“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.”
– Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Though Mother’s Day just passed, I am aware that I would not be celebrated as a mother if I didn’t have children. Today, one of my sons turns 5. For me, 5 is feeling take-my-breath-away BIG. As a clinical social worker specializing in children and families, my education, training, and professional experience has all hammered home just how critical that time between birth-5 really is.
Research shows that the foundation for healthy, lifelong development is established by age 5…. so that means today is the day. Gulp.
The work and leadership of pediatrician and child development expert, Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D., has offered the world incredible information and strategizing about the wonder and powerful influence of the environment in a child’s first 5 years. Dr. Shonkoff launched Frontiers of Innovation, a collaboration of researchers, practitioners, policymakers, investors and experts in systems change – to promote the development of more effective interventions for young children who experience unfortunate and unhealthy early experiences – such as poverty, substance abuse environments, abuse and neglect.
“The way in which a child’s brain develops during the early years, beginning before birth, provides the basis for all future learning, behavior and health. Positive early experiences help to strengthen developing biological systems, fostering children that are more likely to grow into healthy adults. To be successful, young children need to be enriched through stable, safe and supportive environments that offer adequate nutrition, positive relationships and rich learning opportunities,”
– Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.
Dr. Shonkoff served as Chair of the Board on Children, Youth, and Families and chaired a blue-ribbon committee that produced the landmark report, From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. He knows what he’s talking about.
From Neurons to Neighborhoods. That truly is what happens.
My son and I are at the end of these 5 critical foundation years. Did I do enough to prepare him for the next phase in life? I know the basics were covered. He is safe, loved, and adored by many. I have worked with numerous children who did not have their basic needs met during their early years. They lacked positive attention, nurturing, food, stability, and/or safety. As a result, the deck has been stacked against them. I feel very fortunate that I have had the knowledge, resources, health, and support to ensure that my boys will always have these needs met, and I feel content knowing that my family has succeeded in these areas.
What I wonder about is different. Was I patient enough? Should I have limited screen time more? Have I established a terrible eating habit of letting him have dessert every night? Should I have stayed home with him? Worked less? Has he been given enough “rich learning opportunities?” Has he been too sheltered? Did I do enough? Did I parent well-enough?
So ready or not, here we are at 5. As terrifying as it is to be at the end of Act 1: Birth-5, I very much look forward to the next chapter. Today I reflect back. His birth is my memory; my moment. Tomorrow we embrace the future!
Happy 5th Birthday to my beautiful boy! Happy Mother’s Day to me!
by Nathanna McGivney, LCSW
Regional Director- Cumberland County
Outpatient & Community Services