The other day a colleague at work and I were talking about high school graduation, not a surprising topic for this time of year. We both noticed that some kids seem to be able to navigate well upon leaving school and home, while others don’t fare so well at all. And we wondered about the deeper causes of this. At one point she remarked that someone had once told her that, generally speaking, kids who can hear their parents laughing on the couch in the living room while they themselves are safely tucked in bed, will be okay. That’s quite an intriguing statement.
But is it true? My pediatrician at the time when my kids were toddlers, certainly seemed to think so. He had the following saying on the wall of the waiting room, for all to read:
“The greatest gift a father can give to his kids, is to love their mother.”
Both my colleague and my former pediatrician are pointing to the same thing: when parents truly love each other, care for one another and enjoy each other’s company, so much the better for the kids. Also in situations where parents have split up: if they manage to be considerate and kind to each other, they save their kids the agony of divided loyalties.
And that’s not all. I’d like to take this one step further: the prospects of flourishing under the care of someone who is able to temporarily set their own issues aside are much higher compared to a situation where the caregiver is absorbed in their own thoughts and problems.
I’m not talking about putting the children center stage and spoiling them; I’m talking about being fully present with the children during the time you’re together. ‘Fully present’ means you focus on their world, their circumstances, their well-being; you let their needs take priority over other needs; you are accessible to them no matter what and you relate to them in a way they understand. (Authors Mylan and Jon Kabat-Zinn as well as Scott Rogers speak of mindful parenting, which is exactly the same thing.)
Newly sprouted buds fare best when shielded from harsh influences for a while. Likewise kids fare best when shielded from adult issues and concerns that are beyond their ability to grasp and deal with.
If you and the children’s other parent are able to communicate with each other respectfully you give them a boost in their development. Should you be in the happy circumstance where the two of you love each other and can share fun moments together, they stand to gain even more. If, on top of that, you are fully present with the children in your care , you are giving your children the best possible gift.