The August edition of “The Sun” magazine has a long and extremely stimulating interview with Gabor Maté. The whole interview is available in the print edition of “The Sun”. Selections can be viewed at http://www.thesunmagazine.org/issues/440/what_ails_us

I found Gabor Maté’s reflections on parenting particularly thoughtful and interesting. Some selections follow.

(nb: I am on holiday. So this is not a post. These are merely a few quotes I wanted to share with a number of people and this is a handy way to make these thoughts available.)

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Maté: The parent-child bond is our most important relationship; through it we experience the world. The child doesn’t experience poverty in the abstract; the child experiences whether the parents can provide for him or her. When a parent comes home stressed, the child experiences the parent’s emotions and, through them, the world that stresses the parent. The attachment relationship gives us our concept of the world: Is this place hostile? Is it friendly? Is it nurturing? Is it indifferent?

It’s also through the attachment relationship that we learn about relationships in general. Can people be trusted? Can we be vulnerable and express who we are, or are we going to be attacked for it? Do we need to protect ourselves and hide and shut down?

In the attachment relationship we also learn who we are: Are we good? Are we bad? Are we acceptable? Are we worthwhile? All of this depends not on what the parent thinks of us but on how the parent unconsciously acts toward us. If my parents enjoy me, then I’ll have good self-esteem. If my parents are so stressed and worried and depressed that they can’t enjoy me, even if they love me, then I will have low self-esteem, because children invariably make everything about themselves.

Frisch: Why don’t you advocate any particular set of parenting techniques?

Maté: Parenting is not about techniques. Parenting is about a relationship. You may read all the latest books, but if your relationship with your child is not well established because you’re too stressed, too busy, or too involved in your career, even the best techniques will not work.

In the context of a healthy relationship your proper parenting instincts will be triggered. When you’re with a baby, and the baby starts making big eyes at you and smiling, what’s your response? But when we are disconnected from our kids, because we haven’t been present enough in their lives, they don’t trigger our parenting instincts; they trigger our anxieties, our resistance, or our rage, and then we parent from those places.

The main trap parents fall into is thinking that this child is my child just because I am the biological parent. In the emotional sense the child is mine only if he or she is attached to me. In this society we tend to take that attachment for granted, but we can’t afford to do that. In older cultures parents used to be with their young children every hour of the day. In this society we often don’t see our kids for most of the day, so our status as parents is on shaky ground. When we’re not around, our kids tend to connect with people besides us, particularly other kids, who often supplant us as the primary figures in our children’s lives, even though we’re the caregivers and pro­viders. Children are looking for an emotional connection. When they find it in other kids, they’re less concerned with what we as parents expect or demand of them.

Frisch: But what about stay-at-home parents who find themselves starting to go stir-crazy when they’re with their child all day long?

Maté: Why do they go stir-crazy? Because they’re alone with the child in an isolated home. That’s not how people are meant to parent. We’re meant to parent in a community. Indigenous women don’t go stir-crazy. They’re out in the village, relating to other adults the whole day.