Parents need to be the compass point

1021857_mother_and_sonIt’s normal to worry about how our children will turn out in the future. Will they accept the values and ideals that we want to pass on to them? Will they follow the path we hope they will take? Is there a formula or method that will assure us of these things?

There are no guarantees, but there are many things we can do to influence the outcome of our parenting. We could dedicate an entire book to this topic, but in this short space, we can highlight one important factor. This factor needs to be considered carefully, because it used to be taken for granted. It was a given in traditional cultures, but in modern society, it is less available.

This factor is the place of parents in their children’s lives.

I’m using the word “place” instead of authority, because “authority” has become overused and misinterpreted. Parents are told to be more authoritative, while at the same time, our culture is severely undermining parental authority.

Here’s one small example of how this happens: A mother recently told me that she met with her son’s teacher, guidance counselor and school psychologist. She wanted to explain that it was important that her son’s teachers develop a caring relationship with him. When she explained to them what her son needed, their response was, “You’re only the mother.”

In other words, “We are the professionals who know best what students need.”

In the past several years, there has been a groundswell of professionals — psychologists, psychiatrists, consultants and therapists — to take care of children’s “problems.” The attitude that professionals can assess and take care of children better than parents has weakened parents’ confidence in themselves as the answer to their children’s psychological, emotional and spiritual needs.

The attachment village, at one time, was more easily available for parents and children. It was the parents’ place to introduce their children to other adults who supported the family’s values. When the parent could depend on these adults, the child could be securely attached to all the adults in his life.

When a child’s attachments are disconnected from each other, the child can’t orient to both his parents and to other adults who serve as the parents’ support system. This also makes it more likely for the child to attach to other children instead of to adults, and then look to these children for direction.

This has a direct impact on our influence to pass on our values and ideals to our children, when they are young and even more so when they are teenagers. The assumption that teenagers need to separate from their parents in order to find their individuality is false, and well-meaning adults easily assume that teenagers need friends more than their parents.

Parents need to be the compass point for their teenagers no less than for their younger children.

Parents can do three things to reclaim their rightful place in the lives of their children:

  1. Assume responsibility to be your child’s compass point, guide, comforter and safe home base. You may not have all the answers, but it is more important to believe that you are the answer for your child, because no one cares as much as you do.
  2. Provide your child with secure and deep attachment, and continue to protect and nurture this relationship during all the years your child is growing up. This will give him the context he needs to internalize your values while he is developing more maturity and finding his own reasons to believe in these values.
  3. Make room for your child to express his own thoughts, ideas, opinions, questions and feelings. This will give him the room he needs within the relationship to become his own person. Listening to him without judgment will open discussions that give you a window into what he is exposed to and what he thinks about it.

This gives you the influence you need while helping him cross the bridge from childhood to adulthood.

Our Deepest Attachments

Written by Shoshana Hayman, director of Life Center, the Center for Attachment Parenting in Israel,

We are often not aware of our deepest attachments until they are no longer with us. But sometimes we get the chance to have a glimpse of the profound nature of our attachment to those who matter most to us, and us to them.

Recently my older sister was told by her doctor that she needed immediate open heart surgery, and arrangements were made quickly for her hospitalization. In her usual optimistic and humorous spirit, my sister put on her lipstick, and with her dimpled smile waved to the family members who accompanied her down the hospital corridor, wishing them a long, happy life, while her youngest daughter filmed her with her digital camera.

I saw this part of my sister’s hospitalization only afterwards on the camera, for I was busy getting lost trying to find my way to the hospital. I could feel my frustration growing stronger as I hopelessly circled the same traffic circle trying to find the right exit. I was living the metaphor that explains where our frustration goes once it enters our system, and I knew that mine would finally find its way out in tears. I finally pulled my car over to the side of the road so I could collect myself and have a good cry.


Of course it wasn’t the getting lost that made me cry, but it was the trigger I needed to cry over the fear of losing my sister. She is the sister who took care of me. When I was little, she made faces with the food on my plate so I’d eat it; she gave me rides on the handlebars of her bicycle; she helped me with my homework; she taught me the answers to trivia questions, and we made tape recordings of our Q-and-A sessions together; she made up the best stories and created little dolls for me out of scraps of material to illustrate the stories. She was my shield, my protector. She kept me out of harm’s way.

Because she cared for me and gave me an open invitation to exist in her presence, I kept my tears and soft heart. My mind was flooded with the memories of our lives together, and I wanted to have her forever. The thought of anything else was too much to bear.

I sat through the surgery and prayed, and finally, seven hours later, I was told I could go to the recovery room. Her eyes were closed, and she was attached to tubes and wires, surrounded by the modern miracle of medical machinery for which perhaps for the first time I felt truly grateful. Her lipstick was still on, and I found a way to hold her hand without disturbing the equipment that was helping her body stabilize.

Thank G-d, she began to recover quickly and was out of pain. And now I have been given another gift–the hours we can spend together as she rests and recovers. But the hands on the clock relentlessly move ahead. I want to stay longer, and I have to leave.

We cling to each other with our hearts when I move to go. We are so aware of our being so deeply rooted in each other and that we 1206728_21045799can’t stop time from the inevitable futility of the physical world. We have but to cherish each day we have with each other; express our love and caring; find a way to forgive both the small annoyances and the big hurts; give our time and our hearts generously; remember what is truly important. It is then that we remain at peace with our relationships for eternity.

Safety and Security

Until we strongly address the root causes of hatred, the world is simply not a safer place. Feelings and actions related to arrogance and hatred do not abate with force, they only grow. Still, our proclamations of a safer world clearly show how much we desire to trust and live peaceably among each other.

This is why it is imperative that our time, attention, and resources be targeted–or at least not neglected to the degree that they are in our greater society–at what causes young people to be blindly swayed or coerced into destructive movements for a sense of belonging, love, and duty. To make the world a safer place, rather, it is raising our adults from very young ages with compassion, strength, confidence, love and empathy for everyone, not just their own. It is how we raise our children, how we treat our children and foster secure attachments, how we model love and compassion to them everyday as they grow into adults that truly changes the world. And it is these very origins of empathy and compassion, when fostered, that mediate the symptoms and pathways of violence and hatred: poverty, injustice, and inequality.
Vitally connected is how we support and inform those who are raising children, the parents, grandparents, and other caregivers. We must work to allay the stress and challenges of making a livelihood that make quality and intentional parenting a struggle. We need to value these mothers, fathers, grandparents, and caregivers and equip them with ongoing support, excellent and useful information, and encouragement and recognition for the important work they are doing. We need to raise awareness about attachment parenting.
This is why I believe so passionately in the work of Attachment Parenting International, carrying out this mission for the past 17 years: “To educate and support all parents in raising secure, joyful and empathic children in order to strengthen families and create a more compassionate world.” We cling to various strategies and programs to get at the solution to violence in the world, yet I believe it is by engaging in work like API’s and helping API exponentially reach more families that we could make the most difference.

For me, the questioning that arises regarding achieving a safer, more secure world invariably brings me to the importance of putting our energy into helping our children feel secure, loved, and loving from birth through adulthood. The Peace Corps idealism I have has not left me–I see a generation with a new empathy, a secure world for each person, for everyone brought about by parent heroes.