Parents worry. It’s what we do, right? We worry about our kids and their safety, of course, but we also sometimes worry that we’re not being good enough parents. We worry about the times we let them down. We worry that we’re not giving them enough attention. We worry that we’re giving them too much attention. And for some of us, we worry that we’re letting work keep us from being the kind of parents we need to be.
The struggle is real. We get it. We’re both parents with careers, and we’ve both missed recitals and ball games, even the occasional back-to-school night. (Sometimes, ironically, we’ve missed events because we’re on a stage somewhere talking about parenting!) We’ve worried at times, too. And we’ve experienced that powerful cousin of worry, guilt.
We know there are reasons to feel better about being away from our kids: that we’re setting a good example by showing them what it means to be responsible, or to have meaningful work that helps others, or to live with purpose. That we can be better parents and appreciate parenting more when we’ve had a break from it. That it’s good for kids to develop additional attachment figures they can depend on for love and support. We know these reasons and find them persuasive and compelling. And yet, doubts can creep in, leaving us worried not only that we’re missing out, but that we’re too stretched and busy and not adequately available for our kids.
If you identify with any of this, we’ve got good news for you. The childrearing research is crystal clear that if we can give our kids one particular thing, they’ll enjoy life-long benefits when it comes to happiness and fulfillment in their relationships, academics and even careers. What’s that one thing? It’s not that they’re raised by someone who never misses a Little League game, or who volunteers for every PTA position. It’s that they have a parent who can be counted on to “show up.”
Showing up means bringing your whole being—your attention and awareness—into the moments you have with your child. It means being physically and emotionally present for your child right now, and in all of the “right nows” you two share together. Your job may require that you travel, or you might not be the one picking up your kids at the carpool circle every day after school. But if you can prioritize spending consistent and meaningful time with them along the way, then you are showing up. In other words, though it’s not always easy, it’s quite simple: They need us. We don’t have to be perfect, and we don’t have to be at home 24/7. We just have to be present and show up for them in meaningful ways.
How do you do that? By providing what we call the “Four S’s,” helping your kids feel: 1) safe—where they feel protected and sheltered from harm; 2) seen—where they know you “get them,” understand them, and pay attention to them; 3) soothed—where they know you’ll be there for them and help them when they need you; and 4) secure—which develops from the other S’s so they trust you to predictably help them feel “at home” in the world, then learn to help themselves feel safe, seen and soothed. When you offer your children the gift of helping them feel safe, seen, soothed and secure, they’ll be well prepared to live fully and show resilience, even in the face of significant adversity.
So take a break from worrying and feeling guilty, and instead focus on showing up with your physical and emotional presence. Offer your kids the Four S’s—when you’re reading to or playing with them; when they’re struggling or enjoying success; when you’re consoling, disciplining or arguing with them; and even when you’re acknowledging the times you don’t show up for them. No parent is perfect, but all of us can be present for our kids, whatever our circumstances. Don’t beat yourself up about the times you’re not around. Impactful parenting begins right where you are, right now. All you have to do is show up.
Written by Daniel J. Siegel M.D. for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Featured image provided by Working Mother
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