John and Julie Gottman have devised dates for ailing couples – but how many are ready for this level of openness and sincerity?
How often do we really talk to our partners? About the big stuff, not about childcare arrangements, or what the funny noise coming from the fridge means? According to a study at the University of California, Los Angeles, couples with small children, and who both have careers, talk for just 35 minutes a week, and mainly about errands. That study, says John Gottman, “alarmed” him and his wife, Julie. “It seemed like couples who had been together a long time were not taking care of the relationship – their curiosity in one another had died,” he says.
Gottman, the renowned relationships researcher known for his work on divorce predictors, and Julie Schwartz Gottman, a psychologist, have been married for 32 years. They founded the Gottman Institute, which conducts research and trains therapists. Their Gottman method is an approach designed to repair and deepen relationships, concentrating on three main areas – “friendship, conflict management and creation of shared meaning”. They have also written many books, together and separately. Their latest book, which they wrote as a couple, is Eight Dates. It guides couples through eight conversations – to have on dedicated dates – on the big issues such as sex, parenting and how to handle conflict. It was partly sparked by the rise of online dating and to provide new couples with a roadmap to navigate tricky subjects, but mainly to give long-term couples a project to steer their relationship to a better place. “Couples who have been together for quite a long time create a relationship that grows stale with time, and they lose track of one another,” says Julie. “People evolve over time. They change.”
It’s hard when you don’t move in unison with your peers. It doesn’t mean abandoning friendships, says Mariella Frostrup, but don’t be afraid to keep a distance when needed
The dilemma I’m 34 and have been in a close friendship group with four other women since university. Our relationship has been a constant comfort, but during the past year I’ve found it incredibly difficult to connect with them as all four have had babies. Suddenly our WhatsApp group looks more like Mumsnet – and I just can’t relate. I don’t know if I want kids or not. My husband puts no pressure on me, but this is bringing out the worst in me. I feel left behind, confused and judgmental as these friends enter motherhood. I feel isolated and incapable of contributing, and when I do I feel disingenuous. I try to widen the conversation, but it always reverts back to babies. I don’t want to lose these people, but I feel marginalised, as if I’m fundamentally missing out on some intensely female purpose. How do I step back without being overly dramatic?
Mariella replies It’s definitely a problem. I am sympathetic. But stick with me first, because I have to draw attention to how emotionally over-sensitised we’ve become as a species. Growing up, friends shacking up before we do, marriages and divorce, babies born and infidelities committed – they’re all part of life’s rich pageant. Some are profoundly upsetting, some manageably so, and others so natural a part of life’s flow that they should barely bother us at all. Some of these emotional traumas are dumped on us, some committed by us and some are not directed at us at all. In the latter case, it’s generally our own unresolved issues that make us vulnerable to being wounded.
Growing up, my parents’ home was filthy. Could I ever learn to love housework?
Last Christmas, while I was visiting my parents at the house where I grew up, I watched Mum throw away some spice mix. Much of it missed the bin and the seeds, spices and herbs scattered about the kitchen floor. Mum didn’t notice, or didn’t care, so I grabbed a dustpan and brush. As I swept, I found plenty more down there: breadcrumbs, cheese, ham, porridge, dog hair, something sticky. Later, Mum mixed cocktails. I had come prepared, so, before taking a sip, I whipped a baby wipe from my pocket and gave my glass a surreptitious clean. Mum and my stepdad started talking about their plans to become Airbnb hosts, at which point I nearly choked on a cashew nut. They simply can’t see mess, I thought, and then I remembered that, until quite recently, neither could I.
When I was growing up, the house was always untidy. There were piles of clothes on the landing, toys all over the living room, black marks on the hall tiles where coal had fallen from the scuttle we lugged in from the shed, dust on the surfaces, apple cores stuffed down the back of the sofa, discarded crisp packets, breakfast bowls on the coffee table, yellow gunge on the kitchen radio, and entire rooms we couldn’t enter because the doors were blocked shut by stacks of furniture, sculpture, paintings. I didn’t care: mess was all I knew, although there were hair-raising moments, such as when I was washing the dishes and saw something orange working its way up through the plughole. It turned out to be two slugs that had somehow got into the overflow. One Christmas, I accused the dog of having nibbled a bar of chocolate under the tree: “It was probably a rat,” said Mum, casually.
Your marriage has been hijacked enough, says Mariella Frostrup. Stop taking on your mother’s problems
The dilemma I’m 50 soon. I’m happily married, I have friends and my work is fulfilling – but I’m desperate. My mother has Avoidant Personality Disorder. She’s getting therapy, which she says won’t work. She never remarried or had a relationship since I was a baby, and she has no friends. Over the past few years, my husband and I have taken her on holiday. Now she keeps hinting that my husband “needs a holiday” – I know exactly what she means. I don’t know how to tell her that we need time to ourselves. She looks for chinks in my armour and is delighted when I’m wrong. I’m exhausted by her bullying, catastrophising and ridiculous silent treatment. I can stand up to her, but she denies her bad behaviour. She hit me once – she knew she’d gone too far and could see I was angry. She uses her illnesses, jealousy and loneliness as a lever against us. I’m forever treading on eggshells. I want a holiday, with my husband, alone, but it feels like I’m asking for too much. I feel like a crap daughter.
Mariella replies You’re certainly not. Though if you stopped accepting your mother’s load as though it were your own you might be an even better one. Supporting her struggle to lead a normal life is the decent thing to do, enabling her not to have to confront her peccadilloes is altogether different. There is a natural evolution in the relationship between parent and child that culminates in the end of dependence, but hopefully not of love and mutual care. It’s a clear line that needs to be respected on both sides of the generational divide and my sense here is that her situation has engulfed you in a tangled jungle of compassion, responsibility and guilt.
The institution of marriage shouldn’t look like a Victorian mental asylum, not built for modern life
I would like to be taught how to fight. Not boxing or karate or anything you need a costume for, just lessons in common basic argument, between people who love each other. New York magazine interviewed a collection of couples, asking what they wish their partner would say in a fight. “What I need him to say is: ‘Yes, [my family] are assholes and they are snobs and I can’t imagine how much it sucks to hang out with them when you’re not biologically obligated to, but please, I need you there with me, and I’ll buy you a huge thank-you present for it.’” I wanted a stream of these truths, hooked straight to a vein. “She said I was disempowering her in front of her children and taking her voice away. I wish she said: ‘Shit, you know what? You’re right. I took it too far. I’ll check myself next time.’” MORE. “I just snapped. I said, ‘If I miscarry, it’s because you didn’t take good care of me.’ He was, like, ‘You are awful. Listen to what you just said…’ I wanted him to say, ‘Jesus Christ, get off your feet right now. You’re not lifting a finger until we know this pregnancy is healthy. I forbid you from taking any risks because I love you and our future baby too much.’” Raw, irrational, so real they sting like menthol shower gel, and reason enough, if more reason was needed, to question why we tie ourselves together, and in knots, and forever.
The current iteration of divorce requires formally trash-talking the person you once loved
One of the main reasons that people are emotionally unhealthy is that they are living a life of codependency.
Parents can live co-dependently on their children, or the children can be codependent on their parents.
Codependency is a problem that continues to recur through the generations. Parents can start to help their children become emotionally healthy and live independently when they learn how to live their own lives separately from their children. Parents might even have to make a conscious effort to change these behaviors that might have been plaguing their own families for generations.
It can be hard to determine if there are codependency issues in your family.
Many times the problems are easy to deny and sometimes even more natural to hide.
Sometimes you might not even realize that you are codependent upon your children.
There are some signs of codependency that you can consider to determine if this is something that is a problem for you.
Questions to Ask Yourself to Find Out if You are Co-Dependent Upon Your Child
Do you find yourself overly focused on your child?
Do you suffer from low self-esteem?
Does your child suffer from low self-esteem?
Do you practice non-assertive communication?
Do you find yourself denying or devaluing your needs or the needs of yourself or your child?
Do you find yourself devaluing the wants or feelings of yourself or your child?
Do you have poor boundaries?
Do you feel that you need to control the things that your child says or does?
If you answered yes to more than one of these, the then chances are that you have at least some codependency issues with your child.
Your child is going to learn a lot about himself/herself and how to communicate things like their own needs by how they interact with you.
It is imperative to examine how you relate with your child to see if they can develop healthy emotions.
If you want your child to be an emotionally healthy adult, then you should make sure that the following are happening with them.
Is your child about to express free thoughts, observations, and feelings?
Do you try to maintain equality in your home and make it fair for everyone?
Are you able to have healthy communication with your child?
Do you have reasonable rules for your child based on their age and ability?
Are you supportive and nurturing of your child’s needs?
Do you have healthy boundaries with your child?
Are you able to problem solve with your child?
If you did not answer yes to at least three of these things, then you probably need to work on these so that your child can develop into a healthy and productive member of society as an adult.
There are some things that you can do as a parent so that you can help your child to become a healthy adult. The following are some of the critical things for you to think about.
You need to allow your child to have information without making that information dependent upon behavior or using it as a reward.
Make sure that they feel comfortable expressing how they feel and what is going on with them.
You must show your children respect.
If you do not respect your child, then it is going to be hard for them to learn how to respect you and your authority.
Make sure that your child knows that you understand that sometimes they are going to be angry or have expressions that might not be positive.
You can not fix feelings, but instead, you need to work with your child to resolve why they feel that way.
Talk to your child about the boundaries that they want to have. Make sure that you respect these boundaries.
Allow your child to be independent in ways that are age appropriate. You should also give your child some responsibility that is appropriate for their age and allow them to make some decisions.
You need to have reasonable rules and punishments that are humane. Most important here is that punishments do not embarrass your child or cause them mental duress.
Finally, you must nurture your child. You need to be attentive to their emotional and physical needs. Plus you have to make sure that you are not reserving your love based upon your child’s behavior.
Doing these things is going to help you to make sure that you have an emotionally well-developed child who is not codependent on you.
When I was a senior in college, studying Early Childhood Education, I was a little worried about getting a job, and wondered if I should get licensed to teach older grades as well.
But my adviser reassured me, she said: “Kathleen, any day now, there will be public early childhood programs everywhere.” 30 years later, only a fraction of the children who need high quality early childhood programs have access to them, which is why I’m here to talk to you today.
This is a story about the single most important construction a society ever undertakes. It is about what is required to build a physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally healthy child. It is a process, is complex, is the most challenging feat of engineering and a process that is easily thwarted by poverty and stress.
Healthy children do not come pre-assembled; work is required.
This story begins with 100 North Carolina babies, and their amazing journey.
Their life trajectories were changed by a single intervention, high-quality educational child care.
They remained part of one of the largest studies of child development and one of the most famous, the Abecedarian project.
And it started right here, in this town, at this university, at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. Abecedarian means ones who are just learning, and our abecedarians have been followed since the 1970s.
Let me tell you how this worked.
Children and families from Chapel Hill area, all of whom lived in poverty, were assigned to one of two experimental groups.
Both groups received basic supports such as diapers and formula, but only one of the groups, the Abecedarian group, received full day, year round; intensive child care.
The researchers developed an innovative program.
They developed a program that focused on playful activities that emphasized one-on-one intensive language interactions between teachers and children.
The researchers, based on what we knew at the time, thought that they would see results quite quickly, and started assessing the children almost immediately, but it was over a year before they saw any results; at 15 months, there were slight differences between the Abecedarian childcare children and their none participating peers.
But the amazing thing is what happened from the long-term results.
First, there were some real disadvantages for children who did not participate in the Abecedarian childcare [program]. By four years old, they saw declines in their IQ, and in school, they were more likely to be placed in special education.
On the other hand, individuals who received the Abedecedarian childcare outperformed their non-participating peers on assessments of Math, Reading and intellectual measures through high school and into early adulthood. Abecedarian participants were less likely to become teen parents. By 21 years of age, only 40% of the none participants have or enrolled in college or employed in skilled labor, compared to 70% of the Abecedarian children.
Keep in mind, this is 16 years after participating in high-quality early childhood education. They were less likely to become depressed as adults.
By 30 years of age, they were more likely to have a job and a college degree, but the most impressive findings are the most recent: Abecedarian childcare participants in their mid-30’s showed better physical health than their none participating peers.
Let me give you and example.
Among the males who did not participate in the Abecedarian childcare, 25% developed metabolic disorder.
This is a serious medical condition consisting of hypertension and obesity.
Guess how many of the Abecedarian males developed metabolic disorder? 25%, 10%, 5%?
Not one of the Abecedarian males developed metabolic disorder in their mid-30’s. High-quality childcare received before five years old is associated with better heart health in mid-adulthood.
Think about that for a moment.
What made a difference for the Abecedarian children?
How and why does high-quality early care in education have such a powerful and lasting impact?
What is required for the assembly of a healthy child, who then becomes a healthy adult?
Research as the FPG and elsewhere have been studying these questions for decades and identifying exactly what is needed for early care in education and the Abecedarian project provided a lot of that guidance.
For example, we know the children need healthy environments. the Abecedarians project lent years of studies that examined specifically what constituted healthy environments for young children, tools were developed in FPG that are used around the world to evaluate and improve the quality of early childhood programs.
But here is the thing: most children who live in poverty don’t have access to those high quality early childhood programs.
A great lesson from the Abecedarian program is the importance of intensive, frequent, one-on-one language interactions between adults and children.
Later research shows that by the time children are four years old, children who live in poverty hear 30 million fewer words than children who live in economically privilege homes, 30 million fewer words.
We continue to work, to try to help early childhood teachers enhance the quality of language development for young children.
Finally, we’ve established that the glue that holds this assembly together is the warm, trusting relationships forged by the adults in children’s lives.
The Abecedarian children had access to these one-on-one interactions with teachers, and we know from subsequent research that when children have caring and trusting relationships with teachers in early childhood, they do better academically and socially throughout the school years.
Healthy environments, language interactions, warm relationships, all rely on the skills of educated, healthy teachers.
So who are these early childhood teachers? And what do we know about them? Let’s take the example of Head Start teachers.
Head Start, you may know, is a federal funded program, designed to educate some children who live in poverty.
According to a recent report on the early childhood workforce, Head Start teachers increased their education, consistently since 2007, while realizing a decline in wages in real dollars.
Furthermore, we know from research that Head Start teachers report poor health outcomes than the general population, and they have very high stress in their jobs working with children and families; and we know that when teacher’s stress increases the quality of their relationships with children declines.
We are working very hard to identify ways to support teachers’ well being so that they can support young children. High quality environments, language interactions, healthy relationships delivered by teachers who are educated, healthy, and well compensated.
Sounds expensive, right? It is.
But the Abecedarian study and other studies have found that there is a financial return on investment. According to Nobel Prize winner economist, James Hackman, participants in the Abecedarian study saved the societal support system as much as seven dollars for every dollar spent.
And further evidence from economic researchers shows that investment in high quality early childhood programs, benefits not only children and families but entire communities, and could be the single intervention that thwarts the inter-generational cycle of poverty.
Do you want to live in economically stable communities with low rates of poverty and crime?
Invest in high quality early childhood programs.
Do you want to spend less on public health problems like obesity and heart disease?
Invest in high quality early childhood programs.
Do you want your children to benefit from schools where all children are healthy and prepared to learn?
Invest in high quality early childhood programs.
These days, my office is to next to that of Francis Campbell, one of the original investigators on the Abecedarian study.
But 30 years after my adviser reassured me, children who live in poverty still do not have access to sufficient high quality early childhood programs.
Our investment in human capital is the single most pressing issue we face today; and if healthier and more productive lives aren’t sufficient, we have a financial bottom line that shows we must invest early.
We can sometimes be very humble about our ability to find out what might be useful for others or ourselves, Forget that it may be possible to guess some generalizations about what constitutes Childhood emotionally healthy. It can not be the absolute privacy or good luck. There Themes and objectives of the characteristic can be identified. Map with optimal development in mind, we can appreciate more clearly where to start disintegrating, what we should be grateful to him Allam and regret. At the collective level, we will have more sense of what we need To achieve to generate more distinctive emotionally – and thus the world Wiser Kulaila-. In the context of a healthy childhood emotionally, we can expect some of the following: – someone will put himself sincerely in our service.
If we have adults Mental health standards, it is almost sure that when we were young and helpless infants There was someone (we owe him our lives) to pay its own needs Aside to focus on our needs we are entire. We explained what we could not Say, guess what can be Atabna, Hdoona and Oasuna. Kept Chaos and Aldaudhaebaida and cut the world into pieces we can control. They did All this, and at the same time, did not ask us to thank them, understand them or show them compassion. They did not ask us to wonder how their day was or how they sleep at night. (It was not much). They treated us like kings, so that we may later be able to Delivery of cruelty and humiliation in ordinary life. This temporary unilateral relationship Ensure that we have the ability eventually to form a bilateral relationship. You may think People egoists as sick people constant attention. But the opposite is somewhat True; Selfish is someone who did not get enough love.
On pivoting about self To have a substantial share in the early years, so as not to chase and destroy the last. The so-called narcissistic is just the spirit outcast did not have a chance to enjoy Admired excessive and unreasonable at first. – In emotionally healthy childhood, someone It is always to give the best possible explanation for our behavior. We carry on Seventy loaded with goodness. Based on what may be the days are Tqina, not build on it is us right Now.
Someone Atif.aly For example, a judge might say harsh us that we are “looking for attention.” Of Eraana imagined that what we need is more lap and some encouraging words. We may be acted disturbingly. Of Eraana adds that we must be at the level of what we feel Threat. We seem as if we neglected; remember that the care provider That much of it may be related to fatigue. Shepherd is looking down under The surface for more sympathetic interpretations to help us to be along Ourselves, to love ourselves – and therefore ultimately not be too defensive about Own shortcomings, which we grow enough to accept their existence. – In good childhood, Our relationship with the Eraana constant, consistent and long-term. We are confident that Tomorrow there will be the next day. It is not volatile or fragile. He Almost dull, predictable and happy that is taken for granted.
As a result, we develop Confidence in the relationships that arise in our lives. We can believe that what It got a good time can go well again and allow such a prediction that governs our choice for our partner’s Partners. Not Nguettn persons distant and non-reliable; do not still enjoy Punishment. We can choose partners and attentive Alemraaan – not Judge them that they are weak or deficient because they are as well. If you hit trouble with our partners Allatifin, the lack of patience Anfzaa or move away to avoid them. We can try with confidence Reform of the love that we know we deserve. – In emotionally healthy upbringing, not We wanted us to be always girls and boys the good Alkamilon. We are not allowed to get angry and we sometimes In them are disgusting, to say that in some situations, “no” and “because we feel it.” Adults know their flaws do not expect a child to be the best of them. We are not obliged to give at every turn to be we accept. We can allow others to see Dark aspects of us.
This stage of freedom Thaina to give one day to the requirements of society Without the need to rebel defensive ways (the fact that the rebels in the rear, are people They had to obey a lot early). We can work hard when it is in our interest In the long term to do so. But at the same time, we are not cowards or obedient without discrimination We can find a middle point between the slave compliance on the one hand and self-destruction Challenging the other. – In an emotionally healthy home, we care provider is not jealous of us Or competing with us. It can be allowed to be exceeded or superiority to it. He has got On Hzth in the spotlight – or get them somewhere else outside the family They can be proud of the achievements of their children are not competitors (who are usually of the same sex) They do not need because of the axis.
Good Shepherd is not ambitious too much On behalf of the child. She wants him to Webley well, but for him is his way. Special provision on the child does not have to be followed by got love: not required The strengthening of the child shepherd strained the confidence of his own, or polishing his image in the eyes of the world. – In emotionally sound education, the child learns that the things that break It can be repaired. You may deviate plans, but it is possible to develop new ideas. It can fall and then shake off Dust yourself. Shepherd shows the child how to calm down, and remains optimistic. Sound flex, in an external origin, it becomes the way in which the child learns to happen Himself.
There are alternatives to panic; the ship will overcome the storm and back To the harbor. It is safe to go outside and explore. There is no risk of all turn. We can go out in a short exploratory trip at the beginning, and then we return to ensure – just to get out The second expedition longer. We can risk. – It is vital That many errors occur in health childhood emotionally. No one has devoted his reputation for providing Everything is complete. Care provider does not see that his duty to remove all the frustration. He knows that a lot of good comes from getting the appropriate amount of disagreement – which develops the child through its sources and uniqueness of confrontation With potential disappointments, the child is urged to form your inner world Which can dream it, be new plans, he calms himself and builds its sources. – the right care provider is not – as the child can never Ary- good or absolute evil, So it is not worthy of worship or contempt.
The child accepts errors And the virtues of the care provider maturely sad and Amtnan- and therefore, It is ready to accept that everyone will be a mixture of positive and negative. An adult will not fall deeply in love to get angry at the first moment Letdown. It has a sense of realism about what to expect from life with another good enough Despite all the progress we have made in the field of technology and material resources, In the art of providing a healthy childhood emotionally we are not much more advanced than Previous generations.
Some collapses, non-life honest, broken souls does not appear Noticeable signs of decline. We fail to provide childhood cannot afford Because we are evil or indifferent but because we still have a long way to know How do we do what seems simple but more complex: love things. Dark facts may not be in our book “things children should never tell” suitable for children but can offer solace and humor and relief for the elderly among us.
Parenting is an adventure, as any parent would agree. Although there are many challenging periods, the good times far outweigh the bad. In fact, children are often the ones that remind adults what really matters in life. Yet even with the rewards of parenting, the family-centered society that once existed is quickly slipping away. The increased demands on parents, especially working mothers, have been difficult for American families to adjust to. Luckily, it’s not the quantity of time spent with children, but the quality that makes a difference.
With the burden of working and running errands, life can seem like one big chore. With this approach toward life, many parents find themselves spending time with their kids, but not really enjoying the moment. Interaction is not only beneficial for kids, but adults as well. Actually, there is a lot to be learned from children, who often have a better outlook on life than adults. So make the most out of every interaction and enjoy the good times.
Mark the calendar and make family time a priority. Clear everything off the schedule and head out with a fresh mind and positive attitude. By putting all worries aside and focusing on the kids, family time will be most rewarding. After all, spending time with kids is enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.
One thing that adults can learn from kids is how to live life with an open mind. In a child’s world, there is no fear in trying new things. Kids are resilient and approach unfamiliar situations with ease. Some kids are more apt to new experiences, but all are confident knowing their parents will be there to smooth things over. Even though adults’ lives aren’t quite as foolproof, parents should take chances. And if the opportunity doesn’t work out, a new door will open.
The attitude that children have towards others is wonderful. Instead of judging people based on stereotypes, kids nurture their relationships and value the true qualities of others. Take the time to do the same, and recognize the traits that exist within friends, family members and coworkers. By noticing these qualities in others, it won’t be long before adults are enjoying life’s simple pleasures with each other, just as children do. Unwind from the role at work and take time to enjoy extra giggles. It’s the small things that bring laughter to a child’s world.
Kids are also wonderful at being honest. All adults could use a bit of honesty in their lives, whether it’s with themselves or others. Being truthful also helps adults to express their emotions, another healthy approach toward life. By acknowledging feelings, parents are able to be confident in their roles and start their days with an optimistic attitude, just like kids. And of course, there’s one thing that children never fail to remind adults: How to play. Sometimes all parents need is a day at the park to make all the worries fade away.
Responsible parenting: Create memories, not expectations
Ilze Garda Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Every single one of us here today knows something about families. Every single one of us is someone’s child, therefore has experienced parenting. Some of us are parents and have our own children. I have four. As human beings, we are all familiar with expectations.
Expectations laid on us to succeed in life, expectations at work – to deliver, to be effective, to know, not to fail – the expectations for parents to juggle personal and professional lives, eat healthy food, prepare our children healthy meals every day, participate in sports, read books every night, and excel at work at the same time. Today, you have expectations for me: to surprise you, to reveal something new, to tell a secret of parenting you have not known before.
You have those expectations. I have been an educator for 20 years, a mother for 15 years, two master’s degrees, one PhD, running 15 preschools in Latvia and Lithuania, three schools, author of parenting books. I bet this room is filled with thoughts, hopes, duties, and tasks. It’s like a raindrop getting bigger, bigger and bigger before it falls. And what do we do?
Without noticing, we transfer all these expectations that we have on our children. When I was opening my first preschool, I was introducing a new concept of contextual education to parents, training new teachers, and assembling IKEA furniture at the same time.
On one really hot summer day on a campus, a prospective family was being walked around, and they asked whose girl was roaming around, the one in winter boots and a plastic princess dress. I had to admit that I was the irresponsible mother, because in Lithuania we have expectations for how children should look and behave.
And she was not meeting any of those. It takes guts to be acceptive of who your child is, to be at peace, to let go. But I also have moments that don’t make me proud of myself. My daughter is seven, and she loves to polish her nails.
During the spring break, she had them polished and forgot to remove it after I asked her to do so. Being the busy mother I am, I didn’t follow through, and there it was: the end of the break, in the morning, and my youngest with the nail polish. I got upset since we were on our way through the door, and I had no time to remove it. I said I was disappointed, I said I was angry, I shamed her. On the way to school, she sat in the back in the car, and, instead of being the happy girl she is, she was quiet.
She was not excited to go back to school. She greeted her teacher, and I saw she had her fingers turned inwards. She was so conscious about her nails. And I felt a stab in my heart.
Why did I do this? I didn’t do this because of her, I did this because I was concerned and conscious of what the others will think of me. Credentials, education and all. Just recently, I counseled a mother who was cooking three different dishes for her three children every day. She did not enjoy it. She was exhausted, and she felt unappreciated. I told her to stop. Just stop it. It’s been two weeks. She cooks one meal for everyone. Her children are still alive. She is much happier, both as a mother and as a human being.
And it took so little to make a big change. The paradox is that more than anything in our lives we want our children to be happy. We fear judgement, we fear disappointment, we fear failure so much that we have become constantly worried and stressed as parents. Today, we expect a kindergarten student to do what elementary students were doing just a decade ago. On one hand we know that a child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development between zero and three, producing seven hundred neural connections every second.
Seven hundred. We want to load this amazing speed train fully; can anyone blame us? However, we forget one thing. Neuroscientists have also found that chronic stress triggers long-term changes in brain structure and function. Children who are exposed to chronic stress are prone to mental problems, such as anxiety, depression, and mood disorders later in life, as well as learning difficulties.
The famous psychologist Lev Vygotsky was the first to talk about the zone of proximal development.
Children learn best when they are in the zone where tasks are not too easy and not too hard, where the goals are achievable with grit, determination, and passion. How can we make sure we and our children are in that zone?
How to achieve that balance where the magic of joyful learning happens? I think I was approximately seven years old, and my family and I were skiing in Georgia. We got up the mountain out there, and there on the very top was a huge storm.
I completely froze and refused to ski down. My father tried to persuade me, but there was no way I was going to ski down in a storm like this.
So he told me to close my eyes, he placed me between his legs, and we skied down – together.
He could have made me.
He could have shamed me.
he chose to be kind,
and that’s what I remember to this day.
This is my memory of my father and my childhood, and it is my motivation to never give up.
This simple question, what kind of memories do I want for my child, keeps me going and should us all: at home, schools, everywhere. Is our parenting founded on kindness and generosity?
Is our parenting founded on criticism and hostility?
What is our habit of mind? What are we looking for? Are we looking for the things we can appreciate, or are we looking for mistakes? Kindness makes our children feel loved, not the degrees we have, not our concerns, not the number of after-school activities we take them to every day or homework we check. Kindness – that is our key story and key memory.
Do you remember how many teachers made a difference in your life? One? Maybe two. Three? Imagine how our world would be different if only three did not make a profound difference. Children don’t need a stress-free life. Moderate or good stress, such as studying hard and learning new skills, builds circuitry and a more resilient brain. But prolonged stress reaps chaos.
Remember – kindness every single day. And for those already posing a question about encouraging laziness, I answer, “No, it will not encourage this.” Human beings are born curious and creative.
Have you ever seen a one-year-old who gives up on walking? No, they get up as many times as needed, no matter how many times they fall. And they do. Because they are determined, and they don’t fear failure, yet. What is failure? I oftentimes ask parents why they are so stressed when it comes to parenting. They say they don’t want their child to be a failure. But we impose our understanding of failure of mid-20s, 30s, 40s, whatever, to our five-year-olds.
They have to enjoy the carelessness of life. I have recently read a story of a very, very talented and young girl who got into Columbia, only to have gone missing one year later. She felt guilt and anxiety, but she could not go on pretending; pretending that she wanted to do things that she really didn’t. Both she and her mother felt an enormous stress and then a great relief when reunited after the girl had been found.
It’s a story with a happy ending, a memory created that will last for life. And even though I might have created an expectation for a magic trick, I have to disappoint you. Magic is the memory that we create now.
I create memories just like you do. There is no perfect day or moment to come. If we keep waiting for a perfect day to come, it may never come.
We will come back too late from work. We will be tired, we will be frustrated, we will be exhausted and angry, and it may rain when we have planned a perfect walk in the park. Parenting is spontaneous, more than anything else. Parenting is about the unexpected moments of bliss that we savor.
When we decide to run a marathon, we don’t run 42 kilometers on our first try. We may run one kilometer or just 500 meters. But just like all big journeys start with a first step, so does the journey of parenting. Hug your child, smile, bite your tongue when you are going to reprimand. It’s only a dozen of minutes most of us spend with our children per day, let those minutes count.
Let us make those minutes a candidate for the best memory competition: an experience of unconditional love.
Last week, I was in Iceland, and at a conference I met a mother who said that she used to want her son to get the very best grades. She also used to tell him that she was too busy to do the things with him that he wanted and that she considered were not important – like going for a ride on a tractor that he was asking her to do.
And then she realized that better grades were her expectations, and the tractor was his. And a tractor ride it was. After a while, his grades improved. She told me not about the grades, she told me about the relationship she has with her son today, and how letting him go brought peace into their lives.
She was able to create an amazing memory.
You don’t need to nót have expectations; always do your best, and when you do your best: do better. Children will see it and will live by example. You won’t need to say anything. But when it comes to them, think about the future, think 10, think 20 years from today. What do you want your daughter to remember? What do you want your son to remember?
Teach them to ride a bike; to unsuccessfully bake a cake and giggle about it; have a difficult conversation; laugh today when you have gotten angry yesterday; forgive; apologize; teach values; whisper “I love you” more often than you think you should and more than you have done before.