By Dr. Stacy Howard – Florida Children’s Council. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending my first Florida Association of Infant Mental Health (FAIMH) conference. This year’s event was a result of collaboration with the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Initiative led by the Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions and Florida’s Early Steps program (Part C Services administered by the Florida Department of Health). Another key player in organizing and contributing to the success of this event was the Florida State University’s Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy (CPEIP).
The agenda for the Many Paths to Enhancing Parent-Child Relationships conference was rich with expert keynote addresses and presentations from the national, state and local perspectives. Although there were many thought-provoking moments during the conference, I wanted to highlight one that has truly resonated with me.
My moment came from the keynote address by Mary Dozier, PhD., Amy E du Pont Chair of Child Development at the University of Delaware. A recognized national scholar in child development, Dr. Dozier spoke about the importance of scientifically-informed approaches to changing the child welfare system; a timely message for Florida no doubt. Within her keynote was one moment that served as an inspirational and critical turning point for me. She showed a video clip from a coaching session with a home visitor, a mother and her two-year-old son. Dr. Dozier explained the dynamics taking place in the video clip and emphasized one particular moment that happened in an instance. Dr. Dozier brought the audiences’ attention to the moment when the mother picks her son up and her entire face lights up with excitement and pleasure. It is in this moment that Dr. Dozier stated that, for her, a major goal of her research and work with families is to help more mothers and more fathers take delight in their children.
Delight – “What a delightful word,” I thought and so appropriately used to capture the experience between the mother and her child in the video. The more I thought about the word delight, the more I was convinced it was certainly an under-utilized description of what many of us are striving for in our professional and personal lives with children. Something I think we take for granted – our work is not always about the big stuff – the system change, the policy work, the mark made on the timeline. Rather, it is making the everyday moments we know are so important for our children count. And for children, their experiences with their mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and others who are vested in their well-being, count the very most.
Delight is a strong feeling of happiness, great pleasure or satisfaction and when experienced, is expressed all over. It’s the twinkle in your eye, the glimmer in your smile, the softness across your brow. What Dr. Dozier was emphasizing took place as it does in most instances – in a single moment. The mother delighted in holding her son and simply absorbed the moment with him. As uplifting as Dr. Dozier’s description was, it also conjured up mixed emotions of the countless everyday moments between parents and children that are not marked with delight – rather these experiences are stressful, overwhelming, or simply just missed. And of course, this is of no fault of the parents – life is hard and most of us move too quickly to fully absorb anything around us at any given moment.
The point for me was a refocus on what it means for parenthood to be marked more often by delight. In our work with children – how can we rethink the critical role delight plays in the parent-child relationship? How do we support parents in a way that delight is more present than not? How do we structure our systems so that delight is included as an outcome that we value and seek?
Dr. Dozier’s address helped me to better understand that often time simplicity is the most powerful change agent.
This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently captures the power behind Dr. Dozier’s words…
“We find delight in the beauty of happiness of children that makes the heart too big for the body.”