Thursday, October 14, 2010

Are You My Mommy?

Newborn wild ducklings paddle behind their mother in Nora river in La Fresneda, near Oviedo April 20, 2010. Picture taken April 20. REUTERS/Eloy Alonso (SPAIN - Tags: ANIMALS) When many birds are first hatched, they are hard-wired to call whatever animal they see first, "Mom". This is called imprinting and is an innate behavior found in the genetics of the animal. This imprinting or bonding is fascinating, because every once in a while, the hatchling may imprint on a dog or person. Once this occurs, it is too late to go back, the toothpaste is already out of the tube. The young bird will follow that animal or person to the ends of the Earth.

Luckily, we humans don't have that genetic wiring. However, there is a similar phenomena that takes place with young children. I finally noticed it a few weeks ago.

When I was working at the hospital, I used to get jealous of how the kids responded to their mother. I always thought, "Hey, I'm a good Dad, why don't they ask me that question or let me help them?". Instead, I was just the mobile playground that arrived at the house around 4 or 5 o'clock every day.

Well now that I'm home, I'm starting to notice a subtle change in that scenario. The other day, we were all sitting at the dinner table. I excused myself and left the room after I was done eating. I sat down to read something and I looked up to see my son standing right in front of me. He then said these magical words to me. "Dad, can I have more chicken?" I looked at him and began to wonder why he left the kitchen table to ask me that question when Mom was sitting right next to him. I looked over at his mom who just shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "Well, I guess I don't rate around here anymore".

Then the next day we were driving in the car. I happened to be driving. The kids then asked me a question instead of their mom. During the entire car ride, the kids never once initiated a conversation with their mom. Does this make them bad kids? No, it just sort of proves the point.

Our kids are used to having 1 parent around and so they develop a particularly strong bond with that one parent. When I worked, it was with their mom, now that she works, it happens to be with me. This is good to know for a couple of reasons.

1. It goes to show how the one imprinted parent must get away to have some kind of freedom from the smothering attention of their kids. Also, it creates an opportunity for the other parent to become imprinted on the kids.

2. It helps the parents understand that nobody is playing favorites. It's not a conscious decision the kids are making to ignore you, it's just they happen to have an extremely strong social bond with the home parent.

3. Finally, the working parent must work extra hard to develop those social bonds with the kids. It is easy to stay distanced from the kids when you work all day. Because often, you just want peace and quiet when you get home so you can unwind a little. Kids seldom let you have that peace and quiet.

So, if you feel like your kids are distancing from you as they get older, maybe it's not their fault. Maybe it's not "a phase" they're going through. Perhaps, you lacked the imprinting bond with your kids that they needed. There's an expression that says you need to spend quality time with your kids. As I think about it, I really believe it's quantity time. The more time you spend with your kids, the more they'll think you're the greatest.

As I think back to my childhood, we had a pretty intact family unit during my younger days, in spite of the fact, that both my parents worked full-time. We ate dinner together every night at the dinner table. We stayed around the house every weekend. We played games and watched TV together all the time. Seldom, were we farmed out to someone else to watch. As a result, we were a very loyal family.

So here's a recipe for family loyalty and bonding.

1 - Go to the grocery store with your kids - I know, I know, but just do it anyway
2 - Eat at the dinner table together as a family at least 5 days a week
3 - Go to church as a family - that means both spouses, not just the religious one
4 - Parents, have your kids work in the yard and do chores with you on the weekends
5 - Go out to eat once a week as a family - no cell phones - even if it's just to some local pizza dive

Let your kids know that you are their parents and that together, you are a family.

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