As a pastor I have a keen interest in helping young parents enjoy the parenting years. Those little ones will grow up so fast and be gone before you realize it. However, when a young couple is struggling with financial challenges, marital confrontations, and of course, the daunting tasking of parenting small children, they can sometimes feel overwhelmed. At times parents can feel they are doing something wrong and that nothing seems to be going right. I would like to offer a suggestion that the most important work in a family is the work of connecting. When mom and dad have a good connection, then it is easier to develop good connections with each child.
Research indicates that kids respond positively to their parents when there is acceptance and clear rules with supervision. This kind of relationship produces in the child a higher self-concept, academic competence and the development of autonomy. Research invariable underscores the importance of how much better off kids do in future life adjustment when they grow up in a home where parents model good self-regulation and conflict resolution and truly help their children feel accepted.[i]
When Marilyn and I left our two-year-old son, Eric, in his first day care in Costa Rica, he cried his eyes out. The second day I took him, I was expecting the same scene. However, to my surprise when we reached the gate, he looked around and spotted one person he was looking for and took off. I stood there for a moment and watched as parents brought their children; most of the kids were running to the same person. She was a plump little lady who was hugging and squeezing the kids. What was it that made the kids run to her? I noticed other workers all by themselves with no kids running to them. Over the course of the year it wasn’t hard to figure out why the kids took to this lady. She had something to give. She had a certain grace about her that made a love connection with each child. That love connection is what I am referring to in the parenting process.
Another researcher writes about what happens to adolescents when parents make a connection with them. When they make use of encouragement, praise, and physical affection, the adolescents tend to engage less in antisocial behavior and engage in more positive behavior. When adolescents feel valued, accepted, and loved, they are more inclined to internalize parental values and accept parents’ rules and attitudes.[ii]
In order to make connections with our children, we first have to accept them in all their uniqueness. Sometimes that can be a challenge because personality clashes can happen between child and parent. Then there are the normal challenges of parenthood. Christensen and Jacobson insist that when acceptance comes first, it opens up the way for change. Acceptance enables a parent to accommodate the needs of each child.[iii]
[i] Putnick, D., Bornstein, M., Hendricks, C., Painter, K., Suwalsky, J., & Collins, A. (2008). Parenting stress, perceived parenting behaviors, and adolescent self-concept in European American families. Journal of Family Psychology, 22(5), 752-762. doi: 10.1037/a0013177
[ii] Wang, M., Dishion, T., Stormshak, E., & Willett, J. (2011). Trajectories of family management
practices and early adolescent behavioral outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 47(5), 1324-1341. doi: 10.1037/a0024026
[iii] Christensen, A., Jacobson, N. S. (1999-10-06). Reconcilable Differences (pp. 11-12).
Guilford Publications. Kindle Edition.