Around Our Town...Family
Nurture: Giving Love to Ourselves and Others
09/01/2005 - For our new readers, we are completing a series of articles based on the book by Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson entitled Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children. The book contends that there are two critical sides to parenting: structure and nurture. If you look at the human body for a comparison of the importance of these two elements, structure is like the skin and bones which provide shape and containment. Nurture is like the soft tissue and muscle which allow the body to move with grace and freedom. There is an interdependent relationship between the skin and bones of the body and the muscles and soft tissue. That same interdependence is required in a healthy approach to parenting. When parents provide a healthy balance in the areas of structure and nurture, they are offering their children an opportunity to grow, explore, and even fail in an atmosphere that has adequate and developmentally appropriate boundaries, guidelines, and principles to insure a high level of safety (emotionally and physically). Last month the topic was structure – this month we will be addressing the importance of nurture.
The term "nurture" refers to the need we all have to be unconditionally loved. Unconditional love is often hard to give and to receive. For example, when someone is being negative, selfish, abusive, or careless it is difficult to feel and convey unconditional love. On the other hand, when a child or adult has been abused or neglected, they may have difficulty trusting others and may reject any attempt to show love. Still, it is possible to choose to love and receive love if we are committed to the belief that it is not only in the best interest of ourselves and others to give and receive love but that we are born with the capacity to do so!
The authors have developed a continuum for nurture that is similar to the structure chart we looked at last month:
The two center categories on this continuum are healthy forms of nurturing and the rest are destructive to children and to our ability to parent them. Be aware that most of us deviate from the healthy categories in the center from time to time. However, the chart can be used to determine how we can improve our parenting and help our children have an opportunity to become healthy and responsible adults. The chart is arranged from the harshest form of contact to the extreme of having no contact.
Abuse: This is a very harsh form of contact with a child. It includes invasive and painful behaviors like hitting (with a hand or other implement), sexual touching, shaking, and burning. It may also include more subtle forms of verbal, emotional and mental abuse like sexual innuendo, abusive language, screaming, threatening, ridicule and humiliation.
Conditional care: This is care that is provided with an agenda in mind. For example, "I'll take care of you if …" you are good, do your homework, get good grades, excel in sports, practice the piano, etc. In other words, my love for you depends on your behavior.
Assertive care: This care that is provided directly and without the child requesting it. It is given to the child because the caregiver has determined that the child is unable to meet these particular needs by himself. Assertive care takes into account the child's developmental stage and abilities. Assertive care for a child generally becomes less and less as the child matures.
Supportive care: This type of care involves standing beside the individual who needs help. It offers help that can be "accepted, declined or negotiated". It would also involve listening, encouraging, confronting (telling the truth in love), and sometimes just being there and present.
Overindulgence: This kind of "sticky love" is characterized by giving too much, too soon or too long. It tends to be for the benefit of the caregiver and communicates to the child that he or she is not competent to care for self.
Neglect: Parents who neglect kids are often too busy and distracted to notice what their children need. They are either self-absorbed with meeting their own needs or are simply not there physically or emotionally for their children.
As we have looked at these issues related to parenting using structure and nurture, I would challenge you to be honest with yourself as a parent. Determine the aspects of your parenting that need to be improved. Don't be too hard on yourself but take action and get the book and/or talk to a friend, a minister, or a family therapist to find the help you need to be the best parent you can be.
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The Healing Place,
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Casper, Wyoming 82601