Building the Parent/Child Bond

The parent/child bond is the most powerful, profound bond on the face of the earth. It’s what gives a mother strength to lift a fallen tree from her child, causes a father to work three jobs to feed his children, puts a fistful of daisies into the pudgy hand of a toddler for his mother on her birthday. It may also be the key to a child’s success in school. The bond at home offers security, confidence, and encouragement that the child can carry to class with him.

What is the parent/child bond? Where does it come from? Why does it happen? Why does the bond in some families seem to be stronger than in others?

These are questions we may never have definitive answers to. Perhaps it should remain the greatest mystery of all. The bond between parent and child comes in many shapes and sizes. We see it when a single mom plays catch with her son in the yard, we see it when a dad puts his daughter’s hair up in ponytails. Regardless of how strong our bond is with our children, experiences may come along that will test it. The toddler nestled safely in our laps with a bedtime story today may be the teenager who writes for his school paper in middle school. A strong bond can see a family through those tough times, and there are ways we can strengthen the bond we have with our children:

A MOTHER’S INFLUENCE

“Men are what their mothers made them“.

Ralph Waldo Emerson isn’t the first name that comes to mind when we think about parenting advice, but he is the author of the above quote. He didn’t say that men are what their fathers make them, but their mothers.

Olga Silverstein, MSW and author of The Courage to Raise Good Men, agrees: “The mother-son relationship offers us one of our greatest hopes for transforming ourselves and the world in which we live.”

It may sound chauvinistic, but it’s a fact that mothers generally spend more time with their children than fathers, since some fathers work outside the home, or are absent due to divorce or other circumstances.

Since mothers are often the primary caregiver to their sons, we should take special note in how we raise them because it can have long-term implications. Just like a flower, a son needs tending. To help raise a healthy, happy son, moms should teach him about responsibility. One way to do this is by getting a pet for your son to care for. It doesn’t have to be complicated. A goldfish or turtle will do. We will see them nurture their pet the way they are nurtured by us.

We should teach him to be honest, and the best way to do this is by being honest ourselves. Let there be consequences when he is being dishonest.

We should teach him to share his feelings. This hasn’t been the norm. Boys have been taught to “buck up” and keep their feelings in. But this can lead to miscommunications and unsatisfactory relationships when he reaches adulthood. Encourage him to open up now. Share heart to heart talks with him and his father, and be a good listener.

“It’s not considered ‘manly’ to show emotion,” says Leah C., a stay-at-home mom and owner and operator of a decal business in Kentucky. “But both my husband and I encourage our three sons to show their sensitive side. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to say I love you. Being a man is about being gentle too.”

MUTUAL RESPECT BETWEEN PARENTS:

The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.

This sounds like words straight from Dr. Phil’s mouth, but actually they were spoken by Henry Ward Beecher, a Presbyterian minister who died in 1887. When a father demonstrates love and positive regard toward his wife, it sets a good example for his children and they will learn to show the same respect toward their own wives and family.

Charlie Safford, Georgia-based LCSW and president of yourceus.com, explains that domestic violence is the extreme consequence of a home where control and dominance has replaced respect. “Domestic abusers tend to grow up in families in which violence exists, either in the form of spousal abuse or child abuse. They repeat the patterns they have observed and absorbed as children.”

A loving father fosters self-esteem, security, and confidence in his children. Both parents should show unselfish love and sacrifice toward each other and be on the same page when it comes to childrearing, including the areas of discipline, household routines, chores, and privileges.

MAKE TIME FOR CHILDREN

Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush; anxious for greater developments and greater wishes and so on; so that children have very little time for their parents; Parents have very little time for each other; and the home begins the disruption of the peace of the world.

Mother Theresa was a champion for peace and other world issues, but her quote above gets to the heart of the matter. The parent/child bond can be strengthened by spending time together. So simple, yet so hard to do in this faster-than-a-speeding-bullet world we live in today. It is crucial that we slow down, sit down, and make time for our children. It is one of the most important gifts we can give to them. What will it mean in the end for your daughter if you get her the latest Barbie but go all evening without some meaningful conversation for her? Or what if Dad earns a six or seven figure income but has never seen his son play baseball?

Ask her about her hopes, her dreams. What does she worry about? What makes her happy? Spend time nurturing her talents. Don’t just drop her off at ballet practice. Stay and watch her dance. Take walks and talk about the times when she was a little girl. Get out her baby book and talk about special memories. Plan family activities like games at home, vacations, and trips to museums or zoos.

Penny Boden, a busy RN with one tween girl and an active boy describes her way of making time: “I’m a single mother, overworked and underpaid, but almost every Sunday we set aside family time to go to church and have a family dinner with my parents and siblings. It gives us a chance to be close and have fun. I’ve made a decision that family comes first. The kids have activities and things through the week, but we all know that come Sunday, the day is ours. It gives us something to look forward to; something special.”

According to Dr. Barbara Moses, author of The Good News About Careers, “Spending time with your children is important. The actual amount of time that parents spend with children is less than at any other time in the sixty years for which statistics have been kept.”

It may sound dramatic and cliché, but if a child doesn’t get attention from his parents, he will seek it out somewhere else.

BE FIRM WHEN NECESSARY

Parents must get across the idea that “I love you always, but sometimes I do not love your behavior.”

Amy (queen-of-etiquette) Vanderbilt’s words of advice can be easier said than done. Sometimes parents are hesitant to be firm with children or provide stern consequences, and children are naturally resistive to correction. But discipline is love too, and it should be non-physical but firm. Time-out, grounding, or denial of privileges will do the trick.

Children won’t respect authority out in the world (teachers, police officers, etc.) if they don’t respect yours, so don’t be afraid to teach your child right from wrong. Everything isn’t a gray area in society, there are consequences for improper adult behavior, and children must learn this too.

When you have to discipline your child, do it in a calm way, make sure you have the child’s full attention, have a designated area like a time-out chair, and after the punishment is over, have your child tell you why he was being punished to make sure he understands. Remember to hug him and tell him that he got in trouble for what he did, not for who he is.

Teresa S., an RN in the adolescent unit of the Charter Ridge Behavioral Health Systems in Lexington, Ky., cautions, “Children and teenagers who aren’t consistently disciplined learn to play by their own rules. They engage in delinquent activity, exhibit oppositional defiant behavior, and consume drugs and alcohol more often than youth who have consistent rules, expectations, and consequences. It is possible, and necessary, to provide appropriate discipline when warranted. Parents are reluctant to dish it out. They feel that their child won’t love them if they’re chastised, when in reality, the opposite is true. A teenager may grumble on the outside when reprimanded, but will understand on the inside.”

BE A GOOD EXAMPLE

Parents can tell but never teach, unless they practice what they preach.

Twelve words spoken by humorist Arnold Glasow. Twelve words that have more weight than almost all the parenting books put together.

Our children look up to us and will learn more from our actions than our words. If we want to teach fairness, integrity, character, generosity, and honesty, we must live those things in our own lives. Our children are watching when we find a lost wallet on the sidewalk, if we are under-charged at the grocery store, if we pass by a charity drive without dropping some money in.

Children are never too young to learn lessons in morality. Praise them when you catch them doing something good. Ask them how they would like to help others in need. Tell them what forgiveness is. You will be surprised at how much they understand, and how tender a child’s heart can be.

Don’t pretend that everyone is perfect, however. In spite of all the good parenting you provide, all the books you’ve read, all the prayers you’ve prayed, a child or teenager can still stray, and stray far away from your teachings. If this happens, first of all, don’t blame yourself. In the end, your child will make his or her own choices and you must accept that. Don’t feel like a failure, feel like a human. Allow children to make mistakes, and tell them of some mistakes and regrets that you have. No one is perfect, and everyone deserves another chance. Above all, assure the child, regardless of her age, that you will get through this together. Always be an open door, and remember, turn your back on the behavior, never your child. Deal with issues like drugs, alcohol, sex, and pregnancy openly and honestly.

Charles H, a retired truck driver in Atlanta and father of six reminds us of the frailty of parenthood. “You say the right things, you do the right things, you set the rules, you ground, you lecture, you take them to church, and still, still, kids will mess up. But if you do your best, at least you can say you did all you could. It’s not easy watching your kid fall by the wayside. I went to court with my youngest son many times. It’s not fun. I said, ‘Where did I go wrong? What happened? I tried to be a good parent.’ Sometimes you just have to accept that your kids don’t always listen, they don’t always follow your example. If you have to see a family counselor, see a family counselor. Do whatever it takes to save that kid. Parenting never ends, I don’t care how old you or your kids get. You worry just as much about them at twenty as you do when they’re twelve.”

There is no perfect family, no perfect parent, no perfect child. But when tough times come along, and they will, the parent/child bond will be the foundation and shelter that weathers the storm.

by Tammy Ruggles, BSW, MA

 

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