On the other hand, Bob was inclined not to worry ever. His family had survived real danger. For long periods when Bob was a child, they had lived in a place that truly was unsafe. His mother had adapted by not worrying about the kids’ safety at all. If she did, she kept these worries to herself. There were times that Bob seemed oblivious to important issues. This isn’t a good solution either, but between the two of us we struck a reasonable balance of when to worry.
It was also helpful that we tended to worry about different things. Bob tended to be invested in the boys’ athletics, rejoicing in their victories but also pushing them to do more than they could at times. His reactions may have been over-determined by the lack of opportunity he had to excel in these areas. I wanted them to shine academically and became over-zealous about their school work, sometimes helping them too much so that they wouldn’t fail. Yet in other areas, such as sports or music, I was content to support their development without becoming over-involved.
Ideally, as parents, we provide an environment in which we are supportive of our children’s efforts and yet not so overly invested that we can’t stand to see them to fail. We provide a child-friendly structure so that children can experience successes and failures that they can manage. We can provide emotional support while they feel the exhilaration of doing something on their own. Unfortunately, much of the external world is not child-friendly at all. Sports teams are too competitive. Schools are not designed in ways that allow children to experience success. So as parents we are walking a fine line between enabling our children to succeed and protecting them from really damaging outside experiences of failure and humiliation.
When we are able to attend to our children’s feelings while not overwhelming them with our own, we create an emotional network of caring that sustains all of us. It “greases the wheels” of family machinery and makes it easier to communicate the values that we want to instill in our children. We want them to love us and want to be like us. Yet we must give them their own space so that they have the freedom to take in what we have to offer and make it their own. It also helps answer that perennial question that has plagued parents and children forever: “Why doesn’t anyone understand me?”
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Last reviewed: 12 Sep 2013