(Dr. Norquist is on holiday this week. We are re-running letters that were published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
I’m wondering about your thoughts on raising children. I come from a background that I don’t want to repeat – so I don’t really know how to mother, or what’s most important. I want so badly to raise emotionally healthy kids, but I know that because I came from a dysfunctional family, I’ll probably repeat some of my parents’ mistakes. I don’t know what I can do to avoid this. What’s most important? Can you give me some pointers?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Our children imbibe our predominant feelings and ways of being. If you want your child to care about others, you must live this trait yourself. If organization and good work habits are important to you, then you must approach your own daily work in an organized and disciplined manner. Because you didn’t mention it in your letter, I’m assuming you do not yet have children. One of the best things you can do right now to ready yourself for parenting is to conscientiously work on developing the traits that you’d like your children to manifest. Imbibe these traits into the essence of your being and make these traits alive in your daily life and home environment. Our children imbibe who we are, not what we tell them we’d like them to be. They are molded by our predominant feelings. The more you improve yourself, the more you enhance what you have to offer your children.
Kahil Gibran expresses a concept that I believe it is important to understand in his poem on children: “Your children are not your children, They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you … You may house their bodies, but not their souls …”
Recognize that your child is his/her own person, with particular needs and propensities, talents to share and lessons to learn. Our children do not arrive as blank slates. As parents, our job is to see, understand, accept, and love who they are, not who we want them to be. They are not here to feed our egos. The more our self-esteem is on the line, the more we get in the way of our children’s natural blossoming. As Gibran puts it, “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
We are here to help them to get the best possible send-off into life. In other words, another important part of parenting is letting go, when the time is right.
Seek to provide your children with a sense of safety and a belief that people and the world are trustable. As time goes on they will no doubt experience instances where this is not entirely true, however, it is important that they first develop a basic belief that the world is safe and trustable. You provide this through your own attitude towards the world, as well as through your relationship with them; by being there, being aware, available, consistent and trustworthy. Try to protect them from exposure to people and environments that are otherwise. Our children’s innocence needs to be protected. Their feelings need to be heard, respected and attended to. They need consistency and organization and predictability in their lives. They also need limit-setting. They need the structure of knowing where the limits are (in behavior, for instance), and what the consequences are for going beyond these limits. The consequences have to be consistent and predictable.
Listen with your whole being to your children, and you’ll find you will learn from them how to best parent them. We do not have to be perfect parents (nor is it possible). Most of all, they need our respect and unconditional love. Parenting is quite a growth-filled, multi-faceted journey – heart-wrenching, heart-bursting, life-affirming, and incredibly life-enhancing.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services