Wonderful Ways to Love a Childby Judy Ford, Christine L. Raquepaw (Illustrator)
A guide for parents who want to put love into action so they can give their children the very best start in life. A prescription to strengthen your family, packed with guidance, reassurance, and true stories.
- Red Wheel/Weiser
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Wonderful Ways to Love a Child
By Judy Ford
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2003 Judy Ford
All rights reserved.
Parenting is a two-way street. As you take them by the hand, they will take you by the heart.
Really Love Yourself
Loving yourself is the basis for all that is beautiful and meaningful in the human experience, and parenting is no exception. Simply put, because self-love is the basis of individual responsibility and joy, you cannot be a good parent if you don't love yourself. For it is through discovering how precious you are that you are able to have the courage and self-confidence that parenting requires; by loving yourself you will have an internal sense of well-being so that, rather than looking to your children for validation, you have your own identity. Loving yourself is the first step toward making room in your life for a new, little person, because when you love yourself you are then able to love your children for love's sake, rather than for what they can do for you.
What does it mean to love yourself as a parent? It means taking time for yourself daily. Respecting yourself. Pampering yourself once in a while. It means learning about your unique talents and enjoying whatever makes your heart sing. It means sticking up for yourself when you know you need to.
Having a child in your life requires that you love yourself more and. It's a daily process in which you come to know yourself as you are, forgive yourself for the not-so-loving parts you uncover, and, finally, take whatever loving action is needed for your personal growth. When you love yourself you are able to admit your shortcomings, knowing that although things have not always been easy for you, you have done the best you can. When you love and accept who you are, you will not be afraid to grow, to learn, to change. You will feel alive and have the energy you need to enjoy and nurture your family. Because children learn by example, you are the greatest teacher of what loving yourself really means. Here's a story to illustrate.
Although Kris, age twenty-nine, felt guilty going back to college, she decided to follow her longing. The kids had to pitch in. They ate more fast food, had less money, and learned daily living skills earlier than some of their friends. At graduation her children, eight and nine, walked across the stage hand-in-hand with their mom. Upon her receiving her diploma, the kids handed her a handmade card that said, "We are proud of you! We did it." Think about the powerful positive lessons Kris taught her kids by loving herself enough to follow her own heart: that success is possible, that success comes from teamwork, and that there is joy in pulling together.
If or when you find yourself feeling resentful toward your children, saying or thinking, "After all I do for you," it's time to shift the focus onto yourself. For when you are not true to yourself, instead of feeling love for your child, you soon start resenting him or her, and that wall of resentment is hard to take down. When you are not true to yourself, you feel out of balance and your day gets out of whack; you get angry more quickly and snap more. But when you take care of yourself, your children feel contentment in their bones.
Allow Them to Love Themselves
A little person who loves himself grows up to be a responsible adult, able to live life fully. High self-esteem is the best foundation for your children's future. Experts in child development tell us that when children have high self-esteem they are able to learn and function better in school, they have friends, they feel connected with others, and they know they belong. They are competent, can make meaningful decisions, and are willing to try. They are optimistic, curious, and enjoy life. Loving oneself develops true character that cannot be swayed by such things as peer pressure or the countless outside influences your child will surely face.
Helping your children accept themselves just as they are is what unconditional love is all about. So above all else, don't base your love on what they do, but rather simply on the fact that they exist. When Garret asked his dad, "What do you like about me?" his father answered, "You!"
"What about me?" asked Garret.
"What I like about you, Garret, is that you are you. I like you."
One day when my daughter, Manda, was in the first grade, she came home from school and I asked her, "What did you do in school today?"
"I can't tell you," she announced.
"Because you'll get mad."
Now, of course, I was more curious than ever. So I thought about it for a while and then told her, "Manda, if you decide to tell me what you did in school today, I promise that if I get mad, I'll just go straight to my room."
"Yup," I replied.
"Well, today we had to write down who our best friend was.... I didn't write down you, Mom."
"I wrote down me. I just can't help it, I like me best! But I wrote you down second."
I was so pleased; I thought to myself, congratulations, you haven't ruined her yet. I was glad that she liked herself first and that she recognized her own value, because with this inner sense of self-worth, I knew she would enjoy herself, her school, her friends, and her life.
When a little person find herself through the miracle of self-acceptance, her life becomes a self-fulfilling journey; suddenly she's powerful enough to bravely cope with all the challenges and the ups and downs that life will bring. The bonus is, as she learns to be compassionate toward herself, love for others is sure to follow.
Learn About Parenting
If you have ever rocked a baby in the stillness of the night, then got up with the light of morning exhausted from lack of sleep, you know how difficult parenting can be and also what joy your child can bring. If you have ever cuddled your baby on your lap and had that very same sweet-smelling baby spit up on your freshly washed shirt, you know how frustrated you can feel while at the same time your heart wells up with overwhelming love. If you have ever resented spending your hard-earned money on piano, tennis, swimming, ballet, or gymnastics lessons that seem to be taken for granted, then watched with pride your child's sense of accomplishment, you know the difficult journey you face and what rewards it will bring.
Sometimes you get so annoyed that you want to scream, rant, and rave about all you have done for them; then they bring you a bouquet of dandelions and your heart melts. As they grow they seem to challenge you at every turn—they no longer accept your guidance unquestioningly, but seem to disagree with every word you utter; then when you're sure you'll go mad, out of the blue they make an observation, see a new angle, or put a new twist on things, and you marvel at the brilliance of their perspective.
No one ever said parenting is easy. Parenting means giving unselfishly when you are exhausted. It means buying your children new shoes while you go without. It means going by someone else's schedule. It means staying up late and not being able to sleep in. It means sharing everything—your money, your food, your makeup, your socks. It means looking out for another's welfare. When your children are babies it seems as though you pack up the entire house just to go to the grocery store, and when they are older you drive them to the movies, but they won't sit next to you. Some days they won't leave your side, but other days, without knowing how, you embarrass them, and they refuse to be seen with you in public. You strive to be a good parent, but you struggle with self-doubt.
Although parenting is perhaps the most important calling, it is the least-taught art in this culture. As a society we seem to think that the mere biological capacity to bear children qualifies us to raise them well. But we are slowly recognizing that we could all use some lessons, some skill building, and fortunately there are many great classes around. Parent Effectiveness Training is an wonderful course taught almost everywhere, or look for classes at your local community college; talk to other parents, or read books on parenting and child development. You might consider joining or starting a parenting support group, or taking a class to help you heal and grow. If you are not happy with yourself and who you are as a person, you can't give to your child what you don't have yourself. Perhaps you might benefit from counseling. Whatever your need, if you look, you will find it; if you need help, please ask for it.
Handle with Care
When a package arrived in the mail marked "handle with care," no one would consider throwing it around carelessly. No one would ignore it, regard it as a nuisance, or be annoyed with it. The package would be opened slowly, tenderly, because it is fragile. Loving attention would be given. Perhaps if we think of children as precious little bundles sent special delivery directly from the heavens, we might be more patient with their troublesome behaviors.
Our children do many things that frazzle our nerves and push our buttons, but remembering that their hearts are delicate might help us be more sensitive. It is possible to devastate children's spirits with harsh words, or by ignoring them, or brushing them off. So instead of threatening, "If you don't stop it this minute, I'll really give you something to cry about," or asking the ridiculous, "Do you want a spanking?" try stopping for a moment to ask yourself, "Why am I overreacting?"
There is a big difference between acting and reacting, and as a parent it is important to learn the distinction. This requires thought, practice, and a lot of deep breathing. When Tommy broke his mother's favorite vase after she had asked him repeatedly to stop throwing the ball in the house, for a moment she thought she would come unglued. She didn't react; instead she counted to a thousand and waited to see what would happen. She told me she learned a lot that day: Tommy had to focus on his own misbehavior instead of dealing with her hysterical reaction. He quietly picked up the broken vase and brought it to her, and she could see that he had learned a painful lesson. They talked about what had happened, and he promised never to throw the ball in the house again. And he didn't.
When you find yourself coming down hard on your child, or when your reaction is out of proportion, take a long deep breath, count to ten or ten thousand, and ask yourself, "What is going on with me, right now?" or "Why am I feeling this way?"
Breathe, breathe, breathe, and think before you act, so that once again you can feel the extraordinary sweetness of your child. Nothing is more important than handling their body and souls with tender loving care.
Give Your Presence
Being present is making contact with the essence of the other person. It is meeting your child in the moment, without concernfor the past or the future, and with your mind emptied of distractions. This means you come to your child free of expectations, preconceived notions, and the thousand other things you "need" to be doing, so that you can focus completely on his or her needs. This is not always easy, but it is vitally important.
Do you remember hearing stories of the poor little rich kid who had every material advantage but whose heart was broken because the parents were never really there? Perhaps you even know someone like this. Sadly there are many children who suffer from this kind of neglect. Gifts, no matter how expensive will never take the place of your presence. Giving your complete and focused attention is much more valuable to a growing child and is the most satisfying way of being together.
As an infant your child requires your presence constantly, but as she gets older it's easy to forget to pay attention, so watch for signs that she may be feeling abandoned. Perhaps her pestering you while you're on the phone is a signal that she needs more undivided attention. Once a six-year-old boy told me that the only time his father paid any attention to him was when he got in trouble at school and, since he wanted his dad's attention, he didn't mind the trouble. I suggested to his father, Don, that he spend a half hour each evening just hanging out with his son. He wasn't sure it would make a difference but agreed to try. The trouble in school stopped, and Don discovered how important his presence was to his young son.
As kids move toward independence, you will be more on top of their adventures if you tune in without distraction. Amber, for example, schedules Saturday-morning breakfast dates at a neighborhood cafe with her nine and eleven year olds. She finds that just an hour away from home to focus on their needs keeps the lines of communication open.
Children do not always communicate with words, so be aware of the nonverbal ways children try to get you to listen. Hailey, at age five, started sucking her thumb again, whereas Ian was always so excited to talk with his parents at dinnertime that he could not eat. Davey complained of a stomachache each morning before school, and Candice bit her fingernails or twisted her hair when her parents argued. A child who repeatedly cries when left with a baby-sitter or clings and whines when with other adults may be sending a message that you need to be paying more attention.
Clear your mind, clear your schedule, and really be there. When you can't give your full attention, tell them so, then schedule a time when you can—and keep it. Turn off the television and turn on the answering machine. Sit together, talk, relax and unwind, and you will feel the connection grow stronger. If you are truly present when you are together, when you're apart they will rest assured your love surrounds them.
Listen from Your Heart
Listening from your heart is completely different from listening with your ears. Few people know how to do this, and very few parents listen to their children this way. Listening from the heart means being genuinely interested, open, and caring. It means being eager to hear, to learn, to be astonished—without the need to argue, interrupt the flow, or give advice (the really hard part!). Listening from the heart means not jumping in with your point of view, but rather hearing what life is like from your child's perspective. It is listening with a sense of wonder. When you listen from your heart, your child feels safe to tell all, for a child who is with a receptive adult opens up and shares freely.
When Jake was caught cutting high school, he was upset and called his dad, John, insisting he pick him up right away. While driving to the school John reminded himself not to jump to conclusions but to allow Jake to do the talking. Jake told his dad that he didn't want to return to school that day, that he needed time to think. So instead of scolding, lecturing, or dispensing advice, John took his son for a walk and continued listening. Jake talked about everything from soccer to grades to money. The more John listened, the more Jake shared. He talked about his girlfriend, sex, and his future. Because of John's heartfelt listening, what might have been a confrontation softened into an intimate father-son conversation, ending with Jake listening to his father's point of view.
A child who is upset needs sensitive listening where few words are exchanged. Remember that saying "Oh" or "Hmmm" is sometimes enough; the fewer words from you, the better. Don't try to coax for more information than your child wants to give. Crystal cried and gasped for air while she told her mother how Lissy wouldn't share the dolls. Fortunately, Mom avoided the tendency to fix the problem. She listened, nodded in understanding, and, as often happens, within an hour or so Crystal was playing with Lissy again.
Excerpted from Wonderful Ways to Love a Child by Judy Ford. Copyright © 2003 Judy Ford. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
With over half a million copies of her books in print, Judy Ford, M.S.W. is the best-selling author of Conari's "Wonderful Ways" books, which include Wonderful Ways to Love a Teen, Wonderful Ways to Love a Child, Wonderful Ways to Be a Family, Wonderful Ways to Love a Grandchild, and Wonderful Ways to Be a Stepparent. Co-author with her daughter Amanda of Between Mother & Daughter, she lives in Washington state.
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