31 January 2005

Single...With Children: The "Trickle Down" Effect

Single with Children: What happens 'upstream' affects us all

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 08/28/02

A few days ago, I was visiting an aquarium, and a friend of mine pointed out a plaque that said something incredibly profound with implications beyond ecological considerations, which are, without question, extremely essential.

The message on the sign was this: "We All Live Downstream From Ourselves." If one wraps this message around the context of raising children, "trickle-down effect" takes on a whole new meaning. Aren't we all affected by what happens "upstream?"

Of course, in the aquarium, the sign focused on what we put back into the earth and its effect on everything the Earth gives birth to and sustains. But if you think about it, the same principles can be applied to parenting.

In the wild, as the aquarium pointed out, animals and plants are truly at the mercy of every single one of our human manipulations. Many times they adapt and somehow manage to thrive. But every now and then toxins, factory-produced waste and human carelessness can sully the ecosystem so much so that some of these animals and plants can neither develop normally nor maintain life.

Whether you're a one- or two-parent family, life can get hectic, overwhelming and downright crazy at times. Controlled (hopefully) chaos. I think that becomes apparent on the first day you bring a new baby home. And, as far as I can tell, it never stops.

In families, a different kind of poisoning of the interpersonal variety can occur, and the consequences can be life-altering in a most negative way. I'm talking about things like an errant word about a former spouse; a harsh word spoken to tender, innocent ears; or becoming so busy with life that things fall through the nuclear family cracks that never, ever should.

If one is fortunate enough to have a vital network of extended family and friends, many times these precious people can pinch-hit when our dance card becomes too full or we physically shrink from exhaustion. Sometimes we can't change our schedules to make the Little League game or band concert. How vital it is that we have people in our lives who step in and make certain our children know they have someone special in the bleachers or audience who truly cares about the performance they have worked so hard to present.

Children need to be listened to, and attention needs to paid. So when we, as parents, can't be there every time, it's important that we try to find other folks in our children's lives who can make the time. Providing backup support prevents a negative experience. It still illustrates how much we care. The kind of support I speak of doesn't necessarily have to be a blood relative. Good friends can fill in nicely.

As our children grow, resilient as they may be, they are still products of everything we have "poured" into their environment. Mistakes will no doubt be made, and there are lessons in the mistakes as well as the victories. But it's extremely important to make certain that, overall, the familial environment we create and nurture them in is as free of negativity as possible.

Fortunately, many oversights and glitches can be remedied during the life of a child, but keeping home life as pristine and positive as possible should always be the goal. This also means that buying a ticket for a guilt trip when we fall short really does no one any good and usually exacerbates the situation.

The lives of our children are so very fragile, just like the biological environment in which we live. Unfortunately, parents aren't equipped with catalytic converters to filter out the inevitable emotional toxic waste that we all emit from time to time. In a sense, parents are the filter, the screen through which the positive gets separated from the negative. But unlike a machine, we all work from whatever issues are present in our own lives at any given time. Sometimes, we have to shut down, regroup and do a little self-maintenance.

We need to produce life-affirming, loving and secure emissions to head off the negative waste that might be occurring upstream at any given time. As our kids grow and become independent adults, we want to have provided as much groundwork and vigilance as possible so that whatever comes flowing down from just up the stream will only enhance their lives.

We truly do all live downstream from ourselves. Every action, every word, every situation that might occur in the lives of our families today will have an important impact at some point in the future. Let's give our children fewer reasons to have to employ any more adaptation than is necessary. It makes our job as parental filters so much easier if we simply think about the future impact of today.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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