It’s easy to get caught up in the idea of giving our children “everything” – trendy clothes, the latest technology, exciting holidays, the best education, a wide array of extracurricular activities, a lovely home.
We all want the best for our kids. However, what our children need most may be quite the opposite of what we think.
Sadly, I see so many teens and young people overcome with anxiety. And I find it interesting that many are blessed with an abundance of material treasures. They come from privileged homes, have what appears to be a stable family environment, but yet they feel lost and on edge. They struggle to cope with the everyday pressures of life.
Providing What They Really Need
Their well-intentioned parents have often given them the best of life. And this often involves sacrificing family time together in order to “provide”. But are they providing what their children really need?
The ability to forge close, bonded relationships is the ultimate gift we can give our children – and they learn it through their bond with us.
Sue Gerhardt, in her brilliant book, “Why Love Matters” brings together research from all around the world which clearly evidences the profound (and even physical) effects nurture and deeply connected, bonded relationships have on the developing brain, from birth and throughout the developing years. She shows us how the forming brain is compromised, in ways that can actually be seen, measured and felt, when children are not given the capacity to bond deeply. And the art of deep bonding is something that is learned through experience – it takes consistent effort, investment and time.
A Matter of Time
The problem in our Western culture particularly, is time can seem scarce. And often as parents, we are forced to choose between time spent with our children or loved ones, and time spent earning money, maintaining the home, cooking, cleaning and providing.
Most of us feel, if we could we would do it all, but we simply don’t have the time. So we do the best we can, and often that means putting our kids into activities or after school care, picking them up, giving them dinner and getting them to bed as quickly as possible – leaving little time for that vital lifeblood that will enable them to form fulfilled relationships with others (and themselves) for the rest of their lives.
The truth is there is no time better spent than time spent investing in the ones we love – living in the moment, enjoying life and forming loving bonds.
The Meaning of Life
Viktor Frankl, a renowned Psychiatrist, began his lifelong quest for what drives our ability to survive and thrive during his time in a Nazi concentration camp. He concludes it is our search for meaning that gives us the will to live, even in the most extreme circumstances. And by “meaning” Frankl refers to deeply loving connections and bonds. He realized, through observing those who survived unthinkable horror versus those who didn’t, that when there was some-one to live for, some-one to love deeply, survival rates were much higher and mental resilience significantly stronger.
A New Beginning
Now, if you’re reading this article and feeling like you may have been caught up in the trap of the overscheduled child, or the material provider, the important thing is to not feel guilty or bad. We all do what we know to be the best – until we know better.
Additionally, the wonderful reality is the human brain can adapt and change. Science calls it neuroplasticity, but every day I see people re-calibrate their brains and re-form their lives.
It is never too late to start loving unconditionally and forming close bonds.
Instead of looking back with regret, allow yourself to look forward and consider what could be adjusted. Sit down with your children and ask them what matters most to them. You may, for instance, all agree to reduce excessive sports activity after school or on the weekends in order to build in quality, fun, connected time with Mum and/or Dad. Just remember, the fulfilment you generate with your children through spending happy, bonding, loving time together will empower them for life. A tidy garden or big house will have little effect comparatively when it comes to their mental and emotional well-being.
An Opportunity to Take the Pressure Off
Instead of feeling guilty, we can actually allow this understanding to release guilt and pressure. We can reframe it, and allow it to give us as parents the opportunity to take time out with our kids, relax and enjoy the precious moments more. We can allow ourselves the freedom to take the pressure off earning money to the same extent, or accumulating more and more, knowing that as the old cliché tells us, the best things in life are often free.
Ultimately, we all want our children to be happy and fulfilled. Being a great scholar, businessman, tennis player or gymnast is of little value if our kids grow into adults who are unable to form and secure mutually fulfilling relationships with their partner, lover, children, friends and family. Connected, fulfilling relationships are elemental to our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. And our children learn this, the art of true happiness, through their relationship with us.
Gerhardt, S. (2004) Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Babies Brain. Routledge
Onderko, P. Parenting The New Science of Mother-Baby Bonding. Downloaded 20th February 2019 from https://www.parenting.com/article/the-new-science-of-mother-baby-bonding
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