Children grow up fast. It may not seem that way while your 3-year-old is screaming on the floor next to the candy display. But age 9, with its delightful reasonableness and just an inkling of preteen sophistication, arrives in what seems like the blink of an eye. As your child blows out those 9 candles, you're halfway to 18, when you're officially fired as a parent, and, if you've done a good enough job, re-hired as a consultant.
I know many parents of teenagers who wonder where things went wrong. How could their wonderful babies have become so ornery, so distant?
As I talk with these parents about their kids, I often find that the seeds of their parenting difficulties were planted in early childhood, when the naturally close parent-child connection began to erode. It's that close relationship that keeps our kids cooperative as they hit the teen years, and when it's compromised, parenting our kids can seem like an impossible challenge.
Parenting with a good relationship is like guiding a boulder downhill -- you still have to pay attention and offer direction, and challenges certainly arise, but the momentum is with you. A good parent-child relationship gets you through the hard times, and creates more frequent good times.
It helps you meet the unique needs of your growing child. It makes it easier for you to influence your kid, so he's more cooperative and discipline isn't a challenge.
A strong relationship helps your child to love herself and to love others. Kids whose emotional needs are met express the traits we all want in our kids: consideration and respect for others, self-confidence, integrity, self-discipline. And study after study shows that a close relationship with parents protects children from the excesses of the culture and the peer group.
Connection Parenting is about the bond with your child, rather than "skills" to make you a better parent. You're a fine parent already, if you're in touch with your natural parenting instincts. Here's what you need to know:
No "parenting skills" can make up for the lack of a close relationship. Kids only accept our guidance because of who we are to them. A close bond gives access to our natural parenting know-how, AND makes our kids want to please us.
If you start close, you're likely to stay close as she grows up. That's because the bond with awakens your natural parenting instincts, which insist that you stay connected to your child. That early bond gets created when you respond attentively to her needs, giving her a profound sense of secure attachment.
A good relationship takes time. It's especially challenging to create a close relationship with our kids these days. Human beings weren't designed to handle the stress our modern life loads on, which makes it difficult to hear our instincts. Most of us parent in our spare time, working around other responsibilities and too much time away from our kids. And our culture devalues and erodes our relationship with our kids, wooing them away from us at too early an age.
A relationship is the slow accretion of daily interactions. Of course, every parent has a relationship with his or her child; the question is what kind. You don't have to do anything special; the good -- and bad -- news is that every interaction creates the relationship. Carpooling and bath time matter as much as that big talk you have when there's a problem. He doesn't want to share his toy, go to bed, or do his homework? How you handle it is one brick in the foundation of your connection, as well as his ideas about all relationships.
Close relationships are built from shared experience that lets us touch each other deeply. Nothing extraordinary may seem to be happening on the outside, but on the inside we're connecting with the fullness of our deepest selves. It's a form of falling in love: most of it happens in our hearts. Experiences like kissing scraped knees, laughing hysterically over nothing, discussing human nature at the dinner table, or wrestling with a challenging decision during a quiet stroll at twilight -- that's what builds intimacy.
It's not a sign of healthy emotional development for a teen to push parents away, meaning that a 14-year-old who focuses mostly outwards is probably looking for something he wasn't getting at home. We need to invite our children to rely on us emotionally until they're ready to depend on themselves.
Too often in our culture, we let teenagers transfer their dependency outside the family, with disastrous results. Teens often give up a great deal of themselves in pursuit of the closeness they crave, only to crash against the hard reality that other teens aren't developmentally able to offer them what they need. It's appropriate for kids to become increasingly independent throughout their teen years. To experiment successfully with intimate relationships outside the family, though, kids need solid intimate relationships at home.
Connection Parenting keeps your family connected as the pressures of daily life erode your time together and your children grow into their own lives, with their own friends and interests. And it insures that they'll want to email you from college, or wherever their paths may lead.
Dr. Laura Markham