R. Brooks: The Power of Parenting
child. The late psychologist Julius Segal referred to that person as a “charismatic adult,” an adult from whom a child “gathers strength” (Segal, 1988). One must never underestimate the power of one person to redirect a child toward a more productive, successful, satisfying life.
Parents, keeping in mind the notion of a charismatic adult, might ask each evening, “Are my children stronger people because of the things I said or did today or are they less strong?” Certainly, Mr. Burton yelling at his son Michael when the latter had difficulty completing a radio kit or Mr. and Mrs. Carter questioning Sally each day if she had initiated conversations with classmates were actions that diminished their children’s emotional well-being. Neither Michael nor Sally was likely to gather strength when confronted with their parents’ statements and questions.
Unconditional love, which we will discuss in greater detail in the next guidepost, is an essential feature that charismatic adults bestow on children. If children are to develop a sense of security, self-worth, and self-dignity, they must have people in their lives who demonstrate love not because of something they accomplish but because of their very existence. When such love is absent, it is difficult to develop and fortify a resilient mindset.
When I have asked adults to recall a favorite occasion from their childhood when their parents served as a charismatic adult for them, one of the most common memories involved doing something pleasant and alone with the parent. One man described having his father’s “undivided attention.” He said, “My father really listened to me when
no one else was around and we could talk about anything. It was tougher to do when my older sister and younger brother were also there.”
Similarly, a woman said, “I loved bedtime when my mother or father read me a story. If my mother was reading to me, my father was reading to my brother. If my father was reading to me, my mother was reading to my brother.” With a smile, this woman added, “Don’t get me wrong, I loved my brother and I enjoyed when we did things as a family, but I think I felt closest to my parents when I did something alone with each. My husband and I do the same things with our kids today.”
The power of “special times,” poignantly captured in the words of this man and woman, are recalled by many adults. It is recommended that parents create these times in the lives of their children. Parents of young children might say, “When I read to you or play with you, it is so special that even if the phone rings I won’t answer it.” One young child said, “I know my parents love me. They let the answering machine answer calls when they are playing with me.”
When children know that they will have a time alone with each parent, it helps to lessen sibling rivalry and vying for the parent’s undivided attention. A parent of six children asked at a workshop, “Is it possible to create special moments with each child when you have six.” The answer is that it is more difficult with six than with two children in the household, but it is still possible. It requires more juggling, but if these times result in children feeling special in the eyes of their parents, the struggle to juggle one’s schedule is worth the effort. As Pinker (2002) advised, “If for no other reason, parents should treat their children well to allow them to grow up with such memories” (p. 399).
Children are very sensitive if a parent is not present at their birthday, at a holiday, at their first Little League game, or at a talent show. In today’s fast-paced world many parents work long hours and travel and thus, it is likely they may miss some of their children’s special moments, but these absences should be kept to a minimum. One adult