My Jake turned seven last week. We happened to be away on holiday with extended family on the day of his birthday so he had a particularly good day – an outing to our national aquarium, lots of play time with his cousins, plenty of adults to fuss over him and a large birthday cake to share with everyone (chocolate, of course).
As I celebrated Jake’s birthday with him, I marveled at him – how he has changed so dramatically from a dependent newborn to the capable, unique boy that he is now. But, at the same time, a sense of panic crept in – What if I haven’t made the most of that 7 year window all the developmental experts talk about?
Have you heard of this window?
I like to listen to parenting segments on the radio and on podcasts. During my hours of listening, I have heard various experts describe the exponential development that takes place during the first seven years of a child’s life. It often gets referred to as a seven-year “window” in which we can set our children up for life. If their first seven years are rich in in the right kinds of experiences, it hard-wires a child’s brain for a positive future in so many ways. Aristotle seemed to understand this instinctively –
“Give me the child until he is seven and I will show you the man”. – Aristotle
Jake is our eldest. Every new stage in his development has been a new stage for my husband and I also. Jake has essentially been the subject of our well-intended parenting experiments & mistakes and he will be all the way through. What if I’ve accidentally hard-wired him in negative ways that will create struggle for him rather than empower him?
When Jake was a newborn, I felt totally out of my depth and, as is the case for many first-time parents, everything that was required of me as a mother had to be learned from scratch. Looking back, I wonder, was I responsive enough to his newborn needs? When he was four, did I handle that bullying situation at kindy in the best way? I probably should be reading to him more than I have been recently… Then, there’s this –
A few weeks ago, I was in a low spot myself- tired and anxious. One morning, when Jake and Thomas were being particularly uncooperative, I unexpectedly exploded. I thought I had my anger under control but it just burst out in a roaring, swearing rage. It was a brief episode but it was ugly and probably quite terrifying for my boys. The first thought I had immediately afterwards was, “I can’t take that back! Nothing I say will delete the memory of that moment from their minds”. I paniced. Will they now always think of me as unpredictable and untrustworthy?
MOVING PAST THE 7 YEAR WINDOW
As a soulful parent, this 7-year window has me thinking particularly about how Jake sees himself and the world. Have I hardwired him to value & trust himself, others and Life? We are most at peace and powerful when our thinking is aligned with the truth that we are all valuable and in this together. But I feel that there are many important ideas related to this that I haven’t addressed much in my parenting yet. Take self-compassion, for example. I’m only learning how to extend it to myself now, at 40, and have just started thinking recently about I can pass it on to my boys.
The deeper I get into parenting and really understanding what it’s all about, the more I realise that it is as much about my own development as it about my boys’. And now, after my raging outburst and with all the mistakes and oversights of the past seven years behind me, I have the opportunity to learn more about how to forgive myself. The other alternative is to stew over my errors and inadequacies – but what sort of parent will I be going forward if I do that?
I think it’s a rite of passage in the human experience – recognising patterns formed in childhood that are of no use or hold us back. For myself, I can see the self-doubt and insignificance I felt as a child lurking in my thoughts now and am learning how to notice them without giving them power. I don’t think I’ve met one person without some childhood pain to resolve. We’re all messing our children up, while also doing lots of great things.
What about giving ourselves credit for all that we have done well? I’m quite fond of the 80/20 rule – if we get things “right” for our kids 80% of the time, it’ll minimise the impact of the 20% when we’re tired, overwhelmed or haven’t a clue what to do. And then there’s this…
This 7-year window has passed but I am not about to stop parenting! Despite the particular significance of the early years to brain development, human brains are malleable. Here’s the evidence – I know a lot more now than I did at 7 – we never stop learning; when a person suffers damage to their brain, perhaps through a medical incident such as a stroke, other parts of the brain often take over some of the function of the damaged area; activities such as meditation change the working of our brains too.
So, what we do as parents after our children turn 7 makes a difference, we haven’t missed our chance to set them up for positive lives. We can choose to change the way we’ve been doing things as a parent or to teach them something new, for example, and it will have an impact. One thing I want to do differently is to ease up on trying to teach my boys so much and focus more on validating who they are & where they’re at now to help them to connect with their inherent worth & their natural abilities to learn. I don’t believe my chance to do this for Jake is lost.
In our parenting, as with everything else, we cannot let our fear that we have done or are doing a bad job get the better of us. Being present and loving through all things, even our own mistakes, is far better for our children.
I once wrote a blog post called You Will Probably Mess Your Children Up, But It’s OK. I read back through it today and found it quite reassuring. It reminded me that we are divinely matched with our children, taking one another along the paths our souls need for growth. Our strengths and our weaknesses as parents both play a part in this. I was reminded that it’s ok to be human and I was prompted to acknowledge that, in any moment, I have done the best I could.
And, if 7-year-old Jake is a reflection of the man he’ll become, he’ll be a good one – optimistic, enthusiastic, friendly and wise. I have done some things right.
Much love to you and your little souls,
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