There are two very significant environmental influences on our children’s development: developmentally appropriate stimulation and responsive parenting. Today, we are ready to take on how parents and the home can do or undo what children assimilate in school. But first, let us take an overview.
Last Sunday, I listened to the sharing of a brother in my Catholic community (CFC-FFL). He regrets about how he failed to truly nurture his children, especially his bunso. He is a wealthy man. He is engaged in various businesses and owns vast hectares of land. While his children are all professionals and even top the board examinations, his youngest has succumbed to illegal drugs. Among other things, he laments about how he thought he has provided everything for him. He expected that the money has compensated for his lack of affectionate presence and tender care. While it’s not yet too late, he made a decision to value his son as he is and connect with him at a deeper level whatever it would take.
Nowadays, stories like this have become too common. Why? Where have we gone wrong? Part of the answer is that no one prepared us to be parents. For most of us, we learned the ropes of raising a family through copying (unconsciously for some) the ways of our very own parents and perhaps a little reading or some seminars here and there. And we proceed with this long-term vocation with very minimal knowledge and lots of hope for a bright future, a future that may turn out, not as we anticipated.
To be a parent is a truly demanding endeavor – in all facets. And because it is demanding, not everyone is “successful”. For one, parenting requires time. Not only is it a 24/7 job, it also necessitates the appropriate use of this time. And talking about time, it is not how long we spend it with our kids but rather how present we are with them.
Like everyone else, when I get home from work, all I wish is to rest and recuperate. But eagerly waiting for me at home are two vigorous and kulit boys who want every piece of me. They are not only happy that Daddy is home, but they are excited that Daddy will be theirs, whole and undivided. My wife has to wait until they have enough of me because for sure it matters so much for them. And so, after a day’s work, I find myself playing with my sons, lost in their world.
But it wasn’t always like that. There were times when I pretended I was listening. I nodded and answered their questions but I was not really engaged. And it was too easy for them to expose my faking – they demanded more of me and that’s when I get irritated and would start to raise my voice. There they would sense that although I’m there I am not really present and they would start to withdraw or get more rowdy. I’m glad I am more attuned now.
Being present is a skill that all parents must learn so they are able to truly connect. But of course this is easier said than done because to be present requires a deep understanding and valuing of who we are vis-à-vis our children.
Who are we? Who are our children to us? These are very important questions because this is where our parenting strategies emanate. These questions, if taken seriously, touch the very core of our beliefs. I remember when my wife and I prayed for our first born, we made sure that we were ready, at least emotionally. We told God that we were all set to be stewards, caretakers of the listless soul yet in His hands, ready to take on a physical body. And the moment this soul chooses us – our genes, lifestyle, beliefs, circumstances – we will try our very best to grow together.
I believe the posture of our hearts should be that of a steward. We do not own our children. We do not even borrow them. It is by pure grace that we are given the privilege and opportunity to love, to serve, and to grow with them. And because we are stewards, our authority and control over our children are not absolute. We are constrained to only seek what is best for them without lording over. And if we feel we fall short of what is ideal, then we should seek opportunities to learn and to be better as we go on.
We parents have the best intentions for our children. But intentions are not enough. It must translate into tangible, concrete expressions of our love and care. And this requires hard work. This requires change. And change is frightening. Change is painful. And our deeply ingrained beliefs and habits also make it difficult for us to acquire new skills that may improve ourselves. And so we go back to what we best know – the way of our own parents.
My brother in the community resolved to deal with his bunso differently this time. It will take time. But with the proper mindset, a deep desire to love, the right skills and techniques, and a never-ending faith in the grace of God, healing can suffice and a fulfillment of his role as a father. But how can we make it work? We’ll get to the ground next issue and take on the challenge of materializing our quest for responsive parenting. Yes, this can get very exciting.