them up, always do what I said that I would do, call home if I were somehow detained. I had to make sure that I didn’t deflect a son’s request in favor of a social or professional conversation. I couldn’t just adore them at convenient, relaxing times. I had to prove my unequivocal love for them by being available at all times. I didn’t quite achieve it, but at least I was becoming aware of its power to confer security to my sons.
For me it did not require a change of heart, but it did mean a change in what I did. It was often in powerful opposition to what I wanted and in direct violation of how my upbringing had programmed me. So I began shifting my thinking. I used to say that I had forty boys. That’s how it felt after I put each one to bed ten times a night without getting upset with them. I started singing them the Harry Belafonte songs I had learned growing up. It was one way of giving them a part of me, a part of something I loved. I allowed them the freedom of emotional expression, whether love or hate or just plain stubbornness, without a retaliatory comment.
Bob and I were learning that the building of those essential ties with our children depended on how we behaved toward them on a continuing, actually daily, basis. For it’s in moments that relationships are built. These brief encounters are the building blocks of a family’s bonds. It’s the touch of a hand or the reassuring glance that communicates love and respect. Conversely, it is the harsh words or disapproving stares that wither affection.
Next time we’ll talk about the specific behaviors that allow us to connect deeply and easily with our children.
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Last reviewed: 5 Aug 2013