New chapter in life confronts me

It’s so cliché.

I want to roll my eyes when I hear it, but for some reason I can only nod in agreement. And I even too often hear it tumbling out of my own mouth into the ears of mothers of young children: “They grow up fast.”

When I wrote my first column, my firstborn was about to graduate from high school and leave home. This time, it’s my baby-baby flying the coop.

My oldest leaving only slightly prepared me for this. I’m engulfed with grief. I find myself perfectly fine one second and sobbing the next. In fact, just recently I walked into the salon for a pedicure and was placed in the chair beside a longtime member of my church family. She excitedly asked how my kids were doing, and it was like she turned on a faucet behind my eyes.

It’s a chapter of my life closing long before I feel ready for it; and at the same time, I couldn’t be happier or more proud. My daughter will spend her senior year of high school studying piano at the North Carolina School of the Arts, and I feel blessed beyond words that she has this opportunity.

Here in the South, clichés about raising kids roll easily off our tongues. Here are some I’ve found to be true:

• “Grow like a weed.” Children do grow fast, especially in the first years of life. From the moment you were born up to age 3, your brain made 700 new neural connections every second! Your environment and the interaction you had with the adults in your life helped determine whether those connections were strong or weak.

Unlike the adult brain, a child’s brain is far more impressionable (scientists call it “plastic”). This means that during this period of life our brains are more open to learning and enriching influences. It also means they are more vulnerable to developmental problems if environments are not nurturing or if they are stressful.

• “The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree,” “Like father like son” or “The spitting image.” I distinctly know those moments when I can feel that I look like my father, or when I hear my mother coming out of my mouth. I’m sure you do, too. One of our core beliefs at the Children & Family Resource Center is that parents are their children’s first and most influential teachers, and thus that all parents need to have the knowledge, support, tools and community to do a good job. Our programs are centered on helping parents be the best they can be, and in many cases work to stabilize home environments in an effort to prevent child abuse and neglect.

• “It takes a village.” I know very few women who didn’t have a “village” that helped them raise their children. My village consisted of family members, a large circle of close friends who were raising their children alongside me, a supportive and loving church family, and excellent teachers from preschool through high school. This “village” is a child’s community and will form his/her memories of home.

• “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Yes! Another core belief of ours is the value of starting early in our work with children. We can have the greatest impact on a person’s life if we start at the beginning and help prevent problems from starting in the first place.

• “Children are our most valuable resource.” Longitudinal research shows the rate of return on investments in early childhood ranges between 7 and 10 percent per annum through better outcomes in education, health, sociability, economic productivity and reduced crime.

In 2012, then Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said, “Economically speaking, early childhood programs are a good investment, with inflation-adjusted annual rates of return on the funds dedicated to these programs estimated to reach 10 percent or higher. Very few alternative investments can promise that kind of return. Notably, a portion of these economic returns accrues to the children themselves and their families, but studies show that the rest of society enjoys the majority of the benefits, reflecting the many contributions that skilled and productive workers make to the economy.”

• “They are our future.” As a parent, I want my children to have all the opportunities (and more) that I had, with some of those being deep faith, a strong nation, freedom, opportunity for education and good jobs. Improving our economy, strengthening the middle class and reducing the national deficit are core values of our nation. Investing in people will make these things more possible. Furthermore, investing in the care and education of our youngest citizens will help foster valuable skills, strengthen our workforce and reduce social spending.

I came back to Henderson County to raise my children because it was such a great place for me to grow up. I am grateful for this community, and I thank each one of you who have personally touched our lives. Thank you for helping create a great community and for making “home” so special. I am grateful for those who remind me that “they’ll be back,” and tell me to look on the bright side, since “raising teenagers is like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree.” I may actually enjoy this new chapter.

Elisha Freeman is executive director of the Children & Family Resource Center (www.childrenandfamily.org; 828-698-0674).

The article was originally found here.

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