by Isabelle Fox, Ph.D.
API News, September 2000
It's late afternoon. Fourteen month old Benjie is screaming to be held and hungers for a breast. Four year-old Jenny has her Legos all over the living room floor and needs some help with her construction. Tom, the dad, has just walked in and would really like to hop into bed with his wife, Jill. And Jill is aching to take a hot bath and pamper her body with a relaxing soak. All four members of the Jenkins family have reasonable wants. Each should expect that their needs can be satisfied. But how to balance, how to respect and how to satisfy everyone's cries and desires is an enormous challenge for today's caring and conscientious parents. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous difference in the ability of the toddler to delay his plea for comfort and nourishment as compared to the mom and dad, who have the ability to wait and to plan ahead. Infants or toddlers who have their cries attended to promptly are learning that the adults in their lives are reliable and nurturing. They can begin to trust that the world is safe and predictable. They usually develop optimistic and positive attitudes that will serve them well throughout their years. Because of her ability to communicate, four year old Jenny is better able to tolerate her mother's delay in providing help. But this support by her mother must be provided in a timely manner so that Jenny feels valued. This will reinforce Jenny's sense of trust. Most empathic and involved parents intuitively understand such needs of children.
What may be more difficult to provide is the time and manner of meeting the needs of both Tom and Jill. During these early stressful years of child rearing, mothers and fathers seldom take the time to nurture each other. It may be also difficult for some to ask for help and support for themselves. They may assume that their own specific needs and wants are obvious to their partners, but this may not be the case. Following are some reminders to help each parent support each other, both emotionally and physically. Each day both mother and father might ask themselves some important questions:
- Have I verbalized something positive or complementary to my partner?
- Have I asked how I could be helpful? (Stay-at-home moms still need help in the house and in caring for each child.)
- Have I listened to what is troubling my spouse during the day?
- Have I responded respectfully to my partner's need for rest, food, protection and stimulation?
- Have I planned any time together for a few hours, once a week?
- Have I been sympathetic when my mate is not well, injured or in distress?
- If I am angry or upset, do I pick an appropriate time to discuss the issues?
- Do I communicate non-verbal affection by doing enough holding, hugging, kissing and caressing?
- Am I seeing to it that my spouse is kept sexually satisfied or do I plan ahead for romantic time with my spouse?
- As adults, we may not need instant satisfaction or immediate gratification of our needs, but if our needs are seldom addressed, the marriage can wither and our children may fail to thrive. For a family to function in harmony, to respond so every member feels respected, valued and loved, certainly takes thought, time, effort and a splash of humor. It is a very delicate balance.
(Isabelle Fox, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and author of Being There: The Benefits of a Stay-at-Home Parent. Isabelle is also a member of the API Advisory Board.)