Several factors impact the parent-child relationship. While you cannot control all of these factors, you can learn about them and harness them to minimize negative effects and to maximize positive ones.
- Initial contact—Skin-to-skin contact and early care immediately after birth help you create a special bond with your baby right from the start.
- Your expectations for your baby—Did you have a preference regarding your baby’s gender? Do you have preconceived ideas of how a baby should behave? If you do have expectations for your baby, ask yourself if the fulfillment or lack of fulfillment of these expectations influences how you relate to your baby now.
- Your goals for your baby—Similarly, your hopes for your baby’s future can play a role in your behavior toward him today. Make sure that your behaviors are nonjudgmental and you are not pushing an agenda on him. Ideally, your behaviors encourage security, trust, self-confidence, and a healthy parent-child relationship.
- Medical concerns—Illness or other physical issues can influence the ways you and your baby relate to each other.
- Your confidence as a parent—Your feelings about caring for your baby can affect how you relate to him. If this is your first baby, it is normal to be unsure with him. If you are apprehensive, trust that your confidence in caring for him will grow and you will become more relaxed each day.
- Level and quality of support in your life—A support system of reliable people to help you care for your baby can decrease your level of stress and improve your relationship with your baby. When you take time for yourself, you recharge and become more present for parenting. In addition to providing you with periodic breaks, nonparental adults such as relatives, friends, and paid caregivers can build closer relationships for your baby. By serving as role models, companions, teachers, and guides to your child, they support your efforts as a parent.
- Financial challenges—Money worries can distract you and keep you from being fully present with and available for your baby. They can also increase the overall level of tension in the household.
- Your parental relationship history—Until your baby was born, the only parent-child relationship you knew intimately was the one you had with your parents. It is usual for new parents to repeat their experiences in an automatic, habitual way. However, after reflecting on your experiences with your parents and examining this foundational relationship in your life, you can decide to use the good aspects of your parents’ techniques while choosing not to repeat techniques that did not work for you as a child. Then you can begin to parent proactively and intentionally.
- Your relationship with your spouse—Your baby can sense whether your family is supportive of each other and if there is tension or friction between you. This dynamic will color his relationship with both of you.
- Parental absence or presence—If you are away from your baby for significant periods due to work travel or military deployment, it may be difficult to develop a strong bond, but it is not impossible if you are intentional about it. Regardless, the fact that you are not with your child every day affects your relationship. If, on the other hand, you are the parent at home full-time and interacting with your baby each day while your spouse is absent, your parent-child bond may become tighter than normal. You may consider ways to maintain an open emotional space for the other parent when he or she does return to the family.
- Parenting style—Your perspective on the task of parenting naturally has a huge impact on how your child relates to you and thus the health and strength of your relationship. The parenting styles listed below refer to the broad overall pattern of relating, rather than a single act. They grew out of the work of Diana Baumrind, PhD, a clinical and developmental psychologist, and her colleagues.
Authoritarian: Extremely strict and controlling. Stresses obedience with minimal affection.
Authoritative: Firm with kindness, warmth, and love. Reasons with children and listens to their point of view. Sets limits and relies on natural consequences for learning. Most parents today are authoritative, which tends to be healthiest for both parents and babies.
Permissive: Indulgent, accepting. Values the child’s expression. Does not exert control.
Neglecting: Uninvolved, unavailable. Demands and responds minimally. Extreme cases involve neglect and rejection.
- Parental roles—If the traditional parent and child roles are reversed, if a parent is absent, or if the makeup of the family is nontraditional, a child still needs someone to play the mother role and someone to play the father role (or one parent to play both). Traditionally, the mother’s role is to support your child’s inner perimeter by providing nourishment, love, care, and emotional protection. The other role—traditionally the father’s role—is to provide support, protection, guidance, and strength for your child’s outer perimeter of development. This role involves providing a presence to make your baby feel that his material and physical needs are taken care of and he is safe and secure. It also encourages him to go out into the world with a sense of adventure.
- Culture—Customs, traditions, family expectations, religion, race, and ethnic background influence your relationship with your child. You can build the healthiest possible relationship by reflecting on your experiences as a child and being intentional about integrating into your parenting certain parts of your culture.
- Your child’s temperament, personality, and behavior—If your child is compliant and obedient, you naturally respond with a gentler way of communicating. If he is defiant and oppositional, you may react with a firmer style. You influence your child’s behavior, and he influences yours. You may think that you are the sole cause of everything your child does, but many aspects of his temperament and personality come from inside him, not you. You are participating in a two-way relationship in which you influence each other.
The interactions of these factors, as well as many others, add dimensions to the unique relationship between you and your child.