The Mandate for Parents of Young Children: Availability

As his parent, you provide all of the context for the life of your young child. You are his life. You decide what he does, and when. Every person and situation he is exposed to falls within your purview. Everything that comes through his senses to his mind – every bit of it is provided by you. Your world view is his world view. Your empowerment is his empowerment.

Your anxiety and fear. He inherits these as well.

To be the gatekeeper of experience for another life, this is indeed an incalculably enormous responsibility. And it is as important as ensuring your child is properly nourished. You need to cultivate your child’s early experience with the same care in which you guard his safety.

Be wide awake, aware and available to yourself and your child, to ensure that you are in no way taking this responsibility lightly. Without awareness, even the best of parental intentions can lay the groundwork for victimhood, helplessness, anxiety or depression in a child. In fact, I’m not sure what else can.

By the same token, availability can foster strength, a positive mindset, empowerment, and open-mindedness. Your vitality is instrumental to your child’s. Put simply, an available parent fosters an available child.

Now, in my mind, it is absolutely not a useful exercise to expend energy placing blame – “If you want to identify the cause of all societal ills, just look at the parents.” No, I’m not that guy. I don’t care much for guilt. I care even less for shame.

No, this is more about empowerment and change. And while I am not a blamer, I need to be abundantly clear: even the best of parental intentions can in fact be insufficient to ensure the well-being of a child. To free your child to be his best, you need to be wildly self-aware. You need to know, quite intimately, the role your ego plays in the relationship with your child: your needs, your wants, your anxieties, your fears.

And I am not, absolutely not, talking about the kind of self-awareness that leaves you a quivering nervous wreck like so many parents:

“I hope I’m doing this parenting thing right!”

“I pray I’m not doing anything to mess my kid up!”

“Maybe I won’t do any permanent damage!”

Nope, this vigilance is simply more of the same fear-driven, ego-based concern, decidedly not useful, and bound to attract the feared result.

Rather, self-awareness in the context of availability is marked by a sense of calm – a strong, guiding inner voice that exudes a genuine confidence in parenting. This sense will provide you with an unparalleled sense of clarity, as you effortlessly present a well-intended world of safety to your child, gently buffeted by your unconditional parental love.

So, how do you create and sustain an available relationship with a child? Good question. First, retain and maintain your sense of awe of your child, certainly, but also of the world at large. Slow down, and take in the sights and sounds that surround you but so frequently allude you. If you struggle with this, become a student to your child’s teacher. Note the wonder with which he looks at the world. Crawl around with him. Get dirty. Feel it all.

Second, keep talking with your child. Talk about whatever it is that interests him at the time. You may have little or no interest in the Jonas Brothers, WebKins, toy trucks and so on. This of course is not at all the point. Be interested in your child’s interest. Dig into it with your kid. Ask what it is he finds so fascinating. Sit down for a half an hour and watch, learn and listen. Play what your child plays. This helps you to understand your child’s world for sure. But it also shows your child the priority he is in your life. He does not have to wonder if you care about him. He knows, with great comfort, that your love and acceptance of him is unconditional. This will provide him with all he needs to separate gradually from you and investigate his world on his own, with comfort that you are there for him.

Set dates with your children, each of them, and keep them no matter what. Protected time with you will prove to be invaluable to your child, both in real time and in the future. It is a substantial early deposit in the emotional bank account, providing a sense of resilience in your relationship going forward. It doesn’t matter what you do. Go to Chuck E. Cheese and play some games. Take your child out for a meal, just the two of you.

And protect time for your child, a little of it, every day. When my son was younger, my favorite time was around bedtime. We’d tell stories, do voices, crack jokes, and read. I make sure that last thing he hears every day, even as he’s become a teenager, is that I love him. Our conflicts are highly infrequent, but I will make this a habit on even, and perhaps most importantly, those tougher days. I strongly suggest that you do the same.

Otherwise, you miss it.

2017-02-17T14:14:51+00:00

2 Comments

  1. tomo edington November 23, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Why is it that parenting doesn’t require a license? At least a mandated prep course? When you go talk to a priest for a pre-nap consultation, all the Church cares about it more kids into the faith and not necessarily how they are raised. When you go to prenatal check-ups or Lamaze classes, all they care is how to grow and give birth to healthy babies and not necessarily how to raise them. So the new parents are often at a complete loss when the baby arrives. When Hana was born, this awareness hit me in the birthing room. I’M THE MOMMY!! OH HELP!! I wanted to put her back in me until I was ready!

    I wish the hospitals offered classes for the expecting parents, not about how to care for the babies, but about parenting. At least a pamphlet about it. Or your book.

    As a mom who didn’t have much effective parenting skills until 4 years into it, then later as a preschool teacher who saw so many parents in the same place I had been, I rely on you and your colleagues to do something about it!!!

  2. Johnduffy November 24, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Fair enough. I think you’re right. Over the past few years, I’ve thought that there should be directed coursework offered, at all levels, on various social-emotional skills. This at some point should include discussion on parenting, and how to connect with children and maintain that connection. Hard to determine where that curriculum would best be applied: schools, churches, social service agencies, families. But I am certain we are missing out on some important (and rather simple and enjoyable) elements of parenting. Perhaps we need more parenting titles on the bookshelves, and not just about changing diapers and managing tantrums.

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