- A very good lawyer, who was a kind, single parent of two young children, once shared his anxiety that, “I don’t understand kids — I don’t know what they need. I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake.”
- Thoughtful, gentle……and serious.
- I offered the following short version of children, recalled here as best I can:
- Barring very unusual situations — like at the extreme ends of the relational spectrum — what most kids need, bottom line, are two things from at least one safe adult (preferably a caretaker, but not necessarily):
- 1) pay attention
(“She thinks about me.” “She remembers me.” “She asks about me.” “She keeps me in her thoughts!”)
- 2) care enough to be in charge
(“She has boundaries she won’t let me cross.” “She sets limits for me.” “She corrects me.” “She has rules I am expected to follow!”)
- If the adult is safe and reasonably consistent, the affected child will likely be okay –- able to learn appropriate dependence as they grow. (I.e., they feel safely contained by and connected to a safe, caring adult.)
- Later, as adults themselves, they can transform that safe childhood experience of appropriate, vertical dependence on caretakers -– think caterpillar metamorphosis -– into a safe, mutual, horizontal, adult interdependence with a partner.
- I.e., achieving dependence as a dependent child supports appropriate interdependence as an independent adult. Conversely, it can be hard to manage adult interdependence if we failed to experience safe dependence in childhood.
- Sexual boundaries make sense in this context. Whereas the childhood dependent relationship with an adult makes overt sexual relations developmentally premature for the child and pathologically exploitative for the adult, the later, interdependent relationships of adults can accommodate overt and mutually enthusiastic sexual relations.
- Sometimes adults show up for counseling with their own early, unresolved issues getting in the way of parenting the way they would like. We may end up working with the parent or caretaker to resolve this, and it can take time. It may require an extended, boundaried counseling relationship with a safe therapist who can stay empathic to the testing and stumbles which were never allowed or possible during childhood.
- Because children slowly but progressively develop their independence and identities as people, infants will need more physical care, while older children will need more social and emotional care and attention to their increasingly complex inner thoughts, feelings and concerns.
- Finally, as adolescents, they re-introduce us adults to the exciting-frustrating integration of living in the home while working on peer and other outside relationships. (Who am I really? How do I fit in? How do I get physically close outside my family in ways that feel safe and good?)
- Sorry, is that more than you asked? I asked.
- “Wow, no, that’s really helpful!” said the lawyer. “Thanks!”