To have a strong start in life and ultimately thrive, all children everywhere need to have at least one loving, stable, responsive relationship with an adult. This attached, accessible and engaged parent/caregiver reads their infant’s cues to interpret what the child wants and needs, and responds consistently and appropriately – in other words, providing the child with responsive care.
It is something of the divine image that every person bears that draws us towards others. The triune God has existed eternally in loving community between Father, Son and Spirit. And that nature in each of us creates a deep need for connection and intimacy with others, starting at the very beginning of life.
All children need the essential building blocks of good health, adequate nutrition, protection from harm and opportunities for early learning. This best takes place in a relationship characterised as responsive caregiving.
Loving connections and responsive caregiving
In the last decade there has been an explosion of research that shows that the connection and engagement between parent and child is key. It is the enabler to giving a child what it needs to thrive. An attached, loving, responsive, accessible and engaged parent is vital for a baby’s brain development, and responsive parenting is what will enable a child to be nourished, played with, talked and read to, protected and nurtured.
But how is the primary caregiver doing? If a caregiver is struggling, they cannot provide responsive caregiving consistently to their children. Some of these risk factors and adversities include:
- Parents who do not have extended family around them to support them
- Parents who are in demanding work environments that keep them away from quality bonding time with their children
- Single parents who are trying to balance the immense demands on their time
- Families with babies that were planned, unplanned, conceived in love, and outside of it – and the impact that these factors have on acceptance by those around them
- Families in poverty, battling to find provision of daily needs, compounded by the adversity faced in accessing quality services
- Mothers who struggle with maternal depression – up to 1 in 3 mothers in South Africa – and an increasing occurrence of depression and anxiety in fathers
- Various factors contributing to only 8% of women who are managing to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of their child’s life
- Fathers who are not included in care roles and have disengaged from their families
- Parents who are not in supportive, caring relationships being isolated and disconnected
A mother or father who is not coping, who is facing multiple adversities and stressors, is unable to effectively respond to their child’s needs. And all of these have a negative impact on the child. So, this powerfully places the spotlight on the personal wellbeing of the parents – mother, father and other caregivers. We must pay close attention to the health, wellbeing and capacity of parents even as we care about the growth of the child.
All parents need support! They need people around them looking after them – ensuring their positive well-being and coping.
When parents are held in nurturing, caring, supportive communities, their wellbeing and coping mechanisms improve and they are enabled to provide nurturing, responsive caregiving to their child. All parents need encouragement, affirmation and access to the correct knowledge from a loving, supportive and caring community. They need to belong and to be connected into this kind of community to ensure their ability to provide responsive, nurturing care to their baby. And all children everywhere need nurturing, responsive care.
Families who feel connected to a community of a care and support – a modern day village – are far more empowered to be responsive parents. Parenting was not intended to be done alone, juggling all the demands of life. It was intended to be done within healthy, supportive relationships of care: within family and within community. It truly takes a village to raise a child. We believe that the ideal place for this kind of community is the local church. It is ideally positioned and equipped to be a supportive, loving and connecting larger family around families in the unique stage of the First Thousand Days.
The great opportunity in The First Thousand Days
Read how science explains what children need to thrive
Explore the unique challenges families face in this season
Read how the church is ideally positioned and equipped to be the village around a family
Caregivers and parents who feel connected to a community of care and support are more empowered to be responsive parents.