Thousands of books are written every year trying to make us better parents. We are inundated with expert advice and we lap it up because we are scared of doing it wrong. We should be doing this and we shouldn’t be doing that. This expert says this but that one disagrees. This is good for kids but that is bad. Judgement after judgement. It’s overwhelming and confusing. Who should we trust? How should we parent?
Emotional Connection Matters
Going back to basics will help us regain some perspective. The most important part of parenting is to create a secure emotional bond between us and our children. That is it.
It might sound too simplistic and yes, experts could argue that there is much more to it, but we are done with overcomplicating what is, in essence, very simple: love.
To create a secure bond, our children need to know that we truly and deeply care about them. They need to know that they are loved beyond measure for who they are. They need to know that they can trust us and that we love them. They need to know that whatever happens we are their source of comfort and peace. Our children need to know that they matter to us. Without any shadow of a doubt.
What Fuels How We Parent
Most of us are unaware that the place from which we parent determines how we parent. We may misattribute our changing parenting styles to our moods or our children’s behaviours but what really fuels how we parent is always either love or fear.
What we notice is how parenting from a place of love feels in comparison to parenting from a place of fear. Both of these states arise from within ourselves.
If I parent from a place of fear, I might worry about my children embarrassing me, not progressing well at school, not behaving exactly how I expect them to behave, not liking or loving me, not meeting my expectations or those of my family, disagreeing with me, and so on.
Coming from a place of fear I see my children as inferior, inadequate or too young to respect them in their own right. I see my role as a parent to make them into good people — because I assume that they are not already.
If I parent from a place of love, I accept my children as they are. I see them as the wonderful, young, perfectly growing human beings that they are. I don’t compare their natural development and use it as a measure of their worth. I am in awe of our similarities and differences and help them find their own way in the world.
Coming from a place of love I see my children as human beings in their own right, not as an extension of me or as my property. I am privileged to be able to watch other humans grow up and treasure the time we have together.
Coming from a place of love I do my best to reflect back my children’s innate worth so they grow up loving themselves and others. I know that they are whole, complete and not lacking. Everything is in place to develop and grow at its own natural pace. I guide, support and love. There is no need for me to interfere and control because I know that my children are inherently good human beings.
“We either parent from a place of love or from a place of fear. The outcome will match the source of our starting point.” Marlena Tillhon
The 3 Pillars of Emotional Connection
Creating a secure connection with another human may sound a lot more complicated than it really is but it is something we have known how to do since the day we were born. It may appear to become more difficult as we grow up, but that is mainly because we have learnt to live and love from a place of fear.
When we go back to basics and stop overcomplicating, we realise that loving and connecting with others is much easier than we remember. There are just three components to emotional connection. These three components are called attunement, responsiveness and engagement.
When we are in a loving and peaceful state of mind, we naturally and effortlessly attune, respond and engage.
When we approach our children from a loving state of mind, we are naturally available for emotional connection, which means that we are attuned to them.
This means that we can easily guess what is going on for them. We know when they are struggling and we are good at guessing what they need.
If we get it right, our children are quickly satisfied and continue to go about their business. However, if we are misattuned or too busy to attune, feelings will continue to build that may lead to an escalation in the form of tantrums.
Obviously, we are not in control of our children’s feelings and they will often express themselves in ways that seem irrational to us. However, they only seem irrational to us from our perspective and not from theirs.
Our children’s feelings are valid and not something to be mocked or shamed. Yes, they may not make sense to us with our developed brains. But they do make perfect sense from their point of view. This is all we need to consider to respond in a compassionate way.
Once we have a good understanding of what is going on for our children, we respond swiftly, appropriately and lovingly.
We validate their experience so they learn to trust themselves. We are there with them so they see that their emotional expression is nothing shameful or something they will be abandoned for. We show them that feelings are not problems and that they are not something to be feared.
This is our opportunity to model secure ways of functioning and relating that our children will internalise. How we respond to them now will be how they respond to themselves later on in life. And so we need to respond with patience, honesty, understanding, tolerance, boundaries, compassion and love.
Engaging with our children means that we actively join in their experience. We are not scared off or angered by our children’s feelings. We actively engage with them depending on what they require from us in that moment while they are experiencing whatever it is they are experiencing.
They might need reassurance, physical contact or conversation. They might need to vent, have some space or be given boundaries.
Attunement is very important here as we want to engage with our child based on what is going on for them. We do not want to disregard their state of mind or developmental stage and engage from our frame of reference.
It is possible to be attuned but to avoid engaging by walking away for example. What this communicates to a child is a lack of care and the child will make it mean something about them and their worth. Avoiding engagement is usually fuelled by fear and a sign for us to look inwards.
Emotional Connection in Daily Life
Connecting emotionally with our children is not an enormous task we have to prepare and train for. It is an opportunity we are being given hundreds of times a day.
It is the little moments that matter the most. The waking up, the putting shoes on, the tumbles, the drawing, the joke, the argument, the going to bed. What it requires is presence. Our presence. Paying attention to our children in the present moment is what is required to attune calmly, respond lovingly, engage knowingly.
When my child says that she doesn’t want to go to school, I can take my time to explore and understand what is going on for her. I know what it’s like having to do something I don’t want to do and so I can relate. Relating from that place normalises and validates my child’s experience. I can then respond with a conversation or an understanding hug and engage in that way.
When my child is angry and doesn’t want me to help him, I can attune to him needing space and respond but letting him know that I am here for him when he’s ready. I let him know that I am happy to give him space to feel his feelings. I don’t need to make him wrong for being angry with me, because I am not feeling threatened by his feelings. We can then engage in conversation, a fun activity, mutual problem-solving or boundary setting if required. In any case, I do not have to shame his anger. However, I may have to address his behaviour if is inappropriate or harmful.
All of this can be done from a place of love. Practical problems are best addressed with a calm state of mind so that finding solutions becomes a joint venture and yet another source for strengthening our bond.
The Human Parent
What the human parent needs more than anything is understanding and compassion.
Compassion. Compassion. Compassion.
We were not born with an instruction manual to life. There is lots we simply do not know. We learn as we grow and this never stops. It is not a sign of inadequacy or weakness but rather one of evolution.
We do not shame our children for being young or for not knowing how to eat, crawl, walk, talk, count and so on. We know that they will develop as they grow. We don’t make them wrong for not knowing yet.
We also don’t don’t shame them now that they can feed themselves, walk and talk for not having been able to do so when they were babies. So we must stop doing this to ourselves. We don’t know what we don’t know and we don’t shame ourselves for not knowing what we didn’t or couldn’t have known at the time.
However, once we do know, we can change our experience by changing what we do. So once we know how to create a more loving relationship with our children, we can do so.
It is in everyone’s best interest to want to keep learning and growing together. That includes the ways we relate to each other. Because after all, the love we have for our children will always mean more than anything else. It is not only the greatest gift in life but in the whole of the universe.