Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Caring Adult by Saralee Sky

All children need people outside the circle of their immediate family to care for them and teach them needed life skills. Someone outside the immediate family offers: an outside perspective, a break from family patterns or rivalries, special skills parents may not have, a kind of caring that is offered freely, not just because she is “Daddy’s little girl.” This kind of nurturing does not take the place of parental love. Rather it fills in the cracks and helps to round out a child’s development and character. Children need role models, mentors and support in addition to Mom or Dad.

Since my daughter-in-law became pregnant with my granddaughter, Crystal, five years ago, I have been involved with Crystal’s life. I went through the pregnancy with Jackie and my son, Gabe, going to all the doctor’s appointments at their request. They were very young and inexperienced, and looked to me for support as they made the transition to parenthood.

Gabe and I were present during the labor and delivery. Jackie gave birth with grace and strength and Gabe and I provided the support and caring she needed. I was very proud of them both. Since Crystal’s birth, they have grown into loving parents and surpassed my expectations time and again. Whenever they had a problem or question, they would turn to me for help, but they would always make their own decision and I have respected their right to do so.

Jackie returned to work when Crystal was six months old, working part-time for me at the Camp Fire office. She brought little Crystal with her and the rest of the staff would take “baby breaks” and help to care for Crystal while Jackie worked as our Camp Registrar. That job ended when Crystal was almost a year old, and Jackie soon found full-time work. I became the babysitter for Crystal whenever Gabe and Jackie were at work, caring for her both at my home and at my office. I have a great picture of her sitting at my desk at age two. I was lucky enough to be “the boss” and able to make the decision to allow children in the work place.

When Jackie gave birth to Jordan in April of 2003, I decided to leave my job at Camp Fire to work from home and help take care of Crystal and Jordan. Jackie returned to work when Jordan was three months old. She and Gabe both work full-time. They vary their schedules so that they only need childcare two to three days/week. I provide most of that care, with other grandparents chipping in from time to time.

My connection to Crystal and Jordan is very close. I take them special places like the Children’s Museum, different playgrounds and parks, the library. We bake cookies, do art projects, rake leaves, read books, play computer games. I provide the kind of attention and opportunities that a busy parent often does not have the time to provide. On the days I do not see them, I am likely to receive a call from Crystal. What a joy it is to hear, “Hi Nana!” when I answer the phone. Just what does this connection and caring mean to Crystal’s and Jordan’s development?

The Search Institute of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide leadership, knowledge, and resources to promote healthy children, youth, and communities. At the heart of the institute's work is the framework of 40 Developmental Assets, which are positive experiences and personal qualities that young people need to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible.

The Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets are concrete, common sense, positive experiences and qualities essential to raising successful young people. These assets have the power during critical adolescent years to influence choices young people make and help them become caring, responsible adults.

The Developmental Asset framework is categorized into two groups of twenty assets. External assets are the positive experiences young people receive from the world around them. These twenty assets are about supporting and empowering young people, about setting boundaries and expectations, and about positive and constructive use of young people's time. External assets identify important roles that families, schools, congregations, neighborhoods, and youth organizations can play in promoting healthy development.

The twenty internal assets identify those characteristics and behaviors that reflect positive internal growth and development of young people. These assets are about positive values and identities, social competencies, and commitment to learning. The internal Developmental Assets will help these young people make thoughtful and positive choices and, in turn, be better prepared for situations in life that challenge their inner strength and confidence.

One of the external Developmental Assets the Search Institute identifies is Other Adult Relationships. This is defined as, “children experience interactions and relationships with non-familial adults, including caregivers, relatives, older people, and community figures. These interactions are characterized by investment, enrichment, consistency, and caring.” I am such an adult in the lives of Crystal and Jordan. The Search Institute has codified what I have always known: children need people outside of their immediate family to be role models, supporters and mentors.

When I was a child I had my Hebrew School teacher, Mr. Palgon, as a role model. I loved the way he lived his deep faith and the way he was devoted to his own children and his wife. I loved being around his family and was sometimes invited to Sabbath dinner on Friday night. I also had my Uncle Sol and his wife, my Aunt Goldie. Uncle Sol was a Talmudic scholar and would often teach me about Jewish law and philosophy while sitting around his kitchen table. Aunt Goldie was a mother-figure for me, taking over that role when my own mother died when I was three.

Always in my life there have been people who materialized at just the right time to show me a way of being in the world, teach me a set of skills, or offer love and support. I am grateful for all of my teachers and mentors. I know that I am the person I have become – and am still becoming – in large part due to their influence and example.

All of my professional life I have worked for and with children. Babynut is my way of offering mentorship and support to young mothers and babies. I wish you all much joy and success as you negotiate the roles of parent and child. It is all about the journey and finding key people to help along the way.