Childhood is Now

“Let us put our minds together and see whatkind of life we can make for our children.”- Chief Sitting Bull.
I often hear people say, “Kids today are different, I would never have behaved that way as a child.” Are kids today different or is it kids’ lives today that are different? In her book, The Continuum Concept, Jean Leidloff points out that, “Natural logic forbids belief in the evolution of a species with the characteristic of driving its parents to distraction by the millions.” As new parents we are all told, “Enjoy your children now while they are little.” Yet how much of the day do we spend enjoying our children? Many parents spend more of their day struggling with their children than enjoying them. How has this come to be? What is making parenting today more often a struggle than a joy?

Parenting never used to be, and was never meant to be, a one or two person job. Parents used to have a village, a tribe, or at least an extended family to help care for and spend time with their children. Few families today have the resource of a live-in grandparent, aunt, uncle or nanny. Even when there are two parents in the home at least one of them is gone much of the time. Whenever there is only one adult to care for children, for extended periods of time, there often isn’t the time, attention or energy to fully meet everyone’s needs. Whether a family consists of a single parent and one child; a mom, a dad and three children; two partners and two children or a blended family with multiple moms, dads and stepsiblings, most families need more adult resources.

My experience with children is that when their needs are met and nothing is hurting them, they are a joy to be with. I’ve learned that children do not always have the language to tell us what is hurting them or what they need so they communicate their needs through “needy” behavior. When children are not a joy to be with, their behavior is usually an expression of unmet need. Just as a baby’s cry is a communication designed to bother us and move us to action to meet the baby’s needs, the needy behaviors of children are designed to bother us and move us to action to meet the child’s needs.

Ironically, when children communicate their unmet needs through needy behavior, the action adults often take is to try to change the child’s behavior. As long as we keep trying to change the behavior instead of meeting the need, those needy behaviors persist. If we look at our own behavior when our children’s needy behavior is driving us crazy, we usually find we haven’t spent much time with them and we’ve been too busy and stressed to connect with them. If we look at our behavior when we are enjoying our children, we find that we are spending time with them and not rushing them from one place to another.

There are many reasons why children have unmet needs. Sometimes we can’t hear our children’s needs because our own needs are screaming so loudly. Sometimes we lack information about their needs. Sometimes we have so little trust in our own internal voice that we listen to advice that goes against meeting our children’s needs. Most often, however, the reason children aren’t getting what they need is that our lives are too busy and we don’t have enough time to be with them and enough time to just let them be. One of the reasons parents are too busy is that there is not enough adult resource to do all that needs to be done. The loss of the extended family has been devastating to parenting and to childhood.

Childhood today is very different than it has ever been. Parents are busier and children are expected to keep the same pace. There are so many more things to do and places to go. Children have to get to day care, preschool, school, games, lessons, and appointments. They often spend as much time (or more) in the car, getting to and from these activities, as they do at the activity. Children are frequently in transition from one place to another. Children need time with their parents and time for unstructured play, time to just be. Kids today don’t get much of that. Most children today spend less time in their home, with their family, than children ever have.
Most parents tell me that transition times are the times of greatest conflict with their children.

Getting out the door in the morning and bedtime are often a struggle. It seems the very thing we enjoy about children is also the very thing that drives us crazy about them. Children live in the now. Their attention is completely on what they need, feel or are doing right now. When we are rushing to “get out the door” or trying to get them to bed we are not in the now. We are usually thinking about where we are going and what we have to do next. When transition means children have to leave what they are happy doing to go and do something they may not even want to do, children naturally resist.

The only real conflict that exists between parents and children is conflict of needs. Getting out the door is our need. Getting the kids to bed is our need. When a child’s need to have time with us or time to just be is unmet they know that going out the door or going to bed means those needs won’t get met . When children express their unmet needs through their behavior and that behavior conflicts with parents’ needs the conflict of needs often turns into a power struggle.
This summer many parents told me how much they enjoyed their children when they were on vacation and/or when family or friends were visiting. When I asked why they enjoyed their children so much at those times the answer was always the same. “We had more time and there were more adults to do what needed to be done, so we all had more time for ourselves and more energy and attention for the children.” How can we have more of this for our family in everyday life?

We may have to begin to create more adult resource in small ways. Parents could ask family members and friends to spend more time with our family on a regular basis. We can invite other families to do things with our family and invite single friends to be part of our family. We create an “extended family of choice.” When there are more adults to meet the needs of children there is less conflict of needs and fewer power struggles. Even one hour a week of more adult resource would make a positive difference.

Creating more resource will mean having to ask for support. Most parents find it difficult to ask. We may feel like we are imposing or that we are supposed to be able to do it all alone. None of us can do it well, alone. Time has shown us that. We all have to work together to make it work for everyone. The children who depend on us now to get their needs met will one day be the adults we depend on to meet our needs. They will only be able to give what they have received.
We won’t get a second chance to “enjoy them while they are little.” Meeting the needs of children takes time, energy and human resource. If we don’t create the resource to give us the time and energy to meet children’s needs now when they are little, we will spend the time dealing with their unmet need behaviors when they are big. Childhood is now. The more resource we create, the more everyone’s needs will be met. The more everyone’s needs are met, the more we will all enjoy the children, when they are little AND when they are big.

About the Author…

Pam Leo is an independent scholar in human development, a parent educator, a certified childbirth educator, a doula, a parent, and a grandparent. She began studying child development, psychology, sociology, and anthropology after her first child was born in 1972. “I wanted to learn why we are each born as a tiny innocent being, and some of us grow up to be a Mahatma Gandhi while others become an Adolf Hitler. What determines the difference? I was determined to find out.” As a family child care provider for children ages two to ten, Pam clocked up 55,000 hours of child care over 22 years. During that time she home schooled her daughters and continued her own independent study of human development. In 1989 she developed a seven-session parenting series called “Meeting the Needs of Children” which she teaches publicly and in the prison system with inmate parents. “If I had to put into one sentence all that I have learned about optimal human development and parenting it would be this: our effectiveness as parents is in direct proportion to the strength of the bond we have with our child. Securing and maintaining that bond is our primary work as parents and is the key to optimal human development.” For more information about Pam Leo and her publications, visit connectionparenting.com.

COMMENTS – 2 Responses
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1. 1. ChrstyMar 2nd, 2008 at 9:18 pm
“Sometimes we can’t hear our children’s needs because our own needs are screaming so loudly” When asked if I want to have more kids I always think, well if my Mr right walks into my life and I have acheived my hearts desire why not. I really enjoy kids. But till that time, till the day when I feel less needy myself I hardly thing my hearth would be the most welcoming for other children.
But what to do? We can’t make the kids magically disapear until we’ve got out acts sorted out and the pressures off. What I’ve found which makes the day flow a lot better now (I’m a full time stay at home mom with no relations about to help and dad is a hardworking man) is, following my destiny. In however small way I can now. Just admitting to my self that “well there are other things which drive me and bring me to new heights”, and working towards that helps the day go a lot better with the kids. Dropping the other preoccupations which demand my time and bring me no way close to my dream follows. Just focussing on that and child minding (and all which comes with it) makes my day flow nicer now.
And for me destiny drives me to sing and write songs and that, as funny as it may seem, has transformed my time with the boys. Composing doesn’t take half as long as writing a book does and that frees up lots of time. I am not anxious that they go to bed so I can have time to write anymore. I bring a pad along while they go rollerblading and jot down things there for example. I sing while we go walking (and I have to be careful what I sing too because they sing it right back to me word for words pitch for pitch- that’s our singing lessons!) We had a pretty amazing experience one day to a song I had wriiten called I Stand Naked. Well I got all excited about it and while singing started to take my clothes off. The boys were singing the lyrics too behind me. They wasted no time in whipping their clothes off and all three of us were gyrating in front of the mirror singing I stand Naked in your eyes.
So my advice is to spending quality time with your kids in way that both of you benefit is to follow your destiny and finding a way to include them in the experience. My boys are the first two people I’ve met who really don’t mind me singing the same song over and over again. And they have memorised all the lyrics to all my songs and the three year old asked me one day after singing ‘I’ve tried reaching you with ESP’ Mummy what is ESP? It certainly enriches the lives of our kids. Just seeing us excited about a project which they too can learn a bit from makes room for a great household athmosphere.

 http://connectionparenting.com/

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