By Daja, Contributing Writer
Moms. We can be with ours kids all day long, from the dawn’s early light, through the chores and homeschool lessons and carpools and playdates. We can be physically in their presence all the time and not necessarily be connecting on an emotional level. It’s challenging.
Regardless of our efforts to live simply and not to get too caught up with pop-culture and temporary things, our to-do lists just get long! Today I woke up early, made breakfast, checked my email, answered the most pressing business ones, gave all my boys haircuts, spent some time on the phone with some customer service person who didn’t speak English, helped my teens pack for camp, did some laundry, nursed the baby several times, and it’s only 10am. Still to do is to supervise the building of a greenhouse (my 12 year old is doing it!), reading lessons and math lessons, some article to write, dinner to make, CSA flyers to print and a trip to the post office. Whew! Where does a mom find time for quality connection with the kids?!
It’s really important I think, that we are intentional about creating and maintaining connection with our children. We cannot assume it will happen by osmosis just because we live in the same house. Connection, just like my garden, has to be maintained. It needs watering and feeding and vigilance against the weeds of miscommunication, offense, and isolation.
Staying Emotionally Connected With Our Children
Like it or not, most children spell love T-I-M-E. They want our time. They want to be on the top of our priority list, not somewhere under bill-paying and blogging and housework. I know, I know. But, we do all those things FOR them. But, that may not be how they see it. Here are some ideas to fit in that quality time:
- Have dates that are protected. If you have to write the dates in Sharpie on our calendar, do so. When someone asks you if you can babysit their children or volunteer at their event, learn to say, “I’m sorry, but I have committed that time to my son. We are going on a picnic.”
- Turn off the radio/DVD in the car. It’s easy to zone out the in car. The kids burying themselves in their entertainment and mom getting a few minutes of NPR or Top 40 in. Ahhhh, me time. But, wait! You may be missing some really precious time to have conversation with your kids. Think of it this way, you have a captive audience in the car! They can’t run away. So, turn off the distractions and chat. Some of our really deep conversations have happened in the car.
- Keep separate interests with each child. My 10 year old and I have our own club. We call it the Dinner Club. He’s my little foodie, so once a month, just him and I, either go out for a special meal or we cook a separate dinner just for us. My 12 year old and I read classic books together. We make hot milk, sprinkled with cardamom (You gotta try it! So good!) and we read aloud to each other. Scarlet Pimpernel, Gulliver’s Travels, anything by George MacDonald. My 7 year old loves to cook. So, she’s my sous chef. Look for that special thing you can do with each child that is different from the other children. And have that be your special thing–where you develop your own language and communicate with one another in a special way.
- Take time to listen. Tune your emotional ears to your child. They may not come out and say, “Mom, I need to talk.” So, be aware of the cues. Are they just hanging around you seemingly doing nothing? Are they withdrawing a little? Are they hinting about something without coming right out and saying it? They may have something on their minds.
- Learn their love language. There are five different ways people give and receive love. Sometimes we may think we are telling our kids, “I love you” by giving them a hug, but they may hear it better if we say, “You’re a fantastic kid.” The love languages are: Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Quality Time, and Giving Gifts. (Learn more about Love Languages!)
Words That Connect
Where do you start? When the children are little, it seems more easy to connect. We giggle and tickle and talk about Wild Kratts. But, when they start to get a bit bigger and their problems loom a little larger (like having trouble making friends or worries about their future or trouble communicating with a sibling) it can be difficult to get to the root and to have that open space and time to connect and communicate the way you really want to. We sometimes ask questions that merit only a yes-no answer or “fine” or a shrug of the shoulders. Better conversations begin with better questions. Here are some phrases I have used to get to the hearts of my children:
- How satisfied are you with life right now? This is better than asking “Is everything OK?” to which someone can just reply, “I’m fine.”
- How is your heart? This question is especially good if you’ve been going through a rough patch emotionally (such as puberty or welcoming a new baby into the family or a move to a new town). If you ask this, be ready to listen and understand without judging or giving unasked for advice!
- What was the best part of your day? This is so much better than asking, “How was your day?” Because again, you just get “fine” and what you want is insight into their day, not a status report.
- What can I do to help you? If you see your child needing assistance, be it emotional, physical, relationally, etc., do not assume you know exactly what they need. I hate it when people assume they know how to help me and they end up getting in my way or being annoying. Our kids feel the same way! Let them try to articulate that to you and be ready to offer assistance.
- Can you show me how to do….? Your child likely has an area or two of expertise that you do not. I don’t know how or when that happens, only that it does! Let them be the teacher sometimes and be ready to learn. Be it how to download a special app on your phone or edit a photo or draw anime or do a trick on their bike, ask them to show you how it is done and give it a try.
- I am sorry. Will you forgive me? Parents, we aren’t perfect! Pretending we are only creates resentment. I have apologized to my children more times than I can count. Sometimes we make mistakes and owning up to them not only models good character to them, it also breeds trust and openness in your relationship with them. Give it a try. That humble pie tastes better than you think.
What About You? How Do You Stay Emotionally Connected With Your Children?
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