I believe two things piggyback on us from the hospital when we bring our babies home—guilt and worry.
These are two heavily loaded and distressing emotions, which influence our days, hearts, minds and actions. We are guilty if we oversleep, overeat, shower or not, lactation struggles, and more. We worry if we haven't bought enough diapers or the right kind of swaddles, why didn't we wake up four times in the middle of the night to check whether the baby is comfortable and breathing soundly. We fret about our children day and night, whether we will be able to do the best job that can be done as a parent and even about having left 2ml breast milk in the bottle. No seriously, we do!
We swing between feeling guilty about the past and being anxious or unprepared about the future, thereby allowing the precious present to slip away. The current pandemic crisis is not helping. Our guilt, sense of responsibility and pressures have been augmented by stress about the virus and its consequences.
Concerns about our children's development, social exposure, online education, physical development make the unseen and unpredictable future even more daunting. This, together with our personal relationships and work-related stress, has led us to feel like we are in a vortex of viscous problems, which just keeps getting thicker and heavier, making it harder and harder to keep our heads up.
As parents we are making every effort to cut some slack for our children, whether it is meticulously planning staycations, allowing screen time, pushing boundaries around junk food or homework, planning elaborate family celebrations with sanitised balloons, food, and matching shirts. We are trying our best to make them happy.
I have several parents report in therapy that they are both overwhelmed and exhausted. I feel that a lot of this is coming from the need to compensate for what they believe that children are missing out on. Taking the responsibility to keep the atmosphere light, to ensure joy and cheer in the house, to create an environment that is stimulating enough for their developing brains, and to consistently engage in constructive activities with our children is now a normal, daily goal.
Both couples and single parents have been reporting increasing stress, conflicts and emotional distancing, exhaustion, and feeling overwhelmed both at home and at work. Several other symptoms such as lack of sleep, increased or decreased appetite, feelings of hopelessness or mood shifts between elevation and significant lows are common complaints.
This is worrisome to say the least.
Whether it is during a global crisis or on a usual sunny day, what children need from us is a deep and meaningful connection. Many engaged and active parents, who invest tremendous amounts of effort in experiences for their children get too stressed and exhausted to be able to connect, be present and be authentic.
The point that I want to make vehemently today is that parenting is not about keeping your children happy all the time, neither is it about ensuring that they are stimulated, well fed and well slept et cetera “all the time”. These are responsibilities indeed but the fundamental, primal need of a child is that of attachment, which very often gets lost among our daily goals and business.
Parenting is about connection, and offering a safe relationship where children can touch base, stay rooted, feel secure to be themselves, be nourished, feel accepted and valued without conditions. Often in our hundreds of endeavours to achieve self-set goals and ambitions for our children, we focus so much on controlling, that opportunity for connection with our children is lost.
Early attachment is a foundation that provides and protects far more than any other effort that we make as parents. Staying connected helps us to focus on nurturing the relationship through acceptance, empathy and conversation. This helps children grow and develop a better sense of self and faith in solid relationships. They won't derive it from our exhausted and nervous performances as parents, nor by treating them as play dough to mould, carve and sculpt into our ideologies of being good, gracious and future game-changers.
Being comfortable and authentic as parents gives children a sense of confidence and security not just in us but also themselves. How we accept our past, our challenges, how we act and how we treat our present, spills over onto our children reflecting the value of self acceptance and enhancing opportunities for deep and authentic connections.
Shwetambara Sabharwal is a Mumbai based psychologist, psychotherapist and a mother of two.