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Around Our Town...Family

06/01/2005 - Years ago when I came

to Casper, I had the privilege of working for Central Wyoming Counseling Center and was a substance abuse counselor in several secondary schools (Kelly Walsh High School, Centennial Jr. High, and East Jr. High). The schools were introducing a program called S.A.I.L. (Student Assistance In Life) and they asked me to take the training and lead several S.A.I.L. groups in these schools. One of the trainers at the time was Connie Dawson who had co-authored a book with Jill Illsley Clarke entitled Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children. It was a privilege to work with Connie and to glean some real wisdom about what we needed as adults (and perhaps did not receive) and what our children need at each developmental stage. As a therapist, I often find myself in the process of "re-parenting" my clients. Unfortunately, if we don't examine the deficits in our own upbringing, we can pass on these same deficits or equally destructive patterns to our children.

One of the premises of the book is that there are basically two components of healthy parenting: 1) Nurture or unconditional love. Children (and adults) need to know throughout their lives that they are loved and lovable, and 2) Structure or limits, skills, and standards. As the authors state "They [children] need to be safe, to learn healthy habits, to develop a sense of who they are and who others are, to learn values and ethics, to develop character, and to become responsible for themselves." 1 The book shows a continuum on each scale of nurture and structure that indicates two middle categories that are healthy and show the extreme categories that are not a great tool to help parents understand how they can be more "even" in their parenting. The authors refer to "even" and "uneven" parenting rather than functional and dysfunctional. Their contention in using these terms is that labels are not helpful and may cause some to ignore the message. Whatever the terms, the idea is that we can parent differently than we were parented. In other words, we can be more "even and functional" and less "uneven and dysfunctional" if we want to be!

One analogy the authors use in talking about how structure and nurture work together is that of the human body. They talk about how nurture is like the soft tissue and muscle while structure is the skin and bones. Nurture allows the body to move with freedom and grace while structure provides the skeletal system that holds us up and the skin that keeps us contained within certain limits. This is a great word picture but when we translate it to parenting, there is less clarity because we are required to figure out what a healthy "body" looks like; what are appropriate types of structure and nurture, and what is a healthy balance.

It is clear to me that our views are different based on our own experiences, our own value systems, our beliefs, and the individual personalities of the children we are trying to parent. When it comes to parenting, one size doesn't fit all. We have to know our children and what works with them in terms of consequences and rewards for behavior. We also have to understand how to communicate with each individual temperament and personality in a language they can hear and internalize. It's a daunting task and with this as a backdrop for future articles regarding parenting, I hope to share more insights regarding this extremely important subject.

1 J. I. Clarke and C. Dawson, Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children, (Center City, MN: Hazleden, 1989, 1998), p.10.

Comments or suggestions for future topics? Mailing address:

The Healing Place,

Highland Park Community Church

411 S. Walsh,

Casper, Wyoming 82601

email: rkirk@hpcc.cc

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