Edited extract from Renovate Your Relationship by Joanne Wilson, now available at all good bookstores and online at www.relationshiprejuvenator.com
It’s no wonder new mothers experience varying levels of anxiety: their new child is totally and completely dependent on them for its survival. The parental impact (particularly the mother’s) on her child’s brain is extensive and profound. She couldn’t be more influential during childhood stages. Interestingly, this influence decreases as the child reaches adolescence and adulthood.
It’s quite a role reversal as mothers can become less prominent and more reliant on their child for advice and support (technological support comes to mind!). As health declines, parents can become dependent on the child for both mental and physical survival. You could say, what goes around comes around and there is no more relevant example of this than in the cycle of a parent:
As mentioned, our sense of safety and well-being from a healthy attachment depends on the patterns of interaction with our parents, which begins in infancy. When a child experiences this safe connection, they’re more likely to approach a wonderful life with its challenges versus avoiding it. More couples than not experience a significant decline in relationship happiness following the birth of their first child that doesn’t seem to be consistent with what they deem is supposed to be the happiest time in their life. It makes sense even for those who don’t suffer from postnatal depression to experience a decrease in couple satisfaction as a result of less quality time, less intimacy, less sex and attempting not to act psychotic on one hour’s sleep.
Toddlers and preschool:
Parents then become nurturers and teachers and guide toddlers toward safe choices. This is particularly important as they become mobile and assertive! Parents help shape their child’s behaviour toward socialisation by adopting loving and firm boundaries to support their future resilience and knowledge of consequences. The greatest possible outcome here is a curious child: one that is focused, is able to freely play, is sometimes self-reliant and mostly cheerful. They decrease your hygiene standards, may ruin your sex life but guaranteed to level up your spontaneity.
As the greater environment and peers broaden the psychosocial and cognitive abilities of the child’s world, the parent- child relationship continues to remain the most important influence on their development. It’s often natural here that the primary carer has greater freedom to work and therefore has to juggle their requirement to provide that responsive, attentive, warm and loving environment and yet still maintain firm boundaries. Sigh! Even in the case of significant change such as divorce, the relationship between the parent and child remains a more important positive factor to the child’s psychological development than any impact from other possible changes.
Traditionally seen as a time of conflict and crazy chaos, this can equally be a wonderful time when parents can enjoy what Clinical Professor Dr Dan Siegel terms the ‘Essence of Adolescence’.44 This is the emotional spark, social engagement, novelty-seeking and creative exploration stage. I notice that when there are both positive male and female parental influences here, teens fare best. For parents who have no contact with the other biological parent, this can take the form of a grandparent, uncle, aunt or respected friend. This is also an interesting stage for parents as they can be transitioning to mid-life around this time! We can see how in the previous stages, the significance of maintaining that secure attachment is so imperative. I notice that couples face similar stress to that of the early years in navigating their roles to provide a united front for boundary setting as their teen prepares for the big, wide world. Sleep deprivation may be revisited whilst out collecting your new party-goer in the wee hours or simply lying awake worrying about them returning home on their probationary licence. One particular pitfall to avoid where multiple children are involved is that often parents are not equally respected and children sometimes take sides based on their personality types.
Many adults have an active relationship with their parents and now relate to each other as equals. Some parents remain authoritarian but inevitably come to rely on their children as they become physically weaker. This can bring both stress and fulfilment as parents and adult children redefine their relationship. Men are traditionally seen as less communicative, more independent and less social. This means there is potential for some men to become even more so as their estosterone levels or health declines. I’ve heard of many traditional family situations in recent generations where the meek and mild wife eventually takes on the matriarchal role as the couple age. It seems quite evident that parents today are closer to their adult children than in previous generations. We are enjoying a trend where we can enjoy a more intimate relationship that is closer and more equal than ever existed in the past.
I wonder if the challenges throughout any of these stages correspond to growth in our role as parents when we reach out to others? Maybe the worn down, anxious, fearful and exhausted ‘I can’t do this’ feeling is exactly where your transformation begins when you ask for help? In honour and respect of all imperfect parents in all forms, I need to let you know that I’m sure you’ve contributed to greatness you might never realise and that you deserve love and self-compassion. Most of all, give your partner all the recognition they deserve for their best attempts to cope with your little darlings.