Today’s post is inspired by a question someone asked in my Facebook group last week, because it’s an issue I hear about a lot. And I experience it myself as a mum too.
How do I connect meaningfully with my kids?
They seem older than ever at a younger age, many of us identifying with adolescent behaviour long before our child has reached their teens.
And while screens can be a godsend when we need to attend to the endless ‘to-do’ list, many of us end up paying the ultimate price; when we can – and try to – spend meaningful time with our kids, we end up playing second fiddle to screen time to, and bartering with, screen time.
But, whatever is the fly in the ointment, for all kinds of reasons, sometimes children (and grown-ups) just don’t want the kind of sustained connection we dream of.
So what can we do we do about it? And should we?
‘Connection-insistence’ may be our first need when we sense ‘connection-resistance’ in our kids, but that seldom leads to the meaningful contact we hope for. In those moments, focus your attention on quality, not quantity.
Short bursts can be as equal in value as sustained connection (and is, BTW, one of the main reasons I created Pip & Acorn’s Little Notes)
Essentially, children move through their life very differently to us. Yes, most of us appreciate our ‘me’ time, but we’re also painfully aware from their infancy that their childhood is a sacred and finite window of time.
We worry about wasted opportunity or time we’ll never get back, and end up pressuring ourselves to have a particular kind of relationship with them.
And while we absolutely should keep the parent-child dynamic in front-of-mind, the truth is, they’re sometimes not even the same book as us, let alone the same page; children live in the moment, they’re much better than us at just being in the here and now (Most of us can, in fact, learn a thing or two about how to ‘be present’ from our children…)
I am one of life’s planners and thinkers and so I admit that this ‘in the moment‘ approach doesn’t come naturally to me.
However, when I manage to follow his lead, my son (who’d spend his whole life playing Roblox and Minecraft if I let him) sometimes hands me connection opportunity on a plate.
But I have to be open to them, and willing to drop my own ‘just got to do this/wait until I’ve finished/in a minute…’ agenda.
They often look like the mundane or even the annoying; “Look what I’ve made on Minecraft”, relentless talk about Pokemon cards, or a football (that’s not even allowed in the house) heading in our direction.
And while these kinds of interactions may not be meaningful conversations over dinner or ‘Can we play a board game?‘ they are still an invitation from our kids; Look at me, Listen to me, Play with me.
We don’t want to always, we can’t always, but what happens when we do take them up on the offer?
Sometimes, we have to be the one to make the invite; “Show me”, “Tell me” or “Play with me”.
Even if your kids don’t take you up on it, the offer itself can be all that’s needed to help your kids feel the connection.
We should also recognise that our kids may feel ‘connection’ at the very times we feel its absence. We might want a window into their thoughts, shared laughter etc., but for them, connection might simply be the comfort of our presence, the security of home; a place free from the demands of school where they feel accepted just as they are.
It doesn’t mean that we can’t extend brief but regular expressions of connection, contact, conversation etc. Even if they’re not reciprocated (or even acknowledged), make them anyway. When you child does need you, they’ll know you’re there.
Despite all this, I still suggest managing screen time. It’s almost impossible to remove it completely these days, but enduring screen use messes with brain activity and biochemistry. So set limits, have regular screen-free intervals and use a countdown to prepare them to switch off.
And lastly, tune into those moments your kids want to be ‘babied’, if you still get them.
We often feel resistance around treating kids as younger than they are, and I’m not suggesting we pander to them.
But these are windows of communication; our child’s way of saying ‘Show me you’re still here’, or asking ‘Will you always look after me, even if I can look after myself?’
And how we connect in those moments is how we say ‘yes‘.
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