Tuesday, 13 September 2016

closeness without word - a few tips from dan svarre

Since our son moved in with us, four years ago, I have not stopped reading. Books about parenting, the brain, adoption & fostering, trauma and much more. While I have yet to read a single book where I agree with everything, there are certainly several books that have shifted my view. Books that have challenged, even provoked me. Books that have changed the way I parent. A great number of those books are from Scandinavia. To me they represent a HUGE gap in the literature in the English-speaking literature. Down to earth and practical books that do not talk down to us as parents. I am very tired of being talked down to. As an adoptive parent I have, and have had, a lot of professionals in my life, judging my parenting – be it positively or negatively. I know I am not alone in this experience of being judged. It comes with being an adoptive parent. It happens to us all. Before, during and – hopefully – after we become parents.

I gained a little more insight and inspiration recently, in finishing very good parenting book, in my mother tongue Danish. Dan Svarre’s Glade børn med højt selvværd – en forældreguide [Happy children with healthy self-worth – a guide for parents], Politikens Forlag 2008.

Many passages struck a cord with me. Especially, Svarre’s emphasis on the role of the parent, and the necessity for the parent to deal with their own childhood experiences. This is something I wholeheartedly believe in, and to some extend, something I was quite unprepared for back in 2012, when our son came to us. Apart from the depth of love that I feel for my family, the greatest surprise in becoming a parent for me was how it forced me to look at my own background, if I wanted to avoid the mistakes I and my siblings had been subjected to, but by that same token I also saw a need to realise what in my background had been good, and perhaps deserved to be repeated or even strengthen. That latter realisation only came later. And only after getting old-fashioned mad at my parents, an anger I let flow rather freely in another blog.

The longer I spend in my role as a mother, the more I realise it is not a role. It is being. There are no tricks, no quick fixes. For them or for us. There really only is being. Being ourselves at that. Our children are heat-seeking missiles for authenticity, perhaps more than most as their sensitivities have been fine-tuned to pick up moods and even slight changes in moods, to keep safe. I believe there is healing for both them and us in just that. Authenticity. Finding and living it is easier said than done. They know when we are not being true to our own selves. Better than us. Before we even realise. When my son points out my moods, it is my job to listen and be honest.

The quality of the connection with my son is very much something that it is in my power to influence. And it is something that I can choose to nurture or not. Much of the teachings about this parenting stint – the books, the courses, the workshops, the blogs – is about words, wisdom (or not) steeped in words. This blog included. I tire of words. Yet I know they are necessary. But often they are not.

So back to closeness without words, the title of this blog. With the author’s permission I have translated a short passage from Svarre’s book Glade børn. It is a passage from about closeness without words. In my opinion, we often overlook such subtleties in being with our children. In between all the practicalities, the laundry, the meals, the packed lunches, the keeping of appointments, the bath times, the bedtimes and so on. I also happen to believe that it is these moments of no words that we are really being asked to give when we are asked to give our children min. 10 minutes a day of undivided attention, as suggested by so many parenting experts, from Bryan Post to Laura Markham and Patty Wipfler. That always seemed a lean diet to me.

I think Svarre puts the importance non-verbal togetherness eloquently. This is what I strive for. It may be obvious to you, but I admit it wasn’t to me. And it something I work on. Consciously. Because practice makes the master. Or so I hope.

Anyway here goes an extract from Svarre’s book Glade børn.

Have a good life

As a parent the best you can do for your child is to have a good life. For you are your child’s primary and more intense relation through its early childhood, and the way in which you create your relation, will have lasting impact on, how your child may experience and live his or her own life. The principles and mechanisms are actually quite simple: Walk ahead. Lead the way. Show how you do it. Be what you wish to be reflected in your child. Create a good life for yourself. Create an atmosphere of containment, acceptance and enjoyment.

The principles and mechanisms for the development of your child’s self-worth are equally simple. Here are a few examples:

·      If you show your child, that you feel joy, value and enjoyment in its company, it will interpret it as, and feel like it, is valued.
·      If you emanate joy and fulfilment sparked by the sheer existence of your child, it will interpret and experience, that its sheer existence has value.
·      If you can be quiet together with your child in intense contact and in intense presence, the child will experience that its sheer presence has value.
·      If you receive your child and contain whatever emotions it may harbour, without necessarily having to try to create solutions [for them], your child will experience that its emotions are acceptable and, moreover, valued just as they are.
·      If you show your child that you accept and respect that it may have a need to withdraw and to be alone, your child will experience, that its very being is being respected and valued.
·      If you take responsibility for addressing an important and necessary conflict and can be attentive and accepting towards both yourself and your child, your child will experience that it has value.

It is the glint of joy in your eyes of seeing your child again, which is reflected in your body language, when your child returns from nursery, kindergarten or summercamp, that tells your child that it has true value. Thus you can support your child without using as much as a single word.

I’d only add that as adoptive parents that obviously we have not had the privilege of being the primary caregivers throughout our children’s childhood. But we hope to be principal ones. Getting there takes time and unstinting perseverance – on both parts.

The translation is mine, and so any mistakes are mine, and mine alone.


  1. Thought-provoking. When I pick my daughter up from school, I always smile and welcome her with open arms, but too often I am still reeling from work and chores and have a head swimming with other stuff. If I'm honest, I suspect the "glint of joy in my eyes" may be missing more than I would like.

    Good old Scandies. We have a lot to learn from them IMO.

    1. Thank you for commenting. :) I often rush to school, and so my head is often elsewhere as well. It goes much better when I am too early. But time, oh time, where art thou?

      There is world of difference between knowing what to do and doing it/remembering it.
      I fall way short too. Esp at the moment. This is a reminder to myself to try to enjoy him more. The periods when I have, always pan out so much nicer. All round.

      Scandis mess up too. ;) This one included.

      It's all a learning curve!

    2. Oh and it doesn't sound like you fall way short. Sorry, I can't edit my reply.

  2. This sounds idyllic - and often quite a long way from our experience. This week I've struggled to look pleased to see my daughter coming out of school when she hit me on the way in... As you say, 'unstinting perseverance' is about right. :)

    Out of interest, do you know if the Danish post-adoption support system is better resourced/funded that it is in the UK? I've often assumed Scandinavian countries are better at it than we are. I'd be interested in your views if you have any knowledge of it.

    1. Thank you for your comment! I'm not doing all too well on the closeness with or without words these days...
      Yes, as far as I know PAS is better funded in Denmark (and I believe elsewhere in Scandiworld). E.g. as a parent you get 6-12 session with shrink, straight up. For free. It comes with the child!
      In Sweden every adopter get's VIPP within the first year. The Tavistock does it in the UK.
      I believe both these examples can help people a lot! I wish the children came with automatic and ongoing support.