Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Community Benefits Our Kids

The research* is very clear that when we focus on healthy, vibrant adult relationships with our spouses, partners, or other adult friends in our communities that our kids feel safe and secure.  When our kids feel safe and secure, they are able to develop more deeply in the ways of emotions and cognitive skills.  Once a kids feels emotionally safe and secure, they are able to relax, thus freeing their hearts and minds.  

Why would our kids feel more safe and secure when we focus on having close relationships with other adults?  The reason is because our kids aren't meant to be our primary sources of emotional support.  If we make our kids out to be our whole world, then they feel the pressure to be adult sources of emotional support for us.  In this way they feel unsafe and thus become less able to grow emotionally and cognitively.

The best way to bring strength to our children in this area is by developing close relationships with other adults in our family or our communities.  When our kids see us intentionally relating to other adults to meet our emotional needs, then they feel less pressure to try to do so with us.  Ultimately, this allows them to focus on their own play, growth, and emotional and cognitive development.  

As parents, this can be extremely difficult.  We live in a demanding world with high expectations on our time and resources.  Sometimes, we get home from work and just don't have time for anything else except our kids.  Believe me, I totally get that.  

The other difficulty is that many of us as parents are single, divorced, or our spouses and partners aren't emotionally available for us to get deeper relationships with.  On that note, John Gottman's* research points out that even if we try to have good relationships with our ex-spouses or ex-partners that it helps our kids to feel safer.  And, doesn't that make sense?  Regardless of divorced or ex-status, our kids feel safer when their parents are trying to have a good relationship.

Getting back to the business of our lives, the reality is that we have to seek out adult relationships where we can build community.  The smallest community is a group of two, of course.  That could be working on our relationship with our spouses and partners or our ex's, or it could be that none of that is available, in which case, we need to take it out a step further.  Finding adult connection at play date groups at the local library, school parents, soccer parents, groups of any variety, faith group communities, or even our neighbors can be places to find these people.  Sometimes, finding a good therapist is a good start.  

All of this unfortunately, takes work.  We've got to stick our hand out and say, "Hi, nice to meet you."  It takes effort.  It certainly is for me.  However, what I know is that not only is it good for me, but it is good for my wife and kids.

My wife is really good at doing this.  She's on all these Facebook groups and ends up going on walks and play dates.  I think she has at least half-a-dozen women that she connects with in this way.  In fact, "Buy Nothing" has even been a source of connection.

Parks are another source of connection.  I've been promoting my Dads' Book Club recently, and to be honest, it takes a lot of work to promote something like this.  About every other day, I'm at the park on the top of my hill with my daughter and if I see a dad or a mom, I'm talking up the book club with them, handing out fliers.  Recently, I met a mom and told her about Dads' Book Club.  She gave the flier to her husband and he's planning to attend!  Moreover, I set her up for a play date with my wife and they met up at the park.  The other night, the six of us (dads, moms, and two kids) went trick-or-treating together.  It was a great first date, so to speak.  

We have no idea how the relationship will continue, but one thing our kids know is that we are pursuing adult support systems in front of them.  The more they know that they don't have to provide the primary source of emotional support to us, the safer they feel, and the more free they feel to play, growing emotionally and cognitively.

Do you have an adult in your life who is a primary source of emotional support for you?  If not, then looking for one, two, or three in your life could be one of the best things you could do for your child's emotional and cognitive development.

Finally, if you are a dad in the Seattle area, consider joining Dads' Book Club.  If you are interested in participating, then like the webpage so that you can keep updated on our meetings.  
*John Gottman, Ph.D. & Kenneth Adams, Ph.D. are good sources among many.

(Photo taken from flickr creative commons with permission from Scott Robinson at