The Art of Seeing Your Children When They’re Not Even There

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Your husband wants you to come searching for him. Your wife wants you to come searching for her. But there is one person who wants you to come searching for them even more than your spouse.

That person is your child.

When our children are young, they want to know we are thinking of them, remembering them even when apart. They feel anchorless in an uncertain world, and they want to trust that the person who is in charge of protecting them is paying attention. For instance, I have a stack of drawings and paintings in my therapy office about six inches high. This is the art my kids give me in the hopes I’ll remember them while I’m away.

When parents hear this from me, they often disagree. They say things like, “Well, when I ask my kid how his day was, all he says is ‘fine’ and then he puts his head in his iPod again.” Parents interpret this as rejection of their interest. It’s not. It’s actually rejection of their generic interest.

A kid doesn’t want to talk open-endedly about his day. He wants you to remember that basketball tryouts are coming up and he was going to the gym after school to work on his shot and he wants you to ask how many free throws he made in a row today.

He wants to know you’re paying attention.

He wants to know you remember what matters to him.

The problem is, as our kids enter adolescence and beyond, they also don’t want us to come searching for them. A teenager loves to get a hundred texts an hour from the person they’re dating or the group of friends they belong to. But if they get a bunch of texts from Mom or Dad, it drives them crazy. It feels suffocating. They want to know they are a permanent object in your mind, but they also want to know you’re thinking of them because you love them, not because you want to dominate them.

Finding a way to attend to our children without controlling them is the art of parenting.

Indeed, it is the art of love.  

Dr. Kelly Flanagan
About Dr. Kelly Flanagan

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a licensed practicing clinical psychologist who writes regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again.

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