It can be overwhelming to think through all the things our kids needs. This is a guide for knowing where to start.
This weekend, I went to a quick parenting seminar at a local church. It was put on by a children’s counseling center in our city, and it felt like getting a good emotional and mental boost as a parent, therapist, and writer.
I caught myself at one point looking around the room. There were a few faces I recognized and several I did not, but it struck me in that moment that we were all there hoping and wishing for the exact same thing – all the best for our children.
Mostly, that’s pretty much where we all fall as parents, right? We hope our kids reach their full potential in life and we want to do what we can to help them get there.
So, I have been thinking lately about this one question: what’s in the way?
Sure, there are hundreds of theories on that, but there is this one I remember learning in basic psychology classes that has been taught for the last 75 years and still rings true today.
It’s called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Abraham Maslow was a psychologist back in the 1940s who created this theory that builds on itself for what we all need in order to reach our full potential.
It looks like this:
So, before I get too college professor sounding on you, let’s break it down a little.
First, I told you why it’s important – because we all want our kids to reach their full potential!
Next, let’s talk about how to conceptualize it.
You read it from top to bottom, basically. So, the bottom needs are fundamental before you can reach the top. Pretty simple, right?
A little visual that helps me… it’s kind of like building a house.
Right now at my house, we are doing a renovation on our back porch. It’s been a bit of a zoo and a little stressful, considering no one at my house has experience in the construction world. So, naturally, we called a contractor to come check it out for us.
Our end goal is to have a space for dining, a beautiful sunroom type porch with loads of natural light, shiplap walls, lovely fixtures, and space to rest, eat, and play with our family and friends.
Did we start by asking our contractor what we should serve for our first dinner party on that back porch and what music should be playing and how to host well and what to hang on the wall? Of course not.
Where did we start instead? The foundation, of course. (Way less fun, way more boring, but necessary and essential for the safety and growth of these porch dreams we have.)
We asked things like: Is the foundation secure? Can it hold us up, keep us safe, get us to the next step? Are the beams set in concrete well? And so on.
That’s like the basic needs at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. Without the food and water, warmth and rest, it is awfully challenging to keep moving up the pyramid.
Thankfully for us, the foundation of our back porch checked out. It’s secure. Those needs are met. We can move on up to the next thing.
So, in the next couple weeks, there will be builders who come out to frame the porch. Without the framing, we won’t have walls to insulate or spaces to hang lighting or decor.
Then the roof will follow shortly, the insulation, the walls, the flooring, and so on. It’s a process that builds on itself. While I am personally most interested in getting to that end result, getting to where our porch reaches its full potential for serving our family and friends and being the dreamy space I think it can be, we can’t get there by skipping the first several steps.
So, it is for us as human beings and so it is for our children.
It is way more fun to think about our kids being all they could be, reaching creative dreams, soaring through life on the wings we have so helpfully given them.
We have to start by making sure they are fed and resting. Then, we have to make sure the space is safe for them – not just physically but emotionally.
By this I mean, are your kids living in a place where they can safely express their needs and not be belittled or have eyes rolled at them or get yelled at for making childish mistakes?
I know this seems simple. The last thing I want to do is patronize or shame you either. It’s unfortunate but true that this is something that has to be greatly considered in the space in and around a divorce.
What I am not saying: you have to do this perfectly. You cannot miss a step. This is an all or none thing.
No, not at all. In fact, the creator of this psychological tool said instead that this is a chart where the needs are to be “more or less satisfied.” By that he means, mostly satisfied, mostly complete. (And I would add – you will probably cycle back reinforcing those foundational things just like I will keep watch and reinforce my back porch over time.)
So, what do you do with this chart and my thoughts on a random week day when it appears in your inbox or you have pulled it up on your laptop at work?
My hope is simply that you slow down and think about your sons or daughters. Then maybe think through a few of these questions.
- Are my children in a place where their basic needs are being met at my house?
- What about the other parent’s house?
- Are my children safe physically? Are both homes free of abuse and neglect?
- What about emotionally? Can they express needs safely without fear of shame, belittlement, sarcasm, or more?
- Do my children seem to feel as though they belong with us? Am I nurturing a space where they could feel that?
- Do they act as though they feel loved?
- How are their intimate relationships? With us as parents, with their siblings, with their extended family and friends?
- How is my son or daughter’s self esteem? Do they know we feel proud of them? Do we act as though we are? Are they proud of themselves too?
- When was the last time we praised them for their accomplishments or actions?
You will notice those go in order from the foundation up. That is intentional, of course. Remember: the porch will not stand if the beams are not secure and the dinner party will not be warm without the insulation in the walls.
Once you have thought through a few of those questions and answered them – maybe in your mind, maybe with your child’s other parent, maybe in a journal or with a friend – then spend a little time daydreaming about the potential you believe your child has.
What is it you hope they become? What is it they hope for themselves?
As parents, we have such a beautiful and unique role of championing our child’s hopes and dreams. Sometimes, we can even see things in them they cannot yet see in themselves. With time, love, attention, and needs met along the way, we will hopefully get to sit back and watch as those hopes and dreams take flight.
Take heart, my friend. It is possible. Even after divorce. Your children can still reach their full potential. I believe, with a little help along the way, you can and will still get to be their biggest cheerleaders and encouragement as they soar the heights.
It is a great joy of mine to get to encourage you on this journey and do the same in my own home with my children too.
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