Cultivating Resilience and Compassion in the 21st Century by Nurturing the Parents of Today

By Eluned Gold

‘A society that values its children should cherish their parents’ (Bowlby, 1951)

Parents today are under increasing pressure; from financial necessities and a culture which values achievement over connection. By now the choice to stay home with your children has pretty much been removed for many families due to economic necessity – when I was bringing up my children the choice to be a stay at home Mum was respected. I had the choice of part time work, I kept my connections with friends and with society by doing voluntary work and I had the freedom to be there for my kids when they needed me. 

I see this choice seriously eroded for the parents of today, not only from economic necessity, but also there seems to be a culture change – it is accepted that young mothers and fathers will work as well as doing the fulltime job of parenting. Successive governments have clamoured for young women to be in work and not a “burden on the state”. Paternity leave is now available but the take up has been extremely limited; we can only assume that the reason for this is fear for their careers and cultural pressure. 

But the reality is that kids need their parents, and parents need to spend time with their children. The longer that fathers spend with their babies in the early months, the more they see them in later life even if they split up from the mothers. For both Mothers and Fathers there are complex hormonal changes which occur during pregnancy and the early months, which incline us towards connection with one another and our children. The changes in women are well known, but fathers’ hormones also change during this time. Levels of Oxytocin (the hormone of love and connection) can almost double and there is a corresponding lowering of testosterone. Early studies also show increased activity in the areas of the brain associated with attachment, reward and complex decision making. Perhaps there are incentives for Fathers and employers to welcome paternity leave?

However, these important biological changes that prepare us for parenthood are easily derailed by stress and stress hormones. We know that stress decreases our availability for attuned contact and we know that good attuned connection is exactly what children need in their formative years. We are in a time when many of the people surrounding our children in their formative years are undergoing unprecedented stress. Parents teachers, social workers, therapists are all under pressure and there appears to have been little or no thought given to the psychological and cultural implications of having a country full of harassed and stressed parents and carers, and the potential impact on future generations. There is a need to understand how stress interferes with our capacity to care for our children and the importance of self-care in order to be available for meaningful connection particularly at times when our children are confused, stressed and distressed.

Young children learn their emotion regulation from their carers; when we attend to our own emotion regulation by acknowledging, observing and letting go we are better prepared to deal with the situation. When we are able to forgive ourselves for being less than perfect we are much more ready to apologise and show our kids that mistakes happen – people mess up and relationships can be repaired. Mindfulness and self-nurture are important qualities to cultivate in order to be more at ease with ourselves during the turbulence of life especially family life.

The Nurturing Parents – mindfulness-based wellbeing for parents 8-week programme (NP), seeks to make mindfulness accessible to busy and stressed parents. Here are some comments from parents who have attended the programme.

“From doing the NP course I have noticed more calmness and feeling less compulsive.”

“I’ve learned how to unhook from negative, unhelpful thought.”

“I’m more able to recognise stress and what pushes my buttons before it takes hold, and have a healthier more balanced view on life.”

We live in times when we are raising children who will know far more than we do. It is more important than ever that what children learn from their parents and in education, cultivates flexibility, relationships, connection as they will face challenges we can’t even begin to imagine. How can we pass on our wisdom to them and prepare them for a life lived with resilience and compassion?

Eluned Gold

Publication date: 12 June 2017