Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Parenting as a Caretaker Versus Caregiver

By Philip Copitch, Ph.D.

I confess, I have a pet peeve. A little something that really bothers me. In fact, it bothers me more than it probably should. Which, I guess is the definition of a pet peeve. My pet peeve is parents who are caretakers versus caregivers. Please allow me to vent. A caretaker is a person who makes sure that their charge is taken care of. Their charge is well fed and protected. But the relationship tends to be superficial. A caregiver is a person who sees the whole child. The caregiver makes sure that the child’s needs are met but, that is only the beginning. The caregiver opens themselves to a true emotional relationship with the child, the ups and the downs. The caregiver takes the chance to feel the whole spectrum of emotions. The joy and the sorrow. The caregiver puts their needs on hold for a moment and focuses on the other. For the time they are together, the child knows, at their core, that they are very important to the caregiver. They know that they, as an individual, count.

Don’t confuse caregiver with giving. A caregiver is not all giving. This is not the materialistic form of giving. It is an emotional form of giving. Caregivers keep the big picture in mind. The word “no” is very easy for them to say. The caregiver focuses on the child’s needs, what is best for the child.

I once was fortunate to observe a very minor interaction that illustrates care giving quite well. When my oldest son, Ethan, was in second grade we went to visit his mother at school where she was a new second grade teacher. While we were helping decorate mom’s new classroom another second grade teacher popped in to say hi. Mrs. McCarthy was a 49 year veteran of the elementary school. That’s right, she had taught school since the invention of the printing press.

A few minutes later Mrs. McCarthy asked Ethan if he would help her carry some paper. As they walked out of the room Mrs. McCarthy said softly to Ethan, “Teach me your name.” This request caught my attention. This veteran teacher was asking this little boy to teach her.

Later, as we were driving home, I asked Ethan what he thought about mom’s new classroom. He said, “It’s OK, Mrs. McCarthy thinks I’m great!” “How do you know?” I inquired. “I just do,” he continued, “She likes me.”

In just a few moments, Mrs. McCarthy was able to impart to Ethan that he was important, that he was lovable. This is care giving. Letting your children know, at the core of their being, that they are lovable and special to you is the cornerstone of their self esteem.

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