Parenting with Insight centers on an idea that has some profound implications about the way you care for, understand and respond to your children. This key insight is to recognize that you and your child are very similar in deep and important ways.
We spend a lot of time as parents, and I spend even more time as a developmental scientist, noticing and thinking about the differences between children and adults in the ways we think and understand the world, our social and physical skills, and our emotional responses. We feel a great sense of responsibility to tend and nurture our children and we bring to this a very deep sense of how much children rely on us, how much they have to learn, how much they will grow and change over the years, often with our guidance. We smile at their heartwarming first efforts at standing, throwing a ball, holding a pencil, reading, driving a car and even stepping into their first college dorm room. Sometimes we feel challenged and frustrated by slowness, awkwardness, fussiness or lack of responsibility and unwillingness to cooperate. All of these thoughts and feelings pivot on our seeing differences between ourselves and our children, and implicitly as seeing our children as not yet fully formed.
We, as parents, are hardly alone in viewing children this way. A large branch of academia is engaged in what is now called the developmental sciences, drawing on an array of disciplines spanning developmental psychology, human development, evolution, biology, sociology, cognitive science, education and a number of others fields, that seeks to understand and explain the processes and changes that occur as humans grow and mature. Similarly, society as a whole strives to protect and support children’s development through public policies that regulate and fund institutions that educate, protect and care for children and teens.
There is no question that children grow and change on an almost daily basis. Human infants are born quite immature compared with other creatures and our children spend an unprecedentedly long time in our care as they grow into to incredibly complex, adaptable and competent mature individuals. Obviously, they are not able to care for themselves initially and it takes many years until they are able to do so. The processes of development are astounding, complex and mysterious. With countless developmental changes unfolding before our eyes, and with a sense of loving responsibility to care for and guide our children, much of our focus is on the differences between adults and children, and on the changes that transform a child into an adult. It is so easy to notice the distinctions, that we are often blind to a fundamental detail: children and adults are also very much alike. We are all humans. At our core we share the same basic needs to be loved, respected and valued. To be safe from harm and to be happy.
This simple insight can have a profound impact on the way we act as parents. When we view our children and ourselves as essentially the same, we can open to the realization that our child’s deep inner needs are not different or incomprehensible or immature. Rather, they are familiar, known and unwavering. They are our needs. They are human needs. We are the same.
The centerpiece of parenting with knowledge and wisdom is this insight:
children and adults are fundamentally the same
This key insight leads to the understanding that when we care for our children, we should do it as we would like ourselves to be cared for. Each person has a basic dignity and worthiness that deserves to be recognized and honored. And each person wants to be appreciated for who she or he is, and to have the opportunity to develop his or her gifts and offer them to the world.
We share something else with our children: we are all developing. Humans are perhaps unique in that knowledge, understanding, awareness and skills accrue throughout life. There is not some endpoint or age at which we are complete, at which there is nothing more to learn or do. Both children and parents are developing beings. Parents are just a little further along the path.
Development is a lifelong process
With these two ideas in mind, that parents and children are fundamentally the same and that we are all continually developing, I offer a set of guiding thoughts, principles if you will, that can support you in your role as a parent. These principles draw on a union of time honored wisdom and modern science. They center on love, respect, recognizing each individual’s unique combination of gifts and fostering the lifelong journey of human development, both yours and your child’s.
The photo of the rose and bud on a branch offers a visual image of the opening insight, that children and adults are fundamentally the same.