parent hand holding child's hand

Children make their own powerful connection to us. The secret is to recognize and accept this connection and let it guide our connection to them. Otherwise, our parent-child relationship will have problems.

Here is how children connect to us:

In the first nine months, babies have a Garden of Eden existence in the womb, with every need met. Then, suddenly, they are yanked out into a different environment, where, realizing they cannot survive without help, they experience fear of abandonment.

They address this fear by seeking love through imitation, feeling if they imitate their caretakers, their caretakers with love them, and thus always be there to meet their needs.

This imitation process is powerful; it is how children internalize their parents’ values, character, sense of purpose, etc. However, this also means imitating their parents’ negative attitudes, behaviors, moods and biases. So children are essentially stuck with both our best and our worst.

As children reach the teen years feeling more secure regarding abandonment, they — subconsciously — begin to consider how well-prepared they are for life. They look ahead to being self-sufficient. Naturally, they are primarily dependent upon their parents in this regard.

So as much as children love their parents, they have subconscious feelings about how well their parents are raising them, and how well they will be living their own lives.

Since children have imitated their parents from birth, this imitation connection gives them a natural appreciation for their parents’ strengths. But at the same time, subconsciously, they may naturally resent negative parent traits that their parents modeled and that they have internalized.

These subconscious resentments are seldom if ever expressed. But if they are not addressed, they will affect the parent-child relationship in some way, to the detriment of both parent and child.

But if we become sensitive to the powerful connection our children make to us, it becomes natural for us to address them. So how do we develop this sensitivity?

  1. Don’t seek our children’s love. Clearly, they are seeking our love from birth. If we seek their love, it becomes an irresistible means for them to manipulate us to get what they want.
  2. Focus on helping our children realize their best and on becoming self-sufficient. Regardless of what they may say, we will be reassuring their deeper — usually subconscious — feelings. Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves.
  3. Be honest about our shortcomings and make an effort to address them. This will inspire our children to deal with shortcomings in themselves, since they have imitated us.
  4. Learn to really listen to our children. Form the habit of repeating back to them what we understand them to say, and continue until they acknowledge that we do in fact understand.

This last point needs further explanation. As much as we may think we understand our children, they are living in a different generation, facing the problem of applying family values in a changing culture. This takes additional understanding on our part.

That children grow significantly by imitation is confirmed by psychology and indicated by “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Our humility in accepting this connection with growing children gains their trust, and our interest and ability to understand their challenges earns acceptance as their mentors.

This is the ultimate parent-child connection, earning a profound, lifelong love.

Originally published on the Huffington Post 6/10/2014