It’s funny what kids remember about their childhood. I have a very clear memory of a day when I was maybe seven or eight years old. I walked into my dad’s study, where he was working. As he always did when I entered the room, my dad stopped working, looked up, and instantly gave me his full attention. I have such a clear memory of the way he always looked at me, like he was just so happy to see me, as if my mere presence was a gift. I could see it in his eyes. That was how I knew that he loved me.
The certainty of that love carried me through many difficult moments. No matter who bullied me in elementary school, who excluded me in middle school, or who broke up with me in high school, I could always count on feeling loved. I could always see it in my dad’s eyes. He was (and still is) a great dad in countless ways, but no other actions, no words of wisdom, and certainly no material gifts have ever come close to the confidence and security I have felt from that look in his eyes.
Now, 30 years later, I’m the parent. I’m the one who is busily trying to juggle my career, my marriage, three kids, and volunteer work. I’m the one – I admit it! – who is kind of addicted to checking my email and answering text messages. Life is hectic and there are so many demands on my time. But I learned from my dad to always stop what I’m doing, give my kids my full attention, and to make sure that they see my eyes light up when they walk into the room.
I hope that the look in my eyes comes close to conveying to them that they are completely loved. I know that the look in my eyes can make our home a safe haven for them. When they eventually leave home and (hopefully) call me once in a while, I will do everything I can to make sure they hear it in my voice, just as I now hear the love in my dad’s voice, every time we speak.
We are all just inundated with parenting advice these days. I read parenting books all the time and can be somewhat obsessive about making sure I’m being the best parent I can be. Sometimes I need to slow down and remind myself that being the best parent I can be mostly comes down to making sure that my eyes light up when I see my kids, making sure that they know for certain that they are loved. My dad continues to give that gift to me, and I am grateful to have learned from him how to pass that on to my own children.
Donna Henderson, Psy.D. is a neuropsychologist/detective with The Stixrud Group. She works with wonderful people who are struggling in some area of their lives to figure out why and to help them do better. She has loved doing neuropsychological evaluations for over 25 years.
Do you need help with your child? Sarah Wayland can help you figure out how to support your child via classes, Special Needs Care Navigation services, Parent Coaching, or as your certified Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) consultant.