Updated: Apr 28
I can’t believe I wrote a blog with a sports-related title on Super Bowl Sunday! I swear it was a complete coincidence but I’m kind of happy it worked out this way because I can make the connection. Ha, see what I did there!
Grown men will be running into each other, throwing players from the opposing team to the ground, fighting over a little brown ball and when the game ends, you’ll see many of those same men hugging each other or kneeling together in prayer. It proves that even amid chaos, there is also connection.
My mid-week message (if you saw it) was about how connection is extremely powerful. Giving a hug or holding a hand can send a message without words and can change someone’s mood, day, or week.
There are no stronger or more important connections than those with our children. This has become clearer to me over the last few years. When my son was little, and I was busy and trying to do too much, I often dreamed of the days when he would be older. I would have more time to do the things I wanted to do, and he would be more independent and self-entertaining. Little did I know that back then, he needed me less and now he actually needs me more.
Looking back to when my son was a baby and then later in the toddler years, he was content to just “be.” I was the one checking on him constantly, making sure he was never alone and likely looking like a buffoon as I danced in front of him or sang to him to keep him entertained. No wonder he always looked at me strangely. We took him on trips, theme parks, holiday light shows, you name it. He doesn’t remember them! We were trying to make connections and memories but that was not the time.
Don’t get me wrong, babies and toddlers need connection for sure. There a plenty of studies out there about children that did not experience proper connection and bonding in infancy and how that has impacted them long-term. However, as a baby or toddler in what we would consider conventional circumstances, their whole mission in life is to learn and explore.
Our job is to hug them, feed them, clean them, and keep them out of imminent danger. There are plenty of books out there that tell us about encouraging language skills, motor skills, social skills, analytical and reasoning skills, and I read all of them and applied everything I could. Just ask my husband! In the end, just being in the room with him while he was building something and or playing with cars would have been enough. I was very responsive and would have been there the second he needed me. He likely didn’t need me “oooing” and “ahhhing” over every little thing (like I did.) When he needed me, he came and got me, when he found something better to do, he did it. We were connected through his understanding that I was there no matter what.
The middle years (pre-school to elementary) went on that way as well with a slight difference. There was more of a need for approval of the things he did; independently of course, but more of an understanding that parents were there to make those things happen. At this age, hugs were brief and over-the-top outings were quickly forgotten as well. Connection was more about our response to the request of, “Look at this!” or “Watch me!” and the response received from us. We also began to adjust to some behavioral challenges we were not expecting from him that would have long-term effects and, in some cases, the need for connection was demonstrated through his not-so-great behavior, but we understood.
Of course, those years were also about hugs after the scratches and scrapes of the playground and pre-bedtime checks for monsters under the bed or in the closet that ended up with mom or dad in bed for a little while before sleep won the nightly battle of wills. Those were connections born out of that primal need for protection and to protect.
Fast forward twelve years.
This was the time I had been looking forward to! Middle school! My son blazing his own trail, off on adventures! Me looking fabulous and doing what I want when I want every day. Funny thing is that’s not how it’s turning out.
For all his independence and bravado of being a 6th grader, I think there is an awareness and understanding on his part now that he’s growing up. He’s changing and we’re changing. He still has behavioral challenges but there is now a little more understanding on his part about why parents do what we do in response. Even through all that, he knows that we are here for him (whether he wants it or not!)
Now, he needs our support for school and with new social situations that are cropping up and he is reaching out to us! He is seeking connection with us which is something we were not sure would ever happen. So, when he does reach out, we make sure to be there.
We talk more now and often he asks me questions that spark conversations that take us places I never thought we would go but I’m so happy and proud to visit with him. He will initiate hugs more now and we’ll spend time watching a show together, playing games together or doing activities he’d like. Trips are planned with his interests in mind now as well. Connections and memories made on those trips are remembered and revisited by us all now.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without the passage of time and a little maturity on his part. That's all him and was crucial to getting us where we are now. The other key factors on our part (my husband and I) were helpful as well. Not always easy, but totally worth it.
1. Stepping Back - As you can tell by the first half of this post, I was bordering on "helicopter" parent status for a while. Fortunately, we (I) never made it that far and learned the lesson of loosening the reigns. I figured out that I didn't need to keep tabs on him all the time, just check in. We had to put faith in the fact that we had done enough to lay the foundation of good decision-making in the early years and let him deal with things on his own. Sometimes he comes to us, sometimes he doesn't. Good or bad, he has learned from the outcomes. This approach gives him a taste of freedom knowing there is always a safety net if needed. As the old 38 Special song goes, "Hold on loosely, but don't let go."
2. Now, Letting Things Go - This was a hard one because just like trying to control them, you can't fix everything for them either. It's not realistic. I'm really into having things go the way I want but when it comes to parenting I have learned to let a lot of things go. Wearing shorts in the winter? Six months since the last hair cut? Ya gotta let some things go. It's a bad use of your energy and drives a wedge between you and your child. Not letting go sends a message to your child that if you'll dig in this hard on the small things, the big things will be catastrophic, and they will avoid engaging you on them. Don't set that expectation for your children in dealing with you.
3. No Yelling - Keep this at a minimum. Yes, we all yell from time to time, I know I do. It can't be avoided when you are at the end of your patience. But, if you need to yell, it's not always about what is going on right now and maybe about what happened previously. Are you short on time? Hungry? Tired or irritated? Whatever it its, if it has nothing truly to do with what is going on between you and your child or what your child has done, take a minute. Take a deep breath, excuse yourself to the bathroom. Just take a beat to gather yourself. A child does not want to communicate with a parent that yells all the time. Yelling is not connection or communication, it's a result of something deeper doing on inside released at the wrong moment.
4. Listening - As parents, we spend a lot of time talking to our kids, telling them what do to, providing insight on our take on things. Just about the most important thing you can do to connect with your children is to listen to them. The first time your child notices that you are really listening, without correction, interruptions, negative comments or judgements, the whole game changes. They lock in on your eyes and become animated. Days of experiences and exploration come pouring out of them. It's like they can't stop because they are not sure when this will happen again! Make it happen often. This is how you connect with them and get them looking forward to connecting with you. It's painful sometimes but I listen to my son tell me about the new car he bought in a video game and how he's going to customize it and all the specifications, how fast it is, how much it costs, and I can just see the excitement in his eyes that he's able to share it with me. Mercifully the conversation moves on to other things. Now, when he comes home from school, he comes straight to my office and tells me what happened during the day, both good and bad. I never thought that would happen. But the fact that I listen, don't try to solve the issue, don't yell about it and don't make a big deal about it (if it doesn't merit it), has changed things dramatically.
The tables have turned, and I am so very grateful as I know this is not the experience for everyone. Having this connection with him now, at this age, is turning out to be even more rewarding than those first few years of bonding and I had not anticipated that.
Connecting with our kids is so important. As one of the most important influences in their lives, they can’t learn the lessons, morals and values that will help shape their decisions and actions unless they spend time and connect with you. And it goes both ways. I learn so many new and interesting things from my son so remember to keep an open mind and open ears for them as well.
This middle and high school window will open and shut quickly, and I want to make sure I have spent as much quality time with my son as I can during this period. He can take what he needs from our time together and discard what he doesn’t. In the end, I hope our connection will serve him well.
I’ll be sitting on the couch watching the Super Bowl with the baby/toddler I used to stalk, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. This time around, we're both content to be there.
Think about ways you can connect with your kids. Start laying the groundwork today for a more connected tomorrow.
What’s your experience with nurturing connections with your children? Please leave a comment and let me know what works for you or if you have concerns about how to make it better.
If someone you know needs to hear this message, I encourage you to like it, share it and live it!
Take care and be well,