The Connection Between Parent and Child Well-Being
Life would not be possible without relationships. Both parents’ and children’s well-being are dependent on connection. As we grow, we interact and connect with others who help us discover who we are and where we come from. We must strive to be in a right relationship with ourselves and others. Right relationship is about love, healthy connections, boundaries, safety, trust, and respect. And when we’re in right relationship, we don’t engage in hurting ourselves or others. Our children can be wonderful teachers for us on this relational journey.
I have two girls, they’re both middle school students. As I gave my dissertation defense where I talked about child well-being, my youngest daughter asked me, “Aren’t all adults children too, because they have parents?” It was beautiful. It reminded me how wise our kids are. For me, it shifted my mindset. It was a reminder that when we’re talking about child well-being, we must not forget that includes us as parents and adults.
Connection with Children is Sacred
One important perspective that comes from members of Indigenous communities is that our children are sacred. Our children are gifts from The Creator, is how Terry Cross (Seneca Nation of Indians, Bear Clan), award-winning Indigenous author, speaker, and advocate, describes it. They come to us with wisdom. In many ways our children are closest to the spirit world because they were just recently born. I consider their importance right up there with our elders, who are also closer to the spirit world.
We have much to learn from children. It’s not about parents seeing themselves as superior to children. Yes, we guide them, set boundaries for them, and help them learn. But there’s a mutual respect, an equality about it. There isn’t a hierarchy.
This is an important thing to understand about connectedness. As adults, and parents, we’re no better and no less than any human being on this planet, than any of our animal relatives, or any aspect of this life that we live. Children are important members that parents help to develop. And we must help them grow in a way that teaches them how to be in a right relationship with themselves and others.
Children as Teachers and Healers
Our children have wisdom within and can help us on our path toward healing and connection. My daughters have been some of the biggest teachers for me. They’ve been such gifts in my life. They’ve helped me to heal and come back in right relationship with myself. I did go through a lot of challenging things as a young child — from witnessing alcoholism to experiencing abandonment. When I look back on those things now, I gather strength and wisdom from it. I have shifted in powerful ways. But I still feel like I’m healing my heart.
For my 40th birthday this year, one of my daughters gave me a painting. It has a heart and there’s a person standing in it. And there’s this yellow light in the center that’s kind of shining out. On it, my daughter wrote, “Love comes from the light inside.” That’s part of where I feel like she’s teaching me who I am and where I come from. She has that wisdom in her. She knows who she is, and where she comes from. Because who we are is love and light. I just love what they can teach us and what we can teach them.
The Importance of Healing
Many parents, myself included, have been through different traumatic experiences and challenges in life. It’s important for us to heal, so that we don’t adopt a disconnected way of being because we’re in survival mode. This makes us want to protect and isolate ourselves. It makes us want to not trust others and hesitate to build connections with others. We question whether we should connect with someone or not. But it’s important that we still do those things.
When we’ve experienced trauma, it becomes all encompassing in many ways, and there’s an overreach and hesitancy to connect. When we do our healing work, we are able to come back into understanding what the right boundaries are. For many of us healing may be an ongoing process that we must be aware of and check in on as we raise our children. And we understand sometimes we get triggered and we react in ways that are coming from that place of trauma instead of from a place of wellbeing and wellness. When we operate from a place of wellness, that to me is what it means to be in a right relationship. When we operate from a place of trauma, that’s a wound that we haven’t healed yet and so it might be worth taking a look at.
Caring For Yourself Helps You Be A Better Parent
I know for me, in my experience with my kids, I haven’t been a perfect parent. There are different challenges that have come up in my parenting. I’ve had to do a lot of healing work so that I wasn’t unintentionally harming my children. And making it so they thought that they did something wrong when it wasn’t them at all, it was something that I had inside of me that I needed to heal.
Sometimes I used to take things they did way too personally. Like what they did meant they weren’t listening or connecting to me when that wasn’t the case at all. It might have been something as small as not cleaning up after themselves when I’d asked them to do so. That lack of response from them at the time left me feeling disrespected and highly emotional. Looking back, I can see that I overreacted within myself. Now if something happens, I try to step back and be a calm observer — of myself, my child, and the situation.
Healing is a Pathway to Connection
When each of us does that healing work, it has a ripple effect, because we’re all part of this interconnected network of relationships. We are connected to a family, community, the earth, our children, and future generations. So it’s understanding that our life, our well-being matters. Prioritizing that, having the courage to go into those places that we might fear or resist or deny, but going into it is part of how we get through it, transform it, and transcend it.
I want our children to not have to suffer some of the different things that many of us adults have been through as children. And I’m sure that that drives a lot of us to go within ourselves and to do that healing work. We can’t forever protect and shield our children from challenges that may arise. But it’s about teaching them in a way that they understand. So that when those challenges come up, they are able to remain anchored in who they are and where they come from. They don’t need to change who they are in order to meet the needs of others.
Listening to Our Children’s Wisdom Helps Our Connection
There’s a way to connect, engage, and check-in that encourages young people to share their feelings without fear of consequence for whatever that truth might be that comes up. That’s something I’m teaching my youngest daughter. I reassure her that she’s not in trouble for having big feelings, and that I appreciate hearing her truth in the moment. And after things calm down, that’s when it’s the time to engage, talk, and have a conversation.
Learn to “Hold Space”
To ‘hold space’ means to be present with and to allow for whatever needs to be expressed within safe limits. We teach our children what those safe limits are and how to process feelings. We demonstrate it ourselves. What are you teaching them? What are you mirroring for them? How are you processing some of the different things that come up for you? Understand that they’re watching you and learning by your example. The actions we take are central, including how we listen and speak, whether we’re mindful or reacting, and whether we are present or disengaged.
Connectedness in Relationships Requires Action
There’s an energy exchange that happens in the relationships we have between parents and children. Connectedness relies on that special energy and the actions we take to build and maintain healthy relationships. We teach our children how to set boundaries. We speak our truths. Show them how we must do what we feel is right. Express our love to them. And in return, they learn and do the same with us and extended family, their community, the earth, the ancestors and future generations — the whole.
This article was written by Jessica Saniguq Ullrich, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Jessica is a descendant of the native village of Wales and a tribal member of the Nome Eskimo community out of Nome, Alaska.