Parents and the Home Environment
The Meaning of Home
A Word to the Single Parent
The Two Parent Challenge
The Three Prevailing Influences on a Child's Destiny
Marriage and Parenting
Creating Treasures of the Heart
Unique Love Signatures
Gender Implications of Touch
Touch and Development
Asking Yourself "Why?"
The Day Care Challenge
Parents and Their Social Obligation
Apart from the orphaned child, most people grow up in families in which, from birth onward, they learn a way of life that gives meaning to their very existence. For most of us, the word home carries more than just casual memories of a time and place where we spent our childhood; it was the first society from which we learned about life itself. It is within the confines of home that everyone first experiences the repertoire of human emotions and observes how others respond. We learn the meaning of sympathy, empathy, and caring. We absorb family and cultural values, and measure our commitment to those values by how others respond to them. The home is where love is first defined by the care and attention we receive, and becomes the place where security is gained, lost, or possibly, never obtained.
The word home is so laden with significance that one cannot begin a conversation about the nurturance of children, without first speaking to the persuasive influence that the home environment creates. Family relationships are multifaceted, requiring multiple layers of love and security. When all family relationships function as God designed, there is an infused sense of security that permeates the entire home environment, and children are the benefactors.
It is the multiple layers of love and security we wish to address. For we know in a general sense, how influential the home environment is on a child’s development. We also know how influential Mom and Dad are in the process. But there is another relationship that contributes to the “layer affect” of love and security; that being the husband-wife relationship. The marriage relationship provides the parent-child relationship a sustaining quality.
Life has a way of presenting unexpected challenges—challenges that detract from the ideal. In the home environment, the ideal is to parent from the strength of your marriage. However, we recognize that ideal is not present in every home. The death of a spouse, a divorce or an unplanned pregnancy can cause our dreams to disappear under a cloud of discouragement.
Having worked with single parents for over a quarter of a century, we understand the pressures and challenges of their lives. Single parents face double duty with the care and responsibility of rearing children, while often wearing several hats as homemakers, providers, and parents. Yet, we also know that if you are a single parent you love your children with the same passion as any couple, and you desire to give your children the best chance in life. We understand that hearing parenting principles that work best with a spouse in the home is always a challenge for the single parent, because he or she is not parenting under the best circumstances.
However, just because “best” may not be immediately available does not mean that you should give up trying for “good” or “better” in all circumstances. Parenting alone, in a condition that is less than ideal, does not mean you are parenting in a condition that is impossible. Where there is a way, there is hope, and God always provides a way; so do not surrender to feelings of hopelessness. Lacking the ability to provide the “best” emotional, spiritual or material goods only leaves room for God to bring His compensating grace to your family. He always will!
Be encouraged! While God has a perfect prescription for creating healthy home environments, He never closes His eyes, nor abandons those who are parenting in less than perfect circumstances. If you are a single parent, please know that while you may feel out of place in various group settings, when it comes to caring for your children, you are always welcome in the life community this ministry represents.
The fairy-tale conclusion, “and they lived happily ever after,” assumes happiness is an effortless, spontaneous outcome of marriage. This is far from being true. Just ask the single parent. Men are not born good husbands, nor are women born good wives. They become that way only through self-sacrifice, patience, and a devotional commitment to the happiness and welfare of the other. It, therefore, serves a husband and wife to understand that they will not find long-term happiness in marriage as an institution, but in a marriage that is truly a relationship of caring and giving. The more love is demonstrated toward each other, the more it trickles down to children. This means the husband-wife union is not just a good first step towards successful child-rearing, but it is a necessary one—one on which your children will come to depend.
The one man, one-woman arrangement may seem prejudiced or biased against other family styles supported by diversity. Indeed it is! That is in part because no other human relationship can reflect the character of God better than that of a husband and wife. We know from Genesis 1:27 that “God created them, male and female did He create them.” Men and women have a trail of masculine and feminine adjectives descriptive of their natures. In marriage, every element of man’s nature complements every element of the woman’s nature perfectly, and the reverse is equally true. Neither Adam nor Eve could represent God’s character alone, but through marriage they represent the totality of His character. That is by creative intent. The one man, one-woman arrangement is also supported by the fact that thousands of years have proven the two parent, male-female structure works best.
A healthy home environment starts with Mom and Dad’s commitment to each other, from which a more perfect love is communicated to their children. However, this does not naturally emerge. It takes work, sacrifice, and requires Mom and Dad be intentional in their love for each other. This prescription for success also requires that parents gain understanding of the three prevailing influences that shape every child’s destiny.
The first is the genetic disposition inherited from Mom and Dad. This speaks to a child’s physical and intellectual potential. The second great influence is the child’s temperament, which is that dimension of the personality governing whether he or she is outgoing, shy, funny, or even-keel. The third great influence is the home environment created by Mom and Dad.
While parents cannot change their child’s genetic pre-disposition or their child’s temperament, they will influence the home environment and, thus, shape their child’s destiny. What defines the home environment? This is where children first learn of love. From whom will they learn it? In part, they will learn from Mom, and in part from Dad, but most persuasively from Mom and Dad working as a team. This is because a mother and father cannot communicate the total message of love apart from the oneness that was formed in the bonds of their own marriage.
Marriage and Parenting
Marital love is rooted in the security of belonging, feeling needed, and complete as a “soul mate” and partner for life. We humans, unlike members of the animal kingdom, possess a particular emotional strand of DNA that will not allow the inner person to be truly satisfied with just the physical side of the marriage relationship. This is one of the “human” attributes that separates man from animals. When a husband and wife are not one with each other in regard to emotional, physical, social oneness, they have gaps in their relationship. Any weakness or break- down in the marriage relationship, tends to produce unintended consequences extending to the children in the home.
While a husband or wife might be able to cope with the missing part, children do not fare as well. Children are not able to rely on reason or intellect to measure the stability of the world around them; so by God’s design, they depend heavily on their senses. There are certain aspects of the marriage relationship that children need to witness routinely. Children need to see an on-going love relationship that includes Mom and Dad enjoying each other as friends and not just parents. They also need to see their parents talking, laughing, working together and resolving conflicts with a mutual respect for each other.
We cannot over-emphasize this point: the more parents demonstrate love for each other, the more they saturate their child’s senses with confidence of a loving, safe and secure world. When there is harmony in the marriage, there is an infused stability within the family.
Even more certain, strong marriages provide a haven of security for children as they mature. That is because healthy, loving marriages create a sense of certainty for children. When a child observes the special friendship and emotional togetherness of his parents, he is naturally more secure because of his confidence in Mom and Dad’s relationship. In contrast, weak marriages do not infuse security into the hearts of children, nor do they encourage strong family ties. In time, parents come to realize that the quality of the parent-child relationship and sibling-to-sibling relationships often reflects the quality of Mom and Dad’s relationship.
Think about it. When the marriage relationship is beautiful, what impressionable child would not desire to share in its joy? When two are beautifully one, what child would not seek the comforts of their togetherness? Parents define for their children the meaning of love as much by what happens in their relationship as anything they may do for their children. Healthy parenting flows from healthy marriages. Protect and keep yours safe!
Who has not heard the truism, “a picture is worth a thousand words”? It is a fact of life that people tend not to remember words as well as they remember images. That is because images often stir up deep, inner feelings in ways that words cannot. We do not often think about it, but most of our adult lives are built on the images of our childhood and youth. Our adult lives are a collection of how our parents spoke to us, communicated their love, affirmed us, or showed their displeasure—how they continually defined touch, closeness and warmth, and how they shaped our view of the world with their lives and their values. The images of our childhood can greatly encourage us, or they can wound us for years to come.
Treasures of the Heart
Proverbs 7:1 teaches: “My son, keep my words and treasure my commandments within you.” To “treasure” something within is to keep it secure. The “treasure” concept also appears in the New Testament, Luke 2:41-51. Here we find an account of Jesus at the age of 12, traveling with his parents to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. The story centers on Jesus becoming separated from his parents for three days in the Capital city. Anyone who ever lost a child in a crowd, even for a few minutes, can relate to what Mary and Joseph must have experienced emotionally, and to their relief, when they found Jesus at the temple court, listening and asking questions of the Rabbi.
It is the gospel writer Luke who is re-telling the story, and most scholars are in agreement that Luke most likely heard the account directly from Mary herself. That conclusion is drawn from one of the last verses of this passage. In Luke 2:51 we are told that “his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
As a parent, do you ever think about the life-long images you are impressing on your children, or the images they are impressing on you—images that will eventually become treasures of the heart?
It has often been said that people tend not to appreciate the full value of something until it comes under assault, or until they no longer have it, but wish they did. For example, who, after having lost a parent, doesn’t search their memory for pleasant images and treasured moments of their togetherness? While there is joy when those memories are found, there’s a sadness when they are lacking, brought on by a sense that something is missing.
What will those treasured moments look like for your children? What will your children remember about the tone of your voice, warmth of your touch, the look of your approval and the sounds of your encouragement?
Parenting Through the Five Senses
Although children receive sensory input from many different sources in their developing world, there is no greater influence on sensory messaging than that which comes from Mom and Dad, each as independent contributor. Each parent lays down his own unique sensory signature on their children that is distinct and life-long.
For example, a mother and father will touch their children, but the touch of a mother is not the same as the touch of a father; yet both are absolutely necessary. Hearing words of encouragement from Mom is not the same as hearing words of encouragement from Dad; yet, both are necessary! The love signature of each parent is so unique, that if there is a deficit in one, it cannot be made up by the other. It is the sensory signatures of both Mom and Dad which produce two-thirds of the family images that children carry into adulthood. The final one-third comes from Mom and Dad as a team of one. Thus, the sensory messages children acquire from their parents, affect what they think and how they feel and, eventually, what they think and feel, will influence how they live.
The sensory messaging of human touch is powerful and persuasive. It is the first of the five senses to develop in the womb, and has the widest distribution of sensory pathways throughout the body. It is no wonder that touch is described as the first language that babies learn. And it is well that they do, because physical contact, even in the early days of life, is all about messaging. From birth on, mankind is hard-wired with a biological need for human contact. Physical touch and closeness is the ultimate expression of that contact, especially the tender touch messages communicated by Mom and Dad.
Why is touch so important? Because parental touch not only guides a child to comfort, love and security, but it also helps to define the emotional meaning of these attributes. We know the valuable role touch plays during infancy, because the lack of human touch will often lead to “failure to thrive.” However, what additional value does physical touch bring to the developing child, especially the touch that comes from the loving hands of a father? Here are a few things for Dads and Moms to consider when it comes to sensory messaging and human touch.
Unfortunately, children today are growing in an age of gender confusion. Most of this is the result of misguided worldviews that assume that gender roles are a social construct and not something that has a biological or creative origin. Yet, gender differences do exist, and they are fundamental realities of our personhood. From Genesis 1:27 we learned that God created man in His own image, and He created male and female.
This verse not only reveals the uniqueness of man’s creation, that we are all fashioned in God’s image, but it also reveals how God decided to reflect His image: by dividing humankind into male and female. Men and women, boys and girls are different by intentional creative design.
Women by creative intent, are by nature more tender, gentle, patient, and nurturing. This speaks to the gentle side of God’s character. In contrast, men are more protective and watchful; they are providers, hunter-gatherers and dominion-sensitive. This speaks to the masculine side of God’s nature. God uses marriage as the primary means by which the fullness of His character is communicated to each subsequent generation.
When it comes to the importance of touch, keep in mind that the touch of a mother and father are unique sensory signatures and both have profound gender implications that cannot be minimized or duplicated by the other. For example, when a father touches his children, through play, hugs, pats, and even with hi-fives, he is bringing the masculine image of God to bear on his children. In the same way, a mother’s touch brings the feminine expression of God to her children. Together, they represent the totality of God’s expression of touch.
Love is a many-splendored thing, so says the song. But how do children grow in the knowledge of love and affection, especially if touch is reduced only to the moments of Dad or Mom’s coming and going? Here are some developmental contrasts to consider. Children who are nurtured through warm, human touch have a tremendous advantage in life. They tend to be healthier, more relational, affectionate, attentive, and trusting; and they tend to make wise choices, are less stressed, better sleepers, and better behaved.
We are not saying that successful parenting can be reduced to a daily regimen of hugs. But the absence of a steady amount of physical contact during early childhood tends to produce a series of common developmental deficiencies.
The research in the area of “touch deficiency” is rather persuasive. Many children who do not receive sufficient, appropriate touch are unable to form important neural connections. As a result, the potential behaviors with neurological implications affecting development of these children include:
- Disruptive behavior and impulse control issues
- Need for affection, but relationally shallow
- Difficulty understanding their own feelings
- Under-developed sense of empathy
- Difficulty cooperating
- Difficulty connecting emotionally with other children
- Difficulty expressing themselves verbally
- Difficulty forming trusting relationships
- At greater risk of childhood depression
It is equally true that the physically over-pampered, overly attached child can also display an array of social and emotional deficiencies. As a parent it is important to find the happy medium between too little and too much touch. Given that each child is unique when it comes to this matter of how much is too much or too little, becoming a student of each child becomes necessary. Using wisdom and discernment, if a child is characterized by being content and happy with life, you could assume his touch quotient is being met.
Why is the grass green? Why is the sky blue? Why do birds fly? Why do flowers smell pretty? Has your two year old ever bombarded you with questions that their little minds are just burning to find answers to? Julie Young shares her journey with "why" she used to give long-winded scientific explanations to the endless questions of the two year old living in her house.
My 4th child is now two years old and I find myself responding to her with, “Because that’s the way God made it.” Or, “God knew you’d like to smell that flower so He made it smell pretty for you.” Thankfully, for now, that is a perfectly logical answer to her. Someday I’ll get scientific with her, but for now, it’s enough for her to know that there is an almighty God in control of her little world and He has infinite wisdom.
I used to ask, "Why?" a lot. Then I stopped. I’m not exactly sure why I stopped. I guess I never thought to ask "Why?" If someone had asked me why I signed my 5 year old daughter up for the latest popular sporting activity many years ago, I’m not sure what my answer would have been. Well, because all of her friends were doing it, I suppose. It seemed like a good idea. Never mind the fact that practice and her games were during our family dinner hour which meant that 2-3 days a week we didn’t eat together because I was grabbing hamburgers at the drive-thru for the kids. If someone had asked me why I left my warm bed at 4 a.m. one chilly February morning to stand in line outside the most popular Christian preschool in town to make sure my 4 year old had a coveted space next year, I’m not sure what my answer would have been. It’s just what you do. All of my Christian friends were doing it.
I had a lot of good company that frosty morning as I cradled a warm mug of coffee. Never mind the fact that my daughter would be away from her younger siblings for 12 hours a week where I would lose valuable opportunities to teach her how to properly socialize with other children. Never mind the fact that the next day would probably be spent undoing the inappropriate behavior and habits she would pick up at that half day of preschool. Never mind the fact that I would be packing up all of her younger siblings twice a day, disrupting their routine, to shuffle her around. It’s just what everyone was doing.
We did get that coveted preschool spot. And, thankfully, 2 weeks before school was to start, I started asking why again. "Why am I doing this?" "Is this God’s best for our family?" Or "Am I doing this because that’s just what our culture says is the best?" "Does this line up with our family goals?" There are so many really good opportunities available to us and our children these days. But where do you draw the line, and when do you say ‘No’?
Philippians 1:9-11 is a verse that I repeat often and turn into a prayer: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God.” I want to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. I want my children to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. I can’t do that unless I am discerning what is best. But I need to look beyond our culture to do that. I need to be a thinking parent. And I need to ask ‘Now, why would I want to do that?’ Yes, we opted out of the preschool, because in answering the "why" my husband and I decided this was not the "best" for our family.
Julie Young contributed on this article.
Preschools and day-care provide a necessary service to families where both parents must work outside the home. In most cases, preschool staffers are dedicated and caring individuals who hold a child’s best interest at heart. We have friends around the country who operate wonderful day-care centers, where love abounds and understanding of unique needs brings satisfaction and a sense of relief to parents who otherwise would choose to be home with their child.
In these cases, the necessity of placing a toddler in an organized educational setting is good because it meets the immediate need of a working couple. It might be a better idea to find a likeminded relative or friends to care for your child in a home setting. Best we believe, finds Mom home with her children. Why do we believe this? Because aside from Dad’s, there is not another pair of hands more perfectly fitted to the heart of your child than your own.
We acknowledge that the ideal is preferable, we also recognize it is not possible in all cases. Thus, we wish to approach the topic of children, socialization, and preschool strictly from a developmental perspective. Our commentary should not be construed as a social statement on the rightness or wrongness of preschools. We are writing on this topic because every family is different and the variables of each family will not allow for cookie-cutter solutions when it comes to the necessity of child-care.
At the same time we must work with the reality of each situation. For example, the Mom who works outside the home will face different challenges in parenting at the end of the day than a stay-at-home Mom. Some of her parenting goals will not be achieved quite as fast. But when it comes to who is the ‘better mom’, between the two scenarios, the good news is this: The venue in which your child spends his day, whether at home or at school, is not a true measurement of your parenting.
Remember back to Preparation for Parenting or On Becoming Babywise when you were confronted with the breast or bottle-feeding decision? Descriptive terms such as ‘more caring’ or ‘better’ could not be attributed to one over the other in that case. The same is true of working parents. As authors our duty is not to pass judgment on those who have no other option but day-care, rather it is to provide understanding to those who do have an option and to help couples understand that “good” is not “better” and “better” is not “best”. When it comes to socialization, what is best for children when options are available to parents?
We live in a world where it seems everything and everyone is connected. A decision made in Moscow, Washington, or Beijing can have a ripple effect on the rest of the world for years to come. This is called the “trickle down effect.” However, the same effect works in reverse. Changes at the most fundamental levels of society, such as the family and communities, can “trickle up” to the rest of society. In truth, both forces are constantly engaged, pushing back and forth on each other, like the tide’s ebbing and flowing. Neither has the strength to overcome the other without substantive change in the structure of one or the other.
Since the family is still the values-generating institution of the society, parents serve as social engineers of each subsequent generation. . . but who will influence the engineers? Should society dictate family values or reflect them? Trickle down, or trickle up? Whatever measurable influence parents are willing to surrender, or seize, will become either the curse or blessing their children must live with in the future. Thus, it all comes back to the strategic role parents play in shaping society.
Parents also have a social obligation to the welfare of their Nation, and therefore, must stay cognizant of the truth that what they are doing in the home will have an influence beyond their front porch. Growing Families and Christian Family Heritage recognizes this life-force principle, and will continue to encourage parents to be influencers for good, and advocates of all that is noble, pure, lovely and true.
If free governments are truly of the people, by the people and for the people, than the citizenry, at the most fundamental level, must accept responsibility for their society, rather than the society accepting responsibility for the people. In order to achieve and maintain social harmony, families and society are best served by a collective moral conscience. While the very nature of a “free” society may not allow for common values, it’s very freedom is dependent upon a moral consensus of common virtue. Without virtue, good values are only relative, to whoever is defining “good.” To the extent that virtue is removed from the citizenry, so also is an equal measure of freedom. Everything comes back to parenting.