Reclaim Your Role as Your Child’s Primary Influence—Part 1

Filed under Estate Planning, Estate Planning Blog, Family, Family Values, Parents | By

If you haven’t heard of Dr. Gabor Maté, I’d like to introduce you. Maté combines the latest scientific research with his own 20 years of experience as a family physician to empower parents to earn back their children’s love and loyalty if that connection has eroded.

In numerous presentations, interviews, and the book Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, Maté explains the causes of this disconnect and describes how parents can reclaim their role as their children’s primary mentors and role models.

Maté posits that the main reason for children’s detachment is due to a growing lack of intimacy in the parent-child relationship. The foundation for parenting is centered around what developmental psychologists call an attachment relationship. An attachment relationship is based on children’s innate desire to connect with and belong to their parents.

This attachment forms the entire context for child rearing, and even the best parenting skills in the world can’t compensate for a lack of such a connection.

“The secret of parenting is not in what a parent does, but rather who the parent is to a child,” says Maté. “When a child seeks contact and closeness with us, we become empowered as a nurturer, a comforter, a guide, a model, a teacher, or a coach.” 

A relational, not a behavioral issue
As long as the child desires to stay attached—emotionally connected and close—a deep sense of psychological intimacy will naturally arise. Above all else, this bond sets the stage for the parent to be the primary source of influence over the child’s identity, values, and personality.

“People think parenting comes from their responsibility, strength, and wisdom, but it doesn’t come from that,” says Maté. “It comes from the desire of the child to belong to you.”

Children who lack this connection with their parents or primary caregivers become extremely difficult to raise and even teach. Given this, Maté stresses the fundamental goal for parents is to ensure that their children want to connect and have a close relationship with them. This does not mean just giving your children whatever they want, but instead giving them what they likely need most—more time and connection with you.

“The starting point and primary goal in all of our connections with children ought to be the relationship itself, not conduct or behavior,” notes Maté.

Kids raising kids
Children will always try to distance themselves from their parents as a natural way of exerting their independence, and parents have traditionally remained their primary source of influence. What’s changed, according to Maté, is that in recent decades, a mix of social, economic, and cultural changes have seriously eroded parents’ ability to remain the chief-orienting influence in their children’s lives.

“Children’s attachments to parents are no longer getting the support required from culture and society,” says Maté. “It’s not a lack of love or parenting know-how, but the erosion of the attachment context that makes our parenting ineffective.”

For a variety of reasons, often centered around economics, many parents are no longer able to provide the level of attention and intimacy needed for the relationship with their kids to remain healthy and strong. And because children have a deep-seated psychological need for such attachment, they seek out another source to fill this void.

“They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from us,” says Maté. “Instead, children are being brought up by other immature children who cannot possibly guide them to maturity.”

Dire consequences
Maté notes that it’s perfectly normal and healthy for children to have close relationships with their peers. The problem arises when these relationships supersede the ones they have with their parents.

For many children today, peers have replaced parents as the most influential force in creating the core of their personalities. When children look to other children to serve as their role models and mentors, this can have dramatic effects on their psychological development. And as we’ll see in part two, in the worst cases, can destroy the legacy parents want to build and leave for their children.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,