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Appreciating a family’s nurturing styles

March 23, 2016

By John Engel For the Gazette

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Humans are social creatures by nature. Our lives begin, continue and end in relationship to others, and our well-being is enhanced by the quality of our connections. I was reminded of this in a workshop I attended at the 17th Annual New England Fathering Conference in Groton, Connecticut.

The fiery, humorous presenter – whose last name is Fitzgerald  – offered a rousing performance on St. Patrick’s Day, much to the delight of the nearly 400 participants, mostly professionals who promote engaged fatherhood and healthy families.

The key learning for me came from an overview of “Nurturance Styles,” five ways humans emotionally and physically care for each other through touch, affirmation, gifts, quality time and service. As the presenter offered examples supporting each of the five styles, I began to recognize the tendencies and individual preferences for how we nurture in our family as well as challenges we sometimes experience in giving and receiving care.

Hours later, having been away at the conference for two days, I returned in time to meet daughter, Zoe, and son, Adam, ages 9 and 6, as they stepped off the school bus. I was poised, ready to notice our nurturing styles.

As I anticipated, Adam offered me a guarded reception – a response I often experience from him when we first reconnect at day’s end, especially after I have been gone for a night or more – and ran up the alley for home.

Zoe reached for my hand and we strolled up the alley as she chattered about her day.

It was a Thursday, so the routine included unload backpacks, wash hands, eat snacks and off to the YMCA for Zoe’s gymnastics practice — where I benefit from a quick workout as Adam enjoys the supervised play area. For many months this winning combination meant we all looked forward to Thursday afternoons.

Recently, however, Adam has grown weary of this schedule, seeking nurturance from me in the form of quality time — reading books and drawing in his sketchpad. And while Adam’s request for this type of connection means I miss a workout, I have readily seen how much it means to him, and me.

So, as Zoe and Adam finished their snacks, I asked Adam if he wanted to go to child watch, read and draw with me in the lobby or split the time and do 30-minutes of each. “I want to play in child watch the whole time,” he reported. I double-checked, thinking that perhaps following my overnight absence, Adam might want some one-on-one time with me. Nope, not today, was his clear message.

When we got to the Y, I happily put on my ear buds and listened to the latest election news while logging a 30-minute cardio workout. By the time I finished though, I realized that I was a bit disappointed that Adam had chosen the group play over time with me. I realized that after my trip I, too, was seeking family connection and so I snuck into the gymnasium just in time to watch Zoe practice on the bars — her favorite gymnastics element.

Afterward, she and her peers lined up at the water fountain where I shared with her my amazement at both her determination and skill level. We both reached out to briefly touch hands, then, glowing, she was off to floor exercises.

Back home, Zoe headed to the basement and Adam to his room, while I started supper. Ten minutes later Adam emerged with a smile, handing me a book of shark sketches that he had just created, “this is for you,” he said. His gift signaled that he was ready to reconnect. Just as he use to do by handing me a special stone, stick or art creation, when I picked him up from preschool.

Lori returned from work, Zoe and Adam greeted her full force, she and I briefly embraced and then we sat down for supper. Finally, the moment arrived when Zoe and Adam returned to play and Lori and I had some time to ourselves as we cleaned the kitchen. Within moments, however, Adam returned, asking me to wrestle.

Finally, Zoe and Adam were tucked in and Lori and I were tuckered out, which meant ending the day without fully reconnecting. Noticing this reminded me that while the five nurturing styles — touch, affirmation, gifts, quality time and service — are simple, and ones we routinely experience in our family, the art and practice of caring for each other requires ongoing conversation and commitment, especially with those we love most.

John Engel of Florence is a consultant and director of the Healthy Men and Boys Network. He can be reached through his website

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