“Kids are expensive!” parents are told. And they are. But really, the most important things parents ever give their children – the things that truly last – are, for the most part, FREE.
Parents have been conditioned through a lifetime of schooling followed by years of striving for professional achievement to equate success with effort, measureable outcomes and money. Given this perspective and background, it is not at all surprising that adults approach becoming parents within the same framework. Somehow, during the past 20-30 years, parenting has become a job as opposed to simply the creation of lifelong family relationships.
Becoming a parent entails taking on enormous responsibilities, however, sometimes it seems that this sense of responsibility might overshadow parent-child bonds and interactions. Parents set goals for themselves and their children that may be admirable, yet ambitious, and some parents spend immense amounts of energy seemingly twisting themselves into pretzels through their efforts to attain these goals and achieve perfection.
Throughout the struggle to become the perfect parents whose families want for nothing and whose children who must not miss out on any potential opportunity, family members may lose sight of many aspects of family life, growth and development that are truly significant. Perhaps parents could benefit from taking a step back and renewing their perspectives on the things that are truly important when it comes to raising children.
Maybe it would be better to spend less time, energy and money on becoming perfect parents who are raising perfect children and more time on appreciating growing, ongoing family relationships. After all, what is a family if not a dynamic, evolving relationship made up of people who love each other?
The best, most important things parents can give their children are:
Time spent together participating in enjoyable activities. Naturally these activities will change as children grow and develop, but relationships cannot deepen and flourish without spending time in each other’s company.
Laughter is the best medicine, they say, and to a parent, there is no sweeter sound than hearing their child laugh with pure delight! Everyone loves to laugh and there is also much pleasure to be found in helping other people discover joy and laughter.
Attention given through listening, responding and interacting. Neuroscientists have discovered that responsive interactions between young infants and the caring adults in their lives contribute to connections being made inside babies’ brains. These connections lay the foundation for brain development. Children crave back and forth connections as they grow and develop.
Communication between family members plays a significant role in maintaining relationships. Children remain connected to their parents as they talk about their days, ask questions and receive answers and as they listen to stories, thoughts and opinions. The experience of talking and listening to rich vocabulary within context and hearing complex sentence structures through meaningful conversations helps children become strong language learners which in turn strengthens their social/emotional awareness and development, academic ability and confidence.
Just as in any friendship, family relationships are enhanced through participation in enrichment activities. For children (and adults as well) enriching and enjoyable activities include creative endeavors such as play, art and music. Reading books together, spending time outdoors, making music by singing songs and playing instruments, dancing, engaging in games and sports for pleasure are all activities that require little investment but return much joy. Simply finding beauty in everyday surroundings and daily routines can become poetic and meaningful when it is valued and appreciated.
Touch and affection are crucial to both physical and emotional development. Recent research confirms previous findings that it is impossible to spoil babies by holding and cuddling them too much. Humans continue their need to be touched throughout their lifetime, and yet, too many older children lack the sensory input they need from caring adults at home. Teenagers may not articulate this need or seek it out yet parents can continue to demonstrate affection through appropriate touch throughout their lifetime.
Sleep, rest and consistent, dependable routines all help to create a stable environment for growing children. Parents are responsible for creating the framework and staging the family environment in order for these elements to exist within family life. Part of parent’s responsibility is to set boundaries and to have to courage to say no to requests and opportunities that may undermine predetermined family needs and priorities.
To minimize the pressure and exhaustion that is often associated with raising a family today, parents can ask themselves the following questions:
- Am I parenting or being a parent?
- What is this costing me/us (literally and figuratively)?
- What can we eliminate in order to make more time and space to take advantage of the free benefits that should be the biggest components of family life?
Naturally children and families have many needs that continue to be expensive to meet. Food, clothes, shelter, education and experiences must all be paid for. However, the true value of the free things in life ought not to be overlooked.
Is it time to cut back on outcomes-based parenting and instead focus on creating dynamic family relationships?