Many, perhaps most, children reach a point often in adolescence when they feel that parents are an embarrassment, even an unnecessary burden. While there are, indeed, some perfectly capable and independent teenagers, most children require parents. When humans are very young, they need them not only to nurture and socialize them, but to keep them alive.
For those of you who have never seen other animals birthing, the differences might seem quite astounding. For example, within minutes of birth, a baby horse (a foal) can stand. Minutes later, it can walk and run.
The human newborn, by sharp contrast, in born into a state of comparatively long-term near total dependence. It cannot crawl for many moths nor walk until somewhere around a year. Without the protection of a human caretaker, the human infant would quickly perish.
There are many explanations for this and most are valid. The human being certainly has a lot more complexities to its development than do most other creatures. These complexities (physical, emotional and intellectual) understandably require a longer period of time to form and be usable. Thus, the human infant remains heavily dependent, to one degree or another, for many years. For all animals, parents give life. For humans, they protect and help ensure it long after birthing is over.
Human babies are born with astounding potentials. Of course, these potentials are influenced and limited by biogenetic factors that are delivered installed at birth. The degree to which these potentials are realized has quite a lot to do with the quality of the parenting that the child receives.
Human babies do not spring into the world as civilized creatures. Quite the contrary is the case. The newborn is actually, at the outset, the uniquely human version of a wild animal. What we call ‘˜knowledge’ they do not yet have any of. The things we know to be socially appropriate are beyond their awareness or interest. Anyone who has ever had a baby knows that their drives are quite simple. They must eat, sleep and be kept comfortably soothed.
That’s where it starts. With no parent/parenting person immediately available, the human baby would starve because it cannot feed itself. It would perish on the spot it was born because it cannot ambulate from one place to another unassisted. It might cry, but as we all learn, crying doesn’t solve problems.
Human babies need parents firstly, then, to help assure their very survival. After that and throughout the phase of life we have dubbed ‘˜childhood,’ parents remain necessary as teachers, supporters and sources of love and nurturance.
Although it sounds kind of strange, as Dr. Thomas Phelan has pointed out in his well-known parenting program, “1,2,3 Magic”, parents of young children may do well to think of themselves as “wild animal trainers.”
Past early childhood, the parent’s role does not vanish but does change. As a child acquires more skills, the focus of the parenting needs shift to give the child the opportunity to work on and strengthen their gains while shifting to whatever it is that comes next. If this does not happen, continuing over-dependence of the child can become problematic.
Ultimately, at the tail-end of childhood, late adolescence, the role of the parent has often shifted from trainer and primary care-giver to consultant and supporter. As our children approach their own adulthoods, the control parents once had has usually and normally diminished proportionately.
If parents have done their jobs well, what was once control has been replaced with some influence. While our children are always our children, they do not remain children developmentally and good parents understand and respect that.
Although children go through phases where they feel embarrassed by their parents or really don’t see the need for them, the role of the parents is indispensable to the perpetuation of human civilization.
Children need parents for many reasons starting with sheer, basic survival. From there, though they may take many different forms, the needs parents fill continue throughout childhood.