Often our first thoughts are, “How am I damaging my child?” “What irreparable harm have I caused by this action?” ” What’s the one right thing to do?” We picture our child in twenty years on a therapist’s couch or in a support group complaining bitterly about us or — with a little imagination — exposing to millions our toxic parenting on some “Donahue ” of the future. With all these concerns, parents are in danger of becoming parent-therapists, not parent-people; child-bearing technicians, not human beings. And the absolutely central fact that parenting is learning how to connect with kids is being lost.
Fortunately, when you get past all the “shoulds” and “should nots” in childrearing connecting is not such a complex and mysterious business. I think the same dynamic exists in all families where parents stay connected with thier children, and where children grow into healthy adults. regardless of age, economic group or whether the family is intact, the most successful parents I have met over the years have one thing in common: they attempt to provide for their children what I call an empathic envelope.
The empathic envelope is like a container around your kids and your family, a boundary between your family and the outside culture. Theoretically, as the parent, you are in charge of this container. It is made up of your values, your expectation, and your ways of being with your children. It is the feeling you get visiting someone else’s house and immediately experiencing the difference between your family and theirs: the values, the kind of language that is allowed, the habits and the rituals they have. Forget for a moment whether you agree or not — every family just feels different. And this differentness is a crucial fact of life for your children. It gives them a sense that they belong somewhere, that they are held by their parents in a safe and secure place: “This is my house, I know what to expect. I belong.”