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Single Socks, Lost Umbrellas, New Year
Resolutions, & Birth Vows

Distributed 12/29/05 by The New York Times/Hearst News Service

By Allan Shedlin

‘Tis the season when memories of family holiday celebrations past tend to intrude and strip away the layers of concealment we have in place that prevent emotions from inconveniently derailing the hurtling forward momentum of our lives.


At this moment in history when many of us have to work a lot harder to maintain a sense of optimism, it would be opportune to seize this annual emotional ambush of memories to reconnect with the feelings they arouse. After all, these holiday flashbacks are often accompanied by a glimmering clarity about one of life’s greatest gifts – the unique opportunity for a loving connection between parents and their child. As parents remembering these holiday moments, we might also recollect the silent personal vows we have made to our children to always be there for them. Yet all too often those heartfelt vows have disappeared to a secret land of single socks and lost umbrellas.


After conducting thousands of hours of interviews with fathers and grandfathers in three countries, it is clear to me that this secret land of single socks and lost umbrellas is also inhabited by the silent vows that so many dads make after witnessing the birth of their children. Those birth moments are ones of dense emotion when new dads are often overwhelmed by an intensity of love they have never felt before. Men have confided to me that these feelings are often accompanied by an awareness of the vulnerability of their newborns and a beginning recognition of what an important role they have an opportunity to play in the lives of their child. Of course, very few of us have an inkling, at that moment, of the important role children can play in our own ongoing development as adults.


My interviews with dads and granddads followed hundreds of interviews I conducted with 5-21-year-old kids about the qualities they most sought in an excellent dad/parent. What is most remarkable about the qualities kids say they want in a parent, is that they coincide with the parental qualities dads say they most want to cultivate. And even more remarkable, these are the very same qualities that child development professionals identify as most needed in order for children to thrive.


As you make your New Year resolutions, it might be useful to review some of the parental qualities kids said they longed for. Above all, kids want their parents to: be there, really be there (kids often described what I call “AWOL Parents – parents who are absent without leaving); take them as seriously as they take themselves; respect them, even if they don’t agree with them; set fair and consistent limits; demonstrate a sense of humor; provide affection; trust them; offer recognition, and make known their unambiguous expectations.


Most of these wants can be achieved with modest effort. Once converted to New Year parenting resolutions, they must not be allowed to escape into the land of single socks and lost umbrellas throughout 2006… and beyond.

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