Introduction by Kevin
What does it mean to cherish our kids? Many parents, including dads like myself sometimes tend to get so wrapped up with work and careers, that we sometimes forget how much our kids need us. Perhaps one of the greatest days in my life was when my son was born. I was so happy and overwelmed my hands shook a little and my voice quivered a bit as I held him for the first time. For me, when I get busy, or frustrated, I think of this. What it does for me is to put everything back in prospective. It helps me find the time, or become less frustrated around my kids. Jobs and problems will come and go, but family is forever, and that is what is most important. Pam Leo in this article helps remind us how much our kids need us, and how important it is to let them know how much they are truely loved.
"Shower the people you love with love."
– James Taylor
Cherishing Our Children by Pam Leo
What does it mean to cherish our children? I don’t think I’ve even heard the word cherish used since the days when it was the title of a popular song. The admonition not to spoil children has been part of our parenting culture for so long that most parents are reluctant to shower love abundantly on their children for fear of spoiling them. Cherishing our children does not mean buying them everything, giving them anything they want, letting them do anything they want or not teaching them acceptable behavior. That would be spoiling them. The word, cherish, as defined in my dictionary means: to hold dear; feel or show love for; to take good care of; protect. Tender, loving care is the foundation of cherishing children.
Children thrive when they are given abundant attention, affection, acceptance, appreciation, respect and unconditional love. It’s true that all children need at least one person "who thinks the sun rises and sets on them." No matter how much we adore our children, there will still be times when we are impatient with them, get angry with them, and don’t meet their needs. Children are much more resilient in those times if they have a reservoir filled with feeling unconditionally loved, respected, valued and cherished. Parents who complete my "Meeting the Needs of Children" series keep asking me, "What’s next? Is there another level of classes?" In response to this feedback, I am creating a new class called "Cherishing Our Children." As parents we are often so busy and so focused on all the things we have to do to care for children that we don’t do enough of the things that really show our children how much we love them. This class will focus on ways of being with children that communicate to them that they are welcome, wanted, unconditionally loved, respected, honored, valued and cherished.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States. We have a long way to go to transform our country into one that not only protects but also welcomes and cherishes children. There are many organizations working to end the abuse and neglect of children. Appropriately, most of their work is devoted to educating and supporting parents and care givers in more nurturing treatment of the children in their care. However, the nurturing of children is not only the job of parents and care givers. Children do not grow up only in families. They are part of our community. Whether we have children or not, everyone can make a difference in the lives of children. Children need to feel welcome, wanted, respected and valued in their community as well as in their family.
Think of all the places in the community that parents and care givers go with children. With the exception of those businesses designed specifically to care for or entertain children, most public places are not very welcoming to children or to parents accompanied by children. How stressful it is when your child has to "go" and you find that you are in a public place has no "public" bathroom? How stressful is it to go places with children where there is nothing for children to do but wait while parents do what they need to do? Children’s behavior is very much affected by how they are treated. Children know right away if they are welcome when they enter an environment. What a difference it would make if public places were more child-friendly. Happy children behave better than unhappy children do. Less stressed parents parent better than more stressed parents.
A child-friendly environment is one that respects, honors and accommodates the needs of children and their parents. Imagine a world where any place you go with your children, there are public bathrooms and both men’s and ladies’ rooms have changing tables. Imagine quiet corners where you can nurse your baby or where tired parents and children can have re-group time with a storybook and a healthy snack. Imagine designated parking places for pregnant or new mothers and special check out lines for people shopping with young children. Imagine that everywhere you go with your children they are warmly greeted and welcomed to play in their children’s area while you do your banking, get a prescription, pay a bill, etc. This is what a child-friendly world would look like. For an even better description of a child-friendly culture read the article on Sweden’s Family Friendly Society in the Nov/Dec 2001 issue of Mothering Magazine. I want to live in a child-friendly community. Don’t you?
Through my work with the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children (www.aTLC.org) I have become aware of many individuals and organizations working to improve the way children are treated and cared for in our culture. One organization that I am very excited about is the Child-Friendly Initiative. This grassroots, nonprofit organization is working to help families and communities promote "a welcoming attitude towards children in public places." The Child-Friendly Initiative has created criteria for their Child-Friendly Seal of Approval. Businesses and other public places that meet these criteria can apply for or be nominated for the CFI Seal of Approval. Once approved they will receive the Child-Friendly decal to display and will be listed in CFI database on their web site, www.childfriendly.org where parents can look to find child-friendly establishments to patronize in their community.
When I went to the Child-Friendly Initiative web site database to see what child-friendly places we have in Maine there were none listed. Since I personally know of some very child-friendly businesses here in Maine I questioned why they were not listed. Michele Mason, founder of the Child-Friendly Initiative, explained to me that CFI is a volunteer organization and volunteers are needed to start local CFI chapters in communities in each state. Maine needs volunteers to nominate child-friendly businesses and facilities for the CFI Seal of Approval and to support those who are willing to meet the criteria to become approved as child-friendly.
It is not difficult or expensive for any business or public facility to meet the Child-Friendly criteria. Our children need to be cherished by their families AND by their communities. Each of us can approach at least one business or public facility that we patronize and tell them that we would like to nominate them for the Child-Friendly Seal of Approval and ask them what we could help them do to meet the criteria. If you are already a child-friendly business or facility you can now be recognized and publicized on the CFI database. Creating child-friendly communities becomes a win-win for everyone. Parents, the majority of consumers, are far more likely to patronize businesses they know are child-friendly. Children who grow up being valued and respected by their community are far more likely to value and respect their community.
We can all play a part in cherishing our children. Parent & Family Paper has agreed to support creating child-friendly communities by providing space in each issue to acknowledge and appreciate those businesses and facilities that gain the Child-Friendly Seal of Approval. I will support parents in cherishing children in the family by offering the "Cherishing Our Children" parenting workshop. Every person who reads this article can cherish children by getting even one place to become approved as child-friendly. If those who have family and friends in other states and other countries will enroll them in creating child-friendly communities we will soon have a child-friendly world.
Now more than ever our children need a child-friendly world. Now more than ever our children need to be cherished. Now more than ever our world needs every person on the planet to do his or her part. When everyone does a little we can accomplish a lot. If you have children, work with children or care about anyone who does, please get involved in this effort. Let’s make "Maine, the way life should be" as true for our children as it is for our visitors. Let’s make Maine a child-friendly state and lead the nation in becoming a country that protects, honors, respects and cherishes our children.
Pam Leo is an independent scholar in human development, a parent educator, a certified childbirth educator, a doula, a parent, and a grandparent. "My passion to learn how to support optimal human development grew into a mission to share all I had learned. In addition to teaching my classes, I have been sharing this information through my "Empowered Parents" column in the Parent & Family paper here in Maine since 1994". You may visit her at http://www.connectionparenting.com/
"I can think of no work more worthy of my time, energy, resources and love."
© 1989-2003 by Pam Leo, PLP & Company
reprinted by Mor4kids with permission