Marta Fisch Auckland Therapist

Sustainable families

ImageThe definition of sustainability is when all parts of a system are in a balanced state which allows natural development. In a family system, this means that each member’s needs for sustenance, protection, stimulation and connection are met, without compromising others’ needs. Just as in nature where everything has its season to flourish, be dormant, or die, there is a fluctuation in family members’ needs, where some must take precedence over others. Problems in child development can arise when the family system doesn’t know how to pass from one season to the next, to rebalance priorities once a member’s needs are met or reduced.

For instance, many parents have complained to me about how their young child, who had once established a sleep routine of falling asleep on their own, had lost the independence after a period of being sick and the parent attended to him or her in the night. The child’s need for nurturance when sick is normally equal to the parents’s need to nurture and protect. The system goes out of balance when the child continues to ask for the parents’ help in getting to sleep once the sickness has passed AND the parents fail to see that the need has passed. Many parents become conflicted when this occurs. Resentment grows because the parents’ need for time as a couple or for activities waiting for once the children are asleep go unmet. Underneath the resentment I believe is the parents’ longing to help their child find autonomy, parents’ ultimate goal.

Parents of older children often complain that their tireless efforts to provide for them aren’t met with appreciation. These parents have also missed the signs of the change of season when needing nurturance and assistance turns to a need for parental restraint while the child learns to do things on her or his own. An overly busy schedule doesn’t allow parents to let children make mistakes while they learn to perform tasks autonomously. Often mothers say, “it’s easier if I do it myself!” There is no pride in their children when they say this, only resentment. It can be turned around by scheduling in time for children to learn from their mistakes, with the parent just around the corner to offer help when requested.

How can we notice when, as parents, we are over-attending to our children? How can we notice when our own needs for acknowledgement, appreciation, and respect are not met? How can we recalibrate so that balance is restored and sustainability ensured?

I recommend that you honour the feeling of frustration and/or resentment that arises, as it’s a valuable sign that your need to teach autonomy is unmet, not that your child is “bad.” Find someone safe to voice your resentment to in order to release it and get validation for it. Next identify one specific activity that you would like to change in order to restore balance. It might be sleep time or meal time or getting ready for school time. Don’t tackle them all at once. Find one and decide that you will make it an opportunity to teach autonomy. Make time for mistakes, yours and your child’s. Make time to praise achievements, yours and your child’s. Remember that no one is right or wrong, we are simply trying to grow with the seasons.

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