Introduction: The Gifts of Parenthood
YOUR CHILD IS THE GREATEST GIFT you will ever receive. From the moment you first hold this miracle of life in your arms, your world will be broader and richer. You will experience a flood of feelings, some of wonder and joy and others of confusion and of being overwhelmed and wondering whether you can ever measure up to the needs of your new baby. These are feelings you could barely imagine before—feelings that no one can truly experience without having a child.
Even describing them can be difficult because the bond between parent and child is so intensely personal. Why do tears come to your eyes the first time your baby smiles or reaches for you? Why are you so proud of her first words? Why does your heart suddenly start to pound the first time you watch her stumble and fall? The answer lies in the unique two- way giving relationship between you and your child.Your Child’s Gifts to You
Although simple, your child’s gifts to you are powerful enough to change your life positively.
UNQUALIFIED LOVE. From birth, you are the center of your child’s universe. He gives you his love without question and without demand. As he gets older, he will show this love in countless ways, from showering you with his first smiles to giving you his handmade Valentines. His love is filled with admiration, affection, loyalty, and an intense desire to please you.
ABSOLUTE TRUST. Your child believes in you. In her eyes, you are strong, capable, powerful, and wise. Over time, she will demonstrate this trust by relaxing when you are near, coming to you with problems, and proudly pointing you out to others. Sometimes she also will lean on you for protection from things that frighten her, including her own sensitivities. For example, in your presence she may try out new skills that she would never dare to try alone or with a stranger. She trusts you to keep her safe.
THE THRILL OF DISCOVERY. Having a child gives you a unique chance to rediscover the pleasure and excitement of childhood. Although you cannot relive your life through your child, you can share in his delight as he explores the world. In the process, you probably will discover abilities and talents you never dreamed you possessed. Feelings of empathy mixed with growing selfawareness will help shape your ability to play and interact with your growing child. Discovering things together, whether they are new skills or words or ways to overcome obstacles, will add to your experience and confidence as a parent and will better prepare you for new challenges that you never even envisioned. Your Child’s Gifts to You
THE HEIGHTS OF EMOTION. Through your child, you will experience new heights of joy, love, pride, and excitement. You probably also will experience anxiety, anger, and frustration. For all those delicious moments when you hold your baby close and feel her loving arms around your neck, there are bound to be times when you feel you cannot communicate. The extremes sometimes become sharper as your child gets older and seeks to establish her independence.
The same child who at three dances across the room with you may at four have a rebellious and active period that surprises you. The extremes are not contradictions, but simply a reality of growing up. For you as a parent, the challenge is to accept and appreciate all the feelings with which your child expresses himself and arouses in you, and to use them in giving him steady guidance. The Gifts You Give Your Child
As his parent, you have many vital gifts to offer your child in return. Some are subtle, but all are very powerful. Giving them will make you a good parent. Receiving them will help your child become a healthy, happy, capable individual.
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Love lies at the core of your relationship with your child. It needs to flow freely in both directions. Just as she loves you without question, you must give her your love and acceptance absolutely. Your love shouldn’t depend on the way she looks or behaves. It shouldn’t be used as a reward or withheld as a threat. Your love for your child is constant and indisputable, and it’s up to you to convey that, especially when she misbehaves and needs to have limits set or behavior corrected. Love must be held separate and above any fleeting feelings of anger or frustration over her conduct. Never confuse the actions with the child. The more secure she feels in your love, the more self- assurance she will have as she grows up.
SELF- ESTEEM. One of your most important gifts as a parent is to help your child develop self- esteem. It’s not an easy or quick process. Self- respect, confidence, and belief in oneself, which are the building blocks of self- esteem, take years to become firmly established. Your child needs your steady support and encouragement to discover his strengths. He needs you to believe in him as he learns to believe in himself. Loving him, spending time with him, listening to him, and praising his accomplishments are all part of this process. On other occasions, helping him modify his troubling behaviors in ways that aren’t punitive or hurtful, but constructive, is just as important to building a firm self- esteem. If he is confident of your love, admiration, and respect, it will be easier for him to develop the solid self- esteem he needs to grow up happy and emotionally healthy.
VALUES AND TRADITIONS. Regardless of whether you actively try to pass on your values and beliefs to your child, she is bound to absorb some of them just by living with you. She’ll notice how disciplined you are in your work, how deeply you hold your beliefs, and whether you practice what you preach. She’ll participate in family rituals and traditions and think about their significance. You can’t expect or demand that your child subscribe to all your opinions, but you can present your beliefs honestly, clearly, and thoughtfully, in keeping with the child’s age and maturity level. Give her guidance and encouragement, not only commands. Encourage questions and discussions, when age and language permit, instead of trying to force your values on your child. If your beliefs are well reasoned and if you are true to them, she probably will adopt many of them. If there are inconsistencies in your actions—something we all live with— often your child will make that clear to you, either subtly by his behavior or, when he is older, more directly by disagreeing with you. The road to developing values is not straight and unerring. It demands flexibility built on firm foundations. Self- awareness, a willingness to listen to your child and change when appropriate, and, above all, a demonstration of your commitment to traditions will best serve your relationship with your child. While the choice of values and principles ultimately will be hers to make, she depends on you to give her the foundation through your thoughts, shared ideas, and, most of all, your actions and deeds.
JOY IN LIFE. Your baby doesn’t need to be taught to be joyful, but he does need your encouragement and support to let his natural enthusiasm fly free. The more joyful you are, particularly when you are with him, the more delightful life will seem to him and the more eagerly he will embrace it. When he hears music, he’ll dance. When the sun shines, he’ll turn his face skyward. When he feels happy, he’ll laugh. This exuberance often is expressed through his being attentive and curious, willing to explore new places and things, and eager to take in the world around him and incorporate the new images, objects, and people into his own growing experience. Remember, different babies have different temperaments—some are more apparently exuberant than others, some are more noisily rambunctious, some are more playful, some are more reserved and quiet. Still others are more even- keeled, mixtures of the two extremes. But all babies demonstrate their joy in life in their own ways, and you as the parent will discover what those ways are and will nurture your child’s joy.
GOOD HEALTH. Your child’s health depends significantly on the care and guidance you offer her during these early years. You begin during pregnancy by taking good care of yourself and by arranging for obstetric and pediatric care. By taking your child to the doctor regularly for checkups and consultations, keeping her safe from injuries, providing a nutritious diet, and encouraging exercise throughout childhood, you help protect and strengthen her body. You’ll also need to maintain good health habits yourself, while avoiding unhealthy ones, such as smoking, excessive drinking, drug use, and lack of adequate physical activity. In this way, you’ll give your child a healthy example to follow as she grows up.
SECURE SURROUNDINGS. You naturally want to give your child a safe, comfortable home. This means more than a warm place to sleep and a collection of toys. As important as it is to provide shelter that is physically safe and secure, it is even more important to create a home that is emotionally secure with a minimum of stress and a maximum of consistency and love. Your child can sense problems between other family members and may be very troubled by them, so it’s important that all family problems, even minor conflicts, be dealt ...