“I Love My Children:” Why This Is a Love Like No Other
Throughout the lifespan, we experience many different types of love and many different relationships. Siblings, relatives, friends, mentors, co-workers, and spouses all play an important role in our lives. Each relationship is as unique as the personalities of the people within it. However, there is no other relationship quite as important as that between a parent and child.
If you are a parent, you have undoubtedly already experienced this. You were carried away by that surge of protective emotion when your newborn infant was placed in your arms for the first time. You have experienced the excitement of witnessing his first steps, her first words, the first time he rode a bicycle on his own. You have watched, your heart in your throat, as she climbed on the school bus for the very first time, hoping against hope that all you have done as a parent will be enough to protect her from the harshness of the world that she is about to enter.
The love you feel for your children is indeed a powerful force, for many reasons. If your own emotions did not bear evidence to that, what we know about child development and psychology confirms it.
In fact, the parent-child relationship is the foundation for every other relationship that your child will have throughout his life. His friendships, romantic relationships, and even his relationships with his children depend upon the quality of love that exists between the two of you.
Of course, many factors affect this all-important relationship between you and your child. Some of these factors are within your control, while others may not be. Your community, income, culture, and marital status can all affect your relationship with your child in unpredictable ways. That relationship is also impacted by your personality, and by the personality of your child. All of these factors combine to paint a complex picture of the love you share.
With very few exceptions, it's safe to say that every parent loves her child. But this love looks very different in different circumstances. In short, no parent-child relationship is like any other. Each one is as different and unique as a snowflake.
But no matter what kind of parent you are, or what kind of child you have, your love for her is the biggest predictor of her future success in almost every area. (No pressure, though.)
Here are all the ways that the parent-child relationship builds a strong foundation for later life.
How a Strong Parent-Child Relationship Affects Your Child's Future
Interactions with your child begin at birth. Over time, these interactions change, and so does your relationship. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, your child needs different things from you to develop a healthy sense of self.
At this stage, your relationship is solely based on need. Your child needs you to feed him, change him, and give him a safe and sheltered place to sleep.
As your baby learns to trust that you will meet her needs consistently, a secure attachment is formed. At a very young age, she prefers you over other caregivers. This secure attachment is the foundation of your future relationship with your child, as well as later relationships. On a basic level, a secure attachment with you teaches your child how to trust others.
Once your child has learned to walk and talk, the focus is teaching him how to socialize with others. Your love and support are now mixed with helpful guidance. You will coach him on things like sharing, taking turns, and not interrupt. At this age, discipline starts to come into play, and many parents can find this stage challenging.
Although the quality of her relationship with you is still more important than anything else, at this age, other relationships start to come into play. Your child will translate what she has learned from you to other settings and environments. A balance of warm encouragement and consistent discipline still has the biggest impact on your child's ability to form positive relationships with others.
At this stage, your child's need for independence can put a real strain on your relationship. Make no mistake, your love for your child is just as essential as it ever was, if not more so. Consistent warmth and discipline give your child a stronger sense of self and help him withstand pressures around things like sexual promiscuity and substance abuse.
So how does providing unconditional love to your child consistently affect her? Here are all the ways her life will be impacted.
- A better quality of relationships with friends and family throughout the lifespan
- Improved problem-solving skills
- Better language and communication skills
- Reduced likelihood of engaging in adolescent risk-taking behaviors
- Reduced risk of physical and mental health problems through the seventh decade of life
Based on this evidence, it's clear that parental love is more than just a vague, fuzzy warm feeling. It has real protective value in keeping your child safe from life's hazards and challenges.
While every parent has the intention of cultivating a positive relationship with his child, often some factors are not fully within our control.
Factors Affecting Your Relationship With Your Child
We know you love your child. But here are a few situations which could affect your relationship, for good or ill.
If your family lives below the poverty line, your relationship with your child may suffer. The reasons for this are complex, but mostly have to do with the amount of stress placed on the family. If you are feeling stressed about paying for basic things like food or rent, you may unconsciously take out some of these stresses on your children or other family members. You may become distracted by these problems and unable to give your child as much attention as he needs.
You may not have much control over your income or your financial situation. But the good news is that you do have some control over the way poverty will affect your relationship with your child. By taking time to show your love and care for your children, even in difficult circumstances, you can provide a buffer against the harmful effects of poverty.
The financial and emotional strain of single parenting is great. Without meaning to, single parents may neglect to give their children the consistent warmth and support that they need.
Also, hostility between divorcing parents can harm the relationship between parents and their children. Fathers' relationships with their children appear to be most vulnerable to this conflict; dads often find themselves alienated from their children in the wake of an angry divorce.
But again, divorce does not have to lead to a bad outcome in your relationship with your children. Ensuring that their physical and emotional needs are a priority, as well as fostering positive relationships with both parents, can go a long way in protecting them from the ill effects of divorce and single parenting.
Your Child's Personality
Of course, you love your child unconditionally. But if he has certain personality characteristics, this may affect your ability to behave lovingly.
It has been shown that parents have less positive feelings about parenting when their children exhibit problems such as developmental delays or ADHD. The behavior problems associated with such disorders can make parenting stressful, really interfering with the bonding process.
Your personality also has a profound effect on your relationship with your child. Studies have found that parental qualities of optimism and resilience, as well as the ability to regulate emotions, are the strongest predictors of good parent-child relationships. In fact, these protective factors can offset the ill effects of other risks to the relationship, such as low income, single parenting, or developmental delays.
Interestingly, the personality of parent and child tend to feed off one another. So the more difficult your child is, the more withdrawn the parent becomes, and vice versa. The dynamics of parents and children are so intimately connected, that it can be hard to tease out causes and effects.
How To Nurture Your Parent-Child Bond
We know that the love between you and your children is crucial for them to develop into secure, confident adults.
But how exactly can you do that?
The research is clear that the parenting style which works best for cultivating a strong parent-child bond is an authoritative parenting style.
This style of parenting balances a healthy dose of empathy and encouragement with clear rules and boundaries. Children are given a clear message that they are loved unconditionally. Families work together to develop rules that are fair to everyone, and when consequences must be administered, children understand the reasons for them.
Other types of parenting, such as authoritarian or permissive parenting, are not as effective. Authoritarian parents are overly strict and harsh. Permissive parents do not follow through on rules or consequences. At either extreme, children do not get what they need from their parents to form a secure attachment, and their future relationships and social skills may suffer.
Here are a few simple ways you can move towards becoming an authoritative parent:
- Interact with your children as often as possible as part of your normal routine
- Look at conflicts as opportunities to solve a problem together, rather than moving immediately to punishment
- Be clear about your goals and priorities as a parent
- Acknowledge your children's emotions and empathize with them as much as possible
- Make sure you have a few solid rules (but not too many)
If you have difficulty navigating some of the challenges of parenting, our trained therapists at BetterHelp are available to help.
Parenting will never be easy, but the strong love that you have for your children will take you far.