When I was pregnant with my first child, I worked in the Counselling department at a High School. A part of my role was to lead a Youth Volunteer club, which of course attracted some pretty stellar, successful students. Some of these amazing young adults are still my friends, 15 years later. They impressed me with how clear they were about who they were and what they wanted to contribute to the world.
Because of the stage of life I was in (about to become a new mom!), I became very curious about what might have helped these teens be so great. I wanted to do right by my own new family, so I began asking them about theirs. And there was one thing they all had in common. They had a parent home at the end of the school day almost every day. Now I am not saying that this is possible for everyone to do, or that it was the only reason they were so awesome (this was clearly not a scientific study), but it did strike a chord with me. I think that most of us assume that when our kids are very young, they need us around all the time. But I have also noticed that as kids need us less for their physical needs, many parents assume that is the time to exit, stage left. They are now fairly independent, and may even be signalling you (sometimes strongly) that they don’t really want you around all the time.
But here is what I believe….they need you around EVEN MORE than they did when they were little. Not in the same way, mind you. They don’t need you to make them lunch, and they don’t want you to remind them to brush their teeth, but it makes a big difference to them if you are able to be their landing pad. This may mean just being present and around. They feel more solid if they know that foundation is there. If you are on the scene when they are home, you will know what is up with them and who they are spending their time with. They will have someone who simply listens and is a sounding board for them as they navigate new complex social issues and try to figure out where they belong. Although this is the time for them to learn to be independent, it is also very healthy for them to understand interdependence, which is an invaluable skill moving forward into healthy relationships for the rest of their lives. They still need you and want you around, even if their words and body language sometimes tell another story.
This hasn’t meant for me that I am a full time stay-at-home mom. I have been a working mom through much of my parenting years and struggle with finding this balance very day. But it does mean that my husband and I make a huge effort to be present and tune in as much as possible, and to just be around. It seems strange and very simple, but it really does make a difference in how grounded our children feel.