What children don’t need

I asked a young woman, recently married, for her response to the question “What do children need?” She was hesitant to comment, but said she could speak with more certainty about what they don’t need, based on her experience of growing up as the only child of divorced parents, constantly at odds with each other. Here are some of her memories and comments.

“In an ideal world, when parents are divorced, they are no longer spouses but are still parents, able to put their negative emotions aside when it comes to the child they have together, make decisions together, talk about what the child is doing etc. You don`t need each parent to try and convince you that their version of why the marriage failed is true, or to try and decide which parent you love more, and which one has your best interests at heart.”

“All this puts you in an impossible dilemma, constantly trying to appease each side, defending your Mom against your Dad and the other way round. I know things about my parents that I would much prefer not to know. I wish my parents could have had a better grip on their emotions towards each other, for my sake. I don’t hold it against them, how could I? I can’t imagine what hell a divorce like that must be. I just know it damaged me in ways that are not always obvious, but I know it has.”

Many of us can probably speak with such conviction about what we feel we didn’t need growing up. I tossed this question into a busy staffroom before school and the floodgates opened. These are some responses from teachers:

• Children don’t need parents who push them to satisfy their own needs, trying to live vicariously through their children
• They don’t need unnecessary pressure and unrealistic expectations for success all the time
• They don’t need to be overloaded with too many extra-murals
• They don’t need parents doing their projects for them
• They don’t need parents to make excuses for them when they are in the wrong, when what they need is to experience the consequences of their actions
• They don’t need parents to gossip in front of them about others, teachers included
• They don’t need cell phones before the age of 12- or to be wearing make-up or dying their hair while still in junior school
• They don’t need to be compared with other children or their siblings
• They don’t need parents to be their friend.

In essence what children don`t need is to be seen as partial human beings simply because they are still small. They are complete, unique, and just need our help along the way.

“Benign neglect” is how one child psychiatrist described the difficult balance a parent needs to find, between nurturing and protecting on the one hand, and letting go and trusting on the other.

“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies, but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, even in your dreams.”


Published in: on November 24, 2010 at 9:21 am  Leave a Comment