...the first 3 to 5 years of your child's life is a critical period for the development of trust, empathy, optimism, affection and conscience.
So says Peggy O'Mara, editor of Mothering magazine, whose columns I devour. Her words never fail to encourage and inspire me to be a better mother.
I read her column yesterday while reflecting on a story I had heard from my sister earlier in the day. Someone from her work, a young woman with no children was describing how she spent the weekend babysitting a 7-month-old so that the baby's mother could go skiing. The babysitter went on to report that the baby had cried for 3 straight hours.
A punch to the gut. That's how I felt in response to that story. I was physically nauseated. I had to take a few deep breaths and then go to each daughter, hold her close, tell her how much she is loved, and renew my promise to protect her trust and respect her needs.
Protecting a child's trust, empathy, optimism, affection and conscience is a HUGE job. It's no wonder parents feel they are entitled to a break. Even harder is being a role model, a daily demonstration of how to develop relationships based on these 5 attributes. The thing is, it's pretty hard to be a role model of empathy and affection when you're gliding down snow covered slopes while your baby's heart is broken.
Now, I'm well known in various circles for being judgemental. I know it, and I try not to come down hard on people when I don't know the whole story. (Mostly I just try not to let my horror show on my face!!) So lest I judge another too harshly, I am more than willing to examine my own shortcomings in the raising of my children.
Trust. This one is easy for me with each of my babies, but it becomes harder as they grow up. Take for instance my worry about Anna not rockclimbing.
Empathy. Easy to be empathetic with little Jazzy who is suffering from a brutal head cold. Not so easy to be empathetic with Holly who goes into a full-scale meltdown when Jasmine so much as looks at the Duplo house she is building.
Optimism. My weakest point. I've been known to say to my children when passing the playground "Do we have to go there? I can't stand OPK." OPK. Other People's Kids.
Affection. I score big here. The kids get lots of cuddle time, regular physical acknowledgement of a job well-done, and connection through eye contact and smiles. I could do a lot better being affectionate with Partner-Guy though. The girls would probably benefit from seeing normal, happy physical contact between their parents.
Conscience. I'm trying my best. I have a strong sense of guilt which is probably born of having a conscience, but I could do much better modelling this for my children.
So I'm not perfect, but I can still commit to doing better every day. Peggy O'Mara has some more words for parents like me. Have faith in your own capacity to change and grow.
I have the faith.