"Being There" for Your Family

Being There for Your Child

“I always want to make sure I am there for my child!” This heartfelt statement made by a mother of a 9 year old boy symbolizes the strong feelings all parents have around the fear of letting their child down. For some parents, these feelings are intensified if they, themselves, felt that a parent wasn’t there for them when they were young. In that case, the impulse may be to bend over backward to avoid repeating past mistakes or risk failing your own child in any way.

In our effort to keep a certain balance in our parenting, it is important to think about what being there means for your children at each stage of their development. How close and how far they really need us to be often depends on the age, the stage and the situation. Let’s look at some examples.

For a newborn baby it means being fully present, temporarily giving up almost all other interests, holding and feeding as if there were no tomorrow. Soon, however, being there for that baby may mean stepping back a bit from constant holding and giving him the freedom to fuss during his “tummy time” on the floor or cry as he tackles the job of learning to fall asleep on his own.

Being there for your 3 year old who has fallen and hurt himself badly means holding and comforting him until he feels better. By contrast, however, being there for siblings who are quarrelling with each other may involve leaving them to work it out.

For a 6 year old who is starting a new school, being there for her may mean going early to meet the teacher, making sure your child has supplies she needs, and walking her to the classroom door. But walking away when it’s time for the parents to go and trusting her to muster the courage to stay, is also being there for her in an age-appropriate way.

It’s all in the timing of our steps in this complicated parenting dance. Sometimes we need to dance up close, sometimes we dance at a distance and sometimes... we need to dance out of sight. Which to do when - is every parent’s dilemma.

Some adults seem to have a natural sense of this dance, lucky people. But I observe that when parents aren’t exactly sure, many play it safe by dancing up close all the time. Wanting to keep their children safe every moment, wanting them to feel secure, and above all wanting them to have high self-esteem, parents may end up doing “excessive” parenting. With that, they risk raising children who are unable to deal with adversity, who have fewer self-calming skills, who have difficulty making decisions, being resourceful on their own and who may be afraid to make mistakes.

These dance steps! How can we get them right? First, remember that they are very small steps. A little one up, a little one back. One small miss- step is not going to make or break a childhood. Second, when considering your position on this dance floor, take into account the individual child’s developmental needs, the particular circumstance and your child’s temperament. So, with a certain child you might dance up closer on Monday for the doctor appointment than you would on Thursday night when homework is not done but due tomorrow.

Last, expect to get it wrong sometimes. You’ll inevitably look back and think you should have given more support or that you gave too much...but you’ll have done your best at the moment and thank goodness that’s all children ask of us.