In an interview I read a while back, this quote from Dr. Barbara Sorrels intrigued me:
The evidence is all around us that children are emotionally starving.
The primary cause of emotional starvation is preoccupied parents.
In order for a parent to truly nurture a child, the adult must be able to “hold” the child in mind and be attuned and aware of the emotional state and needs of the child. Daily living can sometime consume our mental and emotional energies to the point that parents are unable to truly “see” their children. Some parents are preoccupied for legitimate reasons. Financial stresses, health conditions and family issues can sap adult attention and energy. For others it is a matter of priorities. Climbing the ladder of success at any cost, pursuing a materialistic lifestyle, and an obsession with technology are just some of the things that can consume adult attention and energy. (emphasis mine)
In my short time as a mother, I’ve realized how even my very young child knows when I’m distracted. When a day passes and I’m transferring Liam from the carseat to the stroller to the carrier to the bath to the changing table without time for one-on-one play, he becomes fussy. If I’m passing toys at him without looking at him for too long, he becomes angsty and easily frustrated.
Dr. Sorrels points out that we must be able to truly “see” our children. This is about more than putting down the phone or avoiding technology. It’s bigger than taking a break from housework to play.
Some days I wake up tired and just don’t want to interact. I try to entertain Liam with toys and gadgets, but I fail to see him. My mind wanders, and the mental clutter takes over.
But as I said, the days when he is transferred from one seat to another–the days when I don’t “hold” him in mind–result in a discontent, fussy baby. I see how crucial it is to get down on his level, make eye contact, and really engage with him.
But I find that I often fail to see others in my life, too. With adults, it’s not always such an obvious connection. But over time, this emotional starvation is painful and dangerous.
As I watch Liam, I am better able to notice when he needs me to focus solely on him. I try to actually look him in the eye when I pass his ball to him. I avoid checking texts during our reading time and use bath time and diaper changes as times for one-on-one focus. I try to figure out what he loves. I talk to him when we are on walks and make sure I’m not always walking while talking on the phone. I plan our days so they aren’t one long stretch of carseats and highchairs and naps (though that would often be much easier).
I’m making an effort to see people and smile in the checkout line at the grocery store. It makes such a difference to me when a stranger steps outside himself to smile! I’m learning to shut off my own mental talk and really listen to my husband when he talks. If I step away from the conversation and realize I couldn’t take a quiz on what he just said, I know that my focus needs work.
It’s important to really look around us and know those close to us. It’s important to hold them in our minds and refrain from looking past them. And sometimes it’s about having space and time to decompress so we can engage again.
I’m trying to do a better job of stepping outside of myself and allowing myself to see those around me. And I’m glad for those who have chosen to really look at me when it would be easier to look away.