I have found it both instructive and enjoyable to think of parenting as a grand dance that we do with our children…
The hall is prepared for the dance when we think about becoming parents and have a vision of what our relationships will be like with our children.
When we focus on what sort of persons our children will become and how we will help them grow in ways that we value, we have begun the dance.
For mothers the dance takes on concrete reality when the child’s moves become felt inside her. She senses the mysterious steps or kicks of the child and reacts with her own movements and thoughts. Even for fathers, when mothers share their reactions they too become partners of the grand dance.
Once the child appears, we are in for the dance of our lives.
Whether we are the child’s biological mother or father, foster or adoptive parents, or otherwise responsible for that child’s safety, health and well being, we are in for at least two decades worth of surprising moves and changes that we must react to and accommodate.
Sometimes the dance will be slow and smooth. Other times it will be hot and hectic. At best we will remain in synchrony as our child’s partner, swaying in rhythm as he or she sways, providing leads that are easy to follow, at times difficult, experiencing exhilaration at the meshing of two minds, two hearts and two bodies. At worst we will be out of step or dancing to a different beat, both on the same dance floor, but miles apart.
Most of the movement will be initiated by our little dance partners. As infants their actions and cries alert us how to care for them, how to hold, rock, feed and comfort them. They teach us and we learn quickly what they need. Successfully soothing a discomforted baby is a lesson we should learn from because our children will continue to confront us with behaviors that will challenge us. Being sensitive and vigilant to how they react to our reactions will serve us well.
Their vulnerability, tenderness and desire to be loved make the dance ever so worthwhile. Their extreme emotionality and disobediences, however, can detract from the beauty of it all if we fail to understand and react properly. When we hear their first “nos” and find ourselves running after them, we are best served by appreciating this as normal childhood behavior, spawned out of playfulness and out of childhood naïveté about what is or is not acceptable.
The testing of the limits of acceptability is also a phenomenon that is wisely understood as normative as it will occur over and over again as we dance with our children throughout their residency in our homes.
They will also bring challenges to the smoothness of the dance from what they learn from television, movies, the Internet, social media and from their friends, peers and relatives. All of whom are powerful shapers of who they are and are becoming.
Possibly the most momentous challenge is the wholesale behavior transformations that happen as they grow from one developmental stage to another – and to another, and to another, until sometimes we are not certain that today’s dance partner is the same as yesterday’s.
We parents also bring newness and challenges to the dance. We don’t stop evolving and developing once we become parents. We may be fully formed physically but our minds and hearts continue to bring issues before us that cause changes in what we consider important.
And our bodies change in ways that influence our evaluation of ourselves and our sensitivity to age and weight considerations.
In addition, we bring into the home new ideas from our education, job, career and friends. Our ideas about what is or is not acceptable are subject to change – and those changes, in turn, affect the dance with our children.
And so the dance goes on and on, swirling, faster, slower, always accommodating changes from both partners, always the most important of dances until we exit from the dance hall for good.
Dr. Alvy has always thought about parenting as a dance we do with our children. The first time he wrote about this conceptualization was in the initial chapter of a book he wrote with Dr. Camilla Clarke in the Parent Handbook for The New Confident Parenting Program.
This handbook contains a complete program of parenting skills and ideas about how to make the dance as enjoyable and productive as possible. You can obtain the book by clicking here.