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feeling concerted parenthood
december 2009

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august 29 / september 20, 2010

‘Concerted’ in my title alludes to work by Annette Lareau, because I love the notion of concertedness, and I’ve been long interested in prospects for truly-collaborative life (interpersonally, organizationally, and politically). But the following philosophy of early parenting contributes more to an implicit interest in prospecting creativity, anticipating (but not yet addressing) longstanding interests, indicated at the end here as leading questions. Good attunement in well-attached parenting leads to well-concerted lives.

Axial to good development and life maintenance is a sustained desire to thrive, motivation to learn, engagement with one’s surrounds, and endeavoring. Beyond the scope of the following discussion, but integral to my interest, is asking, What best contributes to actualization of talent? What best provides for inquiring minds (love of inquiry) and creative engagement? What are the features of growing up that lead to productive creativity? These are the leading questions for explorations which this page initiates.

All of the following sections were written December, 2009, and posted 12/30. (Slight revision to the penultimate section happened Sept. 20, 2010.)

In the long run, I have a comprehensive sense of individuation to offer (with all due regard for available research; for example: the vital importance of attachment leading to durable bonds)—a sense of high individuation with good concertedness in one’s life—but that’s for the long run.


A THEATER OF PRESENCE

Presently, I’m going to resist the appeal of recent theorization about our hominid horizon, but it’s fascinating to me how we are evolved beings, in light of which intelligent parenting may reproduce itself.

More fascinating, though, is how we are not “primates”: Being human now means, at best, that we may aspire to embody what is best for excellent parenting, beginning with an excellent pregnancy; so, learning what is excellent preparation for parenting. Our humanity is hallmarked by our capability for planning, and deliberate action accordingly, conceiving our Project of parenting and enowning it.

The character of healthy beginnings might be usefully (for a philosopher, at least) parsed four ways, regarding the very ordinary reality of managing a genesis:

  • articulate realism: excellent nutrition and enough exercise; self-determination of excellent general health in partnership with medical care; knowledge and appreciation of the holism of health pertinent to everyone and its long-term importance. Healthy womb, healthy brain.
  • embodied values of love: wise attention to one’s emotional well-being and stress management; devoted partner involvement and support. The heart of a child’s future temperament (hormoned sense of presence, interest in attentiveness) is written prenatally.
  • relevant knowledge about pregnancy: knowledge about common experiences across months of a pregnancy (vital for mental well-being); parent education for well-prepared beginning months of shared parenting (vital for well-ordered presence), good self-care (habits for endurance!), and partner support; knowledge of milestones in early child development, so that they may be facilitated.
  • management capability: smart preparation for the logistics of safe and effective care. Stress less for the sake of less stressed presence. It’s the skeleton of ambience that gives the little being more chance to be curious rather than cope.

Such common pragmatics (though uncommon for most of humanity!) are the conditions for the possibility of a thriving ontogenesis just as much as the regulatory genome, orchestrating the hormonal governance of a pregnancy. The essence of a thriving fetus is the pregnancy itself, which is equally constituted by the nurturant conditions for the possibility of any child’s healthy brain, resiliant temperament, trust in good presence, and durable curiosity—all keynotes of a thriving childhood.

The care brought to a pregnancy is likely no better than the care belonging to the life and love preceding it, into which the child is born. So, the greater horizon of ontogenesis succeeds the pregnancy as it precedes it: the long-term nest of care that makes good presence reliable. The intimacy (or lack of it) between life and love in parents’ presence with each other, their conception of care expressed in their presence, is providence for the child’s sense of presence in the world and reliability of the world. The quality of feeling for care as such—the quality of care for feeling—weave into each other, instilling an infant’s feeling for presence as such, relative to parents’ sense of presence altogether. This is what Noelle Oxenhandler’s passion is about, in The Eros of Parenthood (2001) [hereafter: Noelle], “between parent and child, as between adult lovers.” It’s the quality of presence embodied in being with the loved other that is brought to the infant, with all the horizon of presence that a parent once lived in being a child growing their sense of the world. A sense of presence, shaped by the parents’ weaving of their separate feeling for presence into a singular pattern of infant and child experience, becomes an intimate mirrorplay of so-called “pair bondings”: Three plays of having-bonded and bonding that interplay intensely in early parenting.

Though the origin of care is elation—thrill with the uniqueness of one’s child—what is the infant going to tend to feel in “light” of that dying away in parents’ inevitable and dark feelings of exhausting, “infinite” loss of freedom by the endlessly needy being in its pure striving? What horizon of feeling for the world will reverberate into the child’s sense of being in the world? A theater is made that walls that off. A theater of presence that secures your child’s feeling power to cause being truly loved (as who s/he is) is built from healthy beginnings, creating resilience that facilitates the child’s inner confidence. A theater of clear and reliable presence sustains a fictional horizon for the infant and child about how the heart of life goes, revolving completely around their needs. The theater of presence creates the infant/child trust that will give the child confidence to weather wilds calling for self-constructed resilience.


ECSTASY OF POWER

Infants bring into the world the feeling that “they are causing their parents, whom they adore more than life itself, to pay loving attention to their developmental needs,” write Pieper and Pieper (hereafter: P&P).

Infants are absolutely certain that whatever happens to them is for the best, because their beloved parents have caused or intended whatever happens. Your brand-new baby believes both that she is engaging your love, and also that the care she receives is ideal. When these inborn convictions are confirmed day after day, your child grows up to possess a lasting inner happiness.

Attention breeds independence. Lots of loving attention will make your child independent, not dependent or “spoiled.” A wholly child-centered approach to parenting that facilitates their confidence in their own power to cause being loved and in their own potential to gain competence

can provide your child with a reliable, enduring core happiness that is unwavering even in the face of life’s unavoidable disappointments and misfortunes. Your child’s inner well-being rests on her certain knowledge that she has caused you to love caring for her. Of all the gifts you can give your child, this is the most important, because it is the foundation of all happiness and goodness and the shield against self-caused unhappiness. [P&P]

When attachment finishes its business, letting go is easy. This allows for later trust in new bonds because bonding is felt to be happy (enough can be easily gained). The familiar separation/individuation-rapproachment dynamic of toddlerhood is about establishing flexible bonds in feeling “me” (as self-representation) apart from being pure expressiveness (“I” doing). Later in life, fluid bonding allows for confident friendships and varying interests, inasmuch as early bonds secure a legacy of being fulfilled without overwhelming (or overstimulation) and letting go without fear of abandonment.

Love assures your child that she is causing you to love caring for her, and this certainty, in turn, provides her with a well-being rich enough to share with others. [P&P]


A CHILD’S FEELING FOR THE WORLD

It’s the axis of good enough parenting. But I’m not here trying to provide day-to-day parental guidance in a short discussion. I’m interested in indicating ideas that I want to flesh out.

In growing well, primal ecstasis (the felt power to cause love received) grows into controllable elation and exuberance without fear of overstimulation (which is beyond “containment” or cognition, causing distress) or rejection. Feeling fuels cognitive growth and frames experience, thereby valuing experience. Value is born from feeling [in] experience.

Popular notions of “emotional intelligence” seem to be about how mental focus is brought to feeling, and feeling thereby becomes a way to understand and orient future experiences and aims of action. Feeling belongs to mind, not to a separated body, since mind is bodily. (Relative to a false division of experience and mind, “mind has a body of its own,” as Sandra Blakeslee puts it). Feeling is a mode of embodied mind, not distinct from mind.

Fulfilling embodiment fuels a mind’s growth. Potential for cognitive appreciation later in life grows through good feeling toward increasing complexity, due to loved chances for elated curiosity, enchantment, and puzzlement—and, for the older child, parentally-loved chances to articulate what’s felt, to see it conjectured (modeled), and to have articulation wanted and loved. Articulation of feeling for the world accelerates mental growth. Possibilities of representation are put in the child’s path. Possibilities from the child are invited and enjoyed.


FACILITATIVE ATTUNEMENT

The imagined child is not the same as the real child, yet idealization for the child opens possibilities. Belonging to the child is freedom (granted within the bounds of good sense) to decide the extent to which s/he will be the parent’s imagined child (e.g., prefer what the parent prefers, when that’s discretionary). Actually, granting freedom in regard to better ideas tends to make the ideas more appealing because the child can own the preference for what’s really better; and own the appeal as theirs. (This is also common currency with salespersons.)

Belonging to the parent is responsibility to discover and appreciate the real child, while facilitating the child’s appreciation of other possibilities. The parent appreciates the child’s feelings as the child’s own, validating the child’s real experience, learning to see the world through the child’s eyes, learning who the child is becoming, rather than reveling in the degree to which they conform to the parent’s ideas. But a child needs the parent to not fuse their own accurate appreciation of the real child with the child’s self-presence, thus not dissolving the challenge to the child of desire to reach beyond themselves in opportunities for growth through idealizing play, but still relative to their own era of growth.

I’ve long loved the notion of a zone of proximal development, whereby learners most enjoy chances that are just slightly beyond their grasp, providing enough challenge and novelty to be really interesting, but not too much, thus getting overstimulated or stressed (or too little, thus getting bored). This idea is common currency in school curriculum development, relative to general age-appropriate challenges. The child deserves the challenge to feel and think and strive beyond their present, yet manageably. The parent/teacher will often get things wrong, so it’s a dance about where the child is. But children don’t idealize adults less by knowing that we need to try a different tack. That’s life: tacking waters. Falling in new ways (or contexts) is a new chance to stand again and go on a new way.

Engagement with a child’s being is a ruleless game of modulation; or balancing and letting resonate (1) the imagined child and (2) the real/discovered child. Does the real child have to idealize the parent’s imagined child in order to be loved? Of course not! The parent should love being confounded, take joy in surprise by the child’s own agenda (within bounds of good sense). In this sense, then, parenting is about discovering how it is that your child is becoming less and less yours, while they are becoming more and more a person you can love for their individuality (thus, whom it is that is “yours” changes according to the child’s experience). On the one hand, by identifying with a child’s experience, one projects frames of interpretation about what the child is experiencing. On the other hand, surprise by them and rediscovery of them is unwitting instruction they give, their gift.

So, attunement with a child is a happy mix of desire for the child’s becoming (projective identification) and enjoyment of surprise about who they are becoming. Through this, the child learns that being loved is not wholly about conformance to who they are, but about the joy of their becoming. Granting their power to cause true love of their being as they are, they can’t appreciate that their being is about becoming. So, they need to be loved for their futurity seen by adults beyond shareable presence.

Only the parent can appreciate the beauty of age resonance, i.e., the anticipatory becoming in a child’s presence. Knowing age-appropriate milestones or behaviors should be primarily about having a feel for the border of the child’s zone of proximal development, keeping the border moving at just the pace the child most enjoys, differently for different modes of growth, depending on the child’s talents and interests. One challenge may best appeal to the “visual learner” in each child, being shown; another challenge best appeals to the “listener,” having explained, and always “learning by doing” appeals to all modes of interest—which is altogether a matter of modes of learning being attuned to particular interests that best support relevant modes of experience.

Facilitative attunement is a sensitivity to (1) the difference between (a) where the child is and (b) where the child seems to want to be, in balance with (2a) where the adult surmises the child should go in their growth, but relative to (2b) what the child feels ready to experience.

Facilitative love might be a synonym for parental teaching. The parent takes joy in seeing the child’s fulfillment through facilitation of their initiative: educing the new kind of experienceable moment, the new kind of exploration, etc. (I like the assonance of educe in educate and conversely.)

I think of facilitative attunement as a developmental ethic, and would argue for a primacy of developmental values in a general conception of ethical life.


LOVER TO LOVED, PARENT FOR CHILD

When a person is 17, say, their childhood is so far away, because one lives in a countless series of Total Presents, countless moments that make “today” so not last month, not last year, not middle school, fading back into a forgotten story, as if the child is not persisting as eyes of feeling. Of course, being in touch with love in adolescence echoes how in touch attuned, generous, receptive, and imaginative love has been for the lover growing up. Feeling for a loved one is as good as how one loves to feel. So attunement, etc., for the child’s experience through a parent’s love (and parental love of their child’s futurity) shapes entrance into romantic being. It made psychotherapy an industry. But it also made our vast culture of love in the arts that we all deserve to appreciate.

But Noelle was right: “the early phase of parent-child love...lays the ground for love in later life” through “the royal road of attunement” (15). Attunement is a royal road of balance, sensitivity, and feeling for an other’s ownmost being.

One can theorize mirrorplays of “pair bonds” within and across generations. But the prevailing reality is now for a child. It’s not a child’s business what adults have lived through. It’s not a child’s business to repair adults. It’s the child’s business to be wholly loved for whom they’re becoming and to have their potential cultivated.

Being wholly loved models love in general, anticipating a general feeling for love of life and culture, as well as providing what a child needs. But wholly loving is a selfless endeavor, not a quid pro quo that a child should have to recognize. “A child brings loads of hope and good cheer into this world,” note Pieper and Pieper. But it’s not the child’s responsibility to make the parent’s own relationship worthwhile. (Think of those parents who have no reason to be together after the children are launched. How sad that their children lived with an unspoken-but-felt burden of giving their parents purpose to be together.) A marriage should be worthwhile apart from any children, fueling the meaningfulness of parenting. Thus, marriage should be durably worthwhile before there are any children—durably worthwhile—so that marriage may be worthwhile after children, not dependent on children keeping the family together. Children deserve to grow to experience love between their parents as an investment in meaningfulness across the lifespan that young adults then too aspire to creaete their own way.

Children eventually need to see that parents’ love for each other belongs to them as adults in a growing, cultural life beyond the family. Children deserve to appreciate that a rich and aspiring sense of love is the origin of parenting, not that parenting is the nature of love. True romance, for example, isn’t about prep for parenting as soon as possible. Human being, human feeling, has so much more potential than what can be appropriately brought to parental love.

Parenting properly fades into support for broad-based teaching as well-attuned home/school partnership. For love’s part, children eventually need to see, as teens, that love can be Love—Something Grand in our humanity—to my mind, a love for culturally rich growth that is lifelong. Children need to believe in great ideas and feelings that draw us into wonderful flights of aspiration for richly meaningful lives that stay so, into decades beyond the family. They need to discover that their school’s world is already always part of home. Therefore, a child deserves to have idealizations sustained into adolescent ideals sustained into adult ideals that help sustain a flourishing love of life across the decades. Thus, the ultimate basis of parenting belongs to an educational sense of life’s potential that children grow into, their own way, but find exemplified at home (at least as greatly loving support for a child’s education).


PLAY FOR LIFE

Let there be plenty of fun in the world. If life isn’t fun enough, do whatever you have to do to keep enough fun in life. However much a child freely grows into a parent’s idealizations (or not), there should be plenty of parental play—plenty of lovely imagination—for a child to selectively love.

That begs the issue of the persons we are in the first place, before parenting—how life may grow well before parenting, such that imagination and play are easy and rich. Since young adults should hope and play to become richly interesting persons and richly explore senses of living well for a “long time” before parenting, it’s a gift to them to discover their parents as the adults that they are (were), loving that their children have become admirable adults in their own way. The beings we are at best, which backgrounds parenting, may be known by the beings that the children are becoming as together kindred adults who have loved life and love life in an equally-shared world. This prospect is luscious for adult children. So, a parent should want to stay (or become) the fascinating adult that their children gradually grow to meet, by staying or becoming the lover of life that journeys on, after the children are on their own. The modeling never ceases, as parents show their ways of moving on.


LOVE OF MIND

I have a lot to say later about growing up, for my part steeped in conceptual interests, especially as perspective on self formation, rather than parenting of that (which has been condensely brief here, relative to parenting early childhood, to emphasize an appreciation of self formation as not something ex nihilo). Ultimately, I pursue growing up (and conceptual interests) as a “writer” rather than theorist (let alone professional advisor on parenting). But I’m too philosophical, too in love with concepts, to care much for genric (genre-ic?) boundaries. I will write what I choose about the lovely venture of making a life, including growing up, never finishing with juicy questioning, like:

  1. What is the so-called “nature” of “the” Self? How does Self (being) constitute identity?
  2. If mind is not primordially linguistic, what is intelligence as such? (I may be way up the road before I dwell online with this question, which involves question 9 below.)
  3. How does purposiveness work to gather ephemeral aims into the weave of a well-formed life?
  4. How do chances for fullness of feeling and expressed feeling generate capability for empathy which may generate an ethic of interpersonal care for maturing conscience?
  5. What’s a very good way to understand the relationship between fruitful spontaneity and reliable conscientiousness?
  6. I’m not individualistic, but I’m vehemently against sociocentrism. What’s a very good way to understand psychocentrism (or complex Self understanding) that keeps fidelity to our shared interest in enhancing our humanity?
  7. Cognitive development makes itself; I’m a so-called “constructivist.” What’s a very good way to understand a difference between accomodative (or active) constructiveness that prevails over assimilation of the given (or passive constructivism, so common in developmental and educational psychology)?
  8. What’s a very good way to understand the great drama of Self and personality in adolescence, as they’re on their way, at best, to a prevailing sense of Purpose for the long-term of their lives?
  9. Individuation is multimodal, relative to the manifold character of intelligence and the kinds of interpersonal relations that one grows into. What’s a very good way to understand a richness of individuation?
  10. Self identity, I will argue, is not the same as a feeling for the aggregate of interpersonal relations in one’s life. What’s a very good way to understand identity that deeply appreciates interpersonal life, while also deeply appreciating itself across the lifespan?
  11. Depth of feeling belongs to being fully human. What’s a very good way of appreciating an art of being human?
  12. How best may we understand our shared humanity as possibly integral to each Self identity?

 

   
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  Be fair. © 2017, gary e. davis