In my previous blog post about temperament, I talked about how a child’s temperament can impact the bonding process between children and their parents. My intent was to reassure parents who sometimes have difficulty soothing their children, to give a framework to understand why, and thereby make some changes.
I received a response from a troubled reader: Even colicky babies, she wrote, bond to their parents. Don’t they?
It made me realize that I need to clarify what I was saying. I wasn’t talking about the absence of an emotional bond, but that some children are easier to soothe than others. And sometimes, there is a mismatch between parent and child temperament that needs to be addressed in some way so that it doesn’t negatively impact bonding.
The idea of goodness of fit between parents and children is an interesting one that I’ve been reading more about. Sometimes, as parents, we find that we have a child who’s very different than we are. We’re introverted, she’s extroverted; we’re low activity people, and he’s bouncing off the walls.
It’s not automatically problematic that parents are different from their children. Where the problem can arise–and bonding can be impeded–is in the adjustment process. How well do we, as parents, recognize that we’re different from our children and then adapt accordingly?
This adaptation is a two-way process. Parents can help their children to relate differently, but the parents need to make the bulk of the shifts. Because, as I wrote in my other post, temperament involves innate (and sometimes immutable) traits. As the parents, it’s our responsibility to ensure a goodness of fit.
Goodness of fit would mean that if we like to wake up early and to have a rigorous schedule and we have a child who functions in the opposite way, we manage our own frustrations and work around the child’s needs. As I said, sometimes we can cultivate small changes in the child, but often, temperament will dictate preferences.
If we don’t manage our frustrations or make adjustments, that’s where the differences between us and our children can impact the quality of the emotional bond. We’re spending our time fighting to bring our children into line with our own desires, and being aggravated, rather than connecting.
As adults, we have our own preferences, of course, but we also have tools to handle frustration and other emotions that the child doesn’t yet have. That’s why the onus is on us to look at how well we’re adapting to our children’s needs.
It’s okay to wish that it was otherwise, that we were more naturally aligned with our children, but we can’t force that. What we need to do is adapt, and think about how well we’re fitting together.
If you’re finding that you’re unduly frustrated with your child, consider how his or her temperament might be different from yours, and whether you’re accepting that or fighting it. Just noticing is a great place to start, when it comes to making any sort of change.
Dad and baby photo available from Shutterstock