Family and relations between parents and children - New Challenges

President of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI)

Family! What kind of images and memories bring about the word "family" in the minds of each person? Perhaps many and very diverse. Througout the years the task to take care of new generations has been assigned to the family and it is in this context that the first memories and experiences of love or lack of affection are imprinted.

Love? As the Professor Humberto Maturana says, we are primarily loving beings, and it is love that nurtures us and gives sense to our lives; in the absence of love, we fall sick. The question that emerges is then, what is love? How can we know that the love to our children is enough? And is it possible through love to guarantee their wellbeing?

Dr. Juan Luis Linares (2007) states: love to our children is the capacity to "nurture them relationally", this means that it involves "knowing, feeling, and doing with love"

Knowing with love comes from acknowledging that children are not "ours", they are "the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself". The Prophet Kalhil Gibran (1923) highlights the role of parents..."You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth..." In this sense, perhaps one of the necessary parental knowledge is recognizing children as "authentically others", Maturana (2000). It is possible that they are very different to parents' expectations, or not; in any case, it is required that parents acknowledge, value and appreciate their capacities, qualities and choices.

Feeling with love is what supports the relationship that is built progressively through living together and/or through encounters. It facilitates the necessary "tuning" and "being present", not only physically but also to empathically tune with the emotions of children. How important company is in all stages of life through a silent presence or with encouraging and supporting words, even more in childhood and adolescent life, when the positive image of the other supports the construction of identity.

Supporting does not only mean praise, it is to widen the perspective, to offer alternatives to the challenge of making their own decisions and being responsible for the consequences of their actions.

Doing with love, as it is affirmed by a popular proverb "Love is expressed by means of deeds and not of words". The task of parents and parental love fulfill two tasks: the protection of children and normativity.

Parental prominence decreases as children grow up, which is necessary and guarantees a responsible and adequate care for the age and the learning already gained.

Learning is progressive. It starts when children at young age can construct their own personal limits: the physical and emotional space that widens progressively and that nobody can access without authorization. Many forms of violence and abuse could be detected on time and rejected by children in their way to become adults, if their personal limits are recognized by the parents and caregivers.

A recurrent question is asked to parents: What does your child already know for which she/he does not need your help? Often the parental role is confused with over protection, which is justified by the sense of achievement parents gain when their children require their help because they cannot make decisions that could be made by themselves at the age they are. Good parenting is reflected when children reach autonomy that is supported by a solid affective relation with the parents and/or caregivers. Is it easy? In some occasions harder than other times; perhaps adult role modeling should distance from childhood memories; it is necessary to heal wounds, overcome losses, unlearn and learn to become effective parents.

Normativy is understood as transit signs that create security, protection and favors ones own walk through life. What a joy is to remember moments of play, dialogue, fluid communication with parents, without forgetting that they have to fulfill a task that cannot be delegated; they were not only friends, they were parents. Children cannot make it alone; they require the emotional, affective and pragmatic guidance of their parents.

In conclusion, the world today is characterized by diverse types of families and by the accelerated rhythm of change; young people's life styles confuse and disorient adults; however, their leading role throughout history have not been able to be substituted. A child needs the care and love of at least an adult to guarantee their wellbeing; a child needs adults who are affectively present and that are competent in such an important task.

Someone told me with much clarity and wisdom, despite her young age, "I don't want that my child grows feeling disfavored or in disadvantage when compared to others", how do we achieve it? In a competitive world that has made our society a "global market" (Julio Salazar 2000), it is more important than ever that family becomes a space that provides support, connects, bonds and extends its roots giving a sense of belonging. Taking off is easier if the "launching platform" is solid and firm.

Last, as Rubén Blades says, hopefully "despite problems, family is family, and love is love"

Article written in collaboration with Dr. Graciela Castelo, Director of "Centro Integral de la Familia" (Ecuador).