The Importance of Delighting in Our Children
The Importance of Delighting in Our Children
By Vanessa Durrant, MSW, LCSW-C, RMT
One of my most poignant memories as a child was when I was about two or three years old. I was dancing and singing along to a song and my family was circled around me. They were like giants to little baby me. And, as I looked up, I saw indescribable joy and happiness. I felt it. My mom and her sisters, my sweet aunts, were all gathered around me, delighting in me. As little as I was, their delight in me had a profound effect. I still remember today how I felt in that moment. I felt special. I felt like I was the most extraordinary singer and dancer in the universe. The joy in their faces, as I looked up, told me so. I loved that they loved watching me dance. In fact, it was infectious; I danced and so did they. At least, that’s how it felt for me. You see, in the hustle and bustle of raising children, we often forget such a critical piece, to delight in them.
As parents, we often come to realize how to provide stability, routine and safety to our children. Children do need all these things. But they are only part of the equation in raising children who are securely attached. Why would we want a child who is securely attached? Research in the field of attachment and developmental science has continually found that children who have secure and healthy relationships with their caregivers go on to have happier and healthier relationships in life, higher self-esteem, and experience less depression and anxiety. So how do we do this, and what does it mean? It means consistently being there for them as best you can. And, at times, they need us to be there for them in different ways. Attachment research has found that children (and adults) have core needs that must be met most of the time in order to develop secure relationships with their caregivers. One of those core needs, and perhaps the most important one, is delight.
But what does it mean to delight in our kids? Sometimes we confuse delight with achievement. For example, they play baseball, they hit a home run, and at the end of the game we say, “Good job today! That home run was awesome!” Sure, you’re happy for them, they won, they performed well and are getting better at baseball. And while there is nothing wrong in communicating our enjoyment with their performance, that is not the same thing as delighting in them, which is even more important. Delight in our children does not have any strings attached. Delight in our children is enjoying them during the game, regardless of the outcome. It’s staring at them and finding joy that they get to play. That also feels different to communicate. It reflects as, “Hey, I just loved watching you play! I loved seeing you with your team.” On the receiving end, that also feels different because the focus was not on achievement, but instead, it communicated to your child, “I watched you play, and I loved it.” Delight can be shown non-verbally, too. Children see it in your smile, your laughter, or your hug. Your eyes can’t hide delight, and your child will feel your joy. Essentially, delighting in your children is exactly that, having happiness and appreciation for who they are. This, in turn, turns into joy in the relationship.
In fact, the example above is not unique to our kids. In an article I read a few years ago, a journalist who interviewed professional athletes found a theme when asking about the role their parents played in their success. These athletes shared that what was most encouraging was not, “great shot” or “try harder next time,” but instead it was, “I loved to watch you play.” Delight in our kids goes a long way. It lasts a lifetime. It fills their soul. Children are born yearning relationship and joy. This is the very same thing that helps their growth and development and it’s been an area of study for neuroscientists. Researchers studying the brains of babies found that mutual joy between caregiver and infant was the basis for increased brain growth. We all want that for our kids, right? Yet, life, and even our own histories, get in the way, and sometimes it just sucks the joy right out. The thing about raising children is, that often times, it is our children who teach us how we must grow and evolve in order to be better humans, and parents to them. Sometimes delighting in our children is hard because we are experiencing our own depression, anxiety, or even plagued with our own painful childhood memories. If that is the case, it’s a sign that you may need some support so that it does not impact your children. As a parent, you are in control of how you can help yourself and your kids. Raising children is hard, and sometimes we need to hear that in order to grant ourselves permission to seek more support.
The daily routines, the pressures of school work, other people’s opinions of our kids, our own life stress—all those things can make it hard to delight in our kids. Trust me, I know this. I, like the many parents I have worked with, have also felt this at times. Yet, it’s not an excuse to forget to delight in our kids. Years ago, I learned something profound. Delighting in our kids is about communicating, “I love you and I like you regardless of what you do or don’t do.” My best advice, when life gets busy and stressful and you find delight hard to do, is to take a pause. Stop. Breathe. Stare at the wonderful creature in front of you. Look into his eyes. Remember what you want to fill his spirit with. Remember that, above all things, you want him to remember how much you love and like him because one day, when he is a parent, he will remember that, too, and pass that onto his kids. And that’s the kind of generational gift that will make the world a better place. Love really does make the world go round.
**This blog post was featured as a front page article in the June/July 2016 issue of Frederick's Child Magazine.**
Vanessa Durrant is owner and psychotherapist at Kindred Tree Healing Center where she provides individual and group therapy services to children, parents and adults who are looking to grow and heal from past painful experiences.