Connecting with your Kids: Creating Moments
Posted by Rae Redford on Feb 23, 2013
Valentine’s DayValentine’s Day. A day meant to be for lovers – for reaffirming the emotions and experiences that bring you together as a couple… or as parents and children… or friends. I was going to do a blog post last weekend, but I was afraid it would turn into a rant, so, I’m just going to leave you with a few questions and then move on (and ohhh it’s so hard not turning this into a rant! Just questions, I promise).
When did Valentine’s Day turn into a holiday in which men were supposed to spoil women? Why are women the focus of this holiday? Shouldn’t Valentine’s Day be a reciprocal holiday? When women work just as hard as the men do to share and show their love? And why should these gifts for one another be a focus on just this ONE day and not every other day of the year as well? Grrrr!
Creating MomentsI was recently chatting with a co-worker of mine who is expecting his first child. We were sharing what we had done to celebrate Valentine’s Day… well, I was. He and his wife hadn’t done anything special. I told him, “Well, once you’re a Dad, you’ll learn to create those special moments. It’s so important for kids – you never know what will stick out in their memory as adults.” I don’t know if that statement had any impact on him, but it certainly did on me. I sat at my desk – stunned – trying to remember when the last time I’d tried to create a special moment for my kids had been. Had I really not given it any thought since Christmas? When I played them the story that my mother had made my father record for them? That was really my parents creating a moment… not me. Could it have been the Christmas Morning moment, when Erik and I had brought in all of the presents we’d left at his house so the kids wouldn’t see them? Or hiding their best present until we’d cleaned up the wrapping paper mess and they thought they’d done? No… those were Erik’s moments. Had it been the trip to Elitch Gardens when Erik and I took Ryan on the big bungee swing? Or taking Alana and her boyfriend to the zoo and sketching and taking pictures? Making spiced dehydrated apples? Cooking the Thanksgiving meal together? None of those were… big. Not like a trip to Disneyland or a roadtrip in the summer… It couldn’t have been months… after the divorce I promised myself my kids would always come first, and I’ve been really good at keeping that promise… but could it really have been months since I’d done something truly special for them? Something other than buying Alana the XBox game she really wanted and playing with her, or getting on a public server to play Minecraft with Ryan. It had been months! I was devastated. I thought back on all the things I remembered my parents doing for me. The obligatory dessert-making we did every Sunday, the stilts my father made us one summer. I remembered the family meals – we always sat down at the table for dinner and discussed our day as we ate. I thought about the “Daddy Dates” and “Mommy Dates” we had, where each of us would get an afternoon with one of our parents, just us. And then I realized – these weren’t big moments either. They were special, every-day moments, but they were the ones I remembered.
Making ConnectionsAs I kept thinking things through, I was able to put down that “parent-guilt” we all seem to give birth to on the same day our children come into the world. It isn’t the big moments that are important, it’s the every-day moments that make a life, that make that shared history that love and loyalty that life is built on. It’s the moments when your kids need you and you come through for them that matter. The moments that build up that belief in unconditional love and support and respect that are so important for our children to develop. It’s the songs at bedtime and the “I Love You!” when you drop them off at school; the hand holding in the car (before they get old enough to think that’s un-cool) and the help with the homework. No, these things aren’t as fun as a trip to Disneyland, but they’re much more precious. It’s these connections that we make with our children that get us through the hard times (the teenage years!) and make the good times even more treasured. And the best thing about these sorts of moments? They’re not expensive, they’re not difficult. All it takes is that parental awareness of your children and being in the moment with them. They live in the moment, that’s why their world revolves around them and why the emotional highs are so high and the lows are so low. They haven’t learned to take that step back that adults do – they haven’t learned to look beyond next week, or next month, or next year except in a very vague “that’s the future” way – they are always, truly in the moment. So… make those moments count by making a connection! As I said, it’s relatively simple:
Verbalize Your Emotions
Tell your kids you love them. Tell them you’re proud of them. Tell them you worry about them. Tell them you like who they are. And don’t just say those short phrases, even though they’re better than not saying them at all; tell them WHY you love them. Why you’re proud of them. Why you like them. Why you worry about them. Words have weight, and saying “I love you because you have a good heart – what you did for your friend was so kind” can mean so much more and encourage them to continue the behaviors that earned them the praise. Parental words are one of the ways your children build up who they are and who they can be. Let me rephrase that, because it’s important: The words you say to them help create who they are. But this section isn’t just about telling them you love them, it’s also about being honest with what you’re feeling, even if it’s uncomfortable. If you’re sad and need to cry, do so. Don’t always hide it from your kids, even if it may be upsetting for them. It’s healthier for you, and is an opportunity for you to talk to your children and to connect on an emotional level. By acknowledging your emotions and reacting appropriately, you are teaching your children to deal with them in a healthy way, and that your emotions don’t control you. That will, in turn, teach them trust and empathy and sympathy.
Speak Without Speaking
A person’s sense of touch begins to be important even before they are born and continues to be so, well… forever. Skin is our largest sense organ and constantly gives us input from the world around us. Why would we ignore the power of touch as a tool for parenting? Touch your kids. Hug them, tickle them, put them in headlocks and rub your knuckles over their head. Give them high-fives and fist bumps. Rub their backs. Touch their faces, their shoulders, their arms, their hands. Thumb wrestle with them, heck… arm wrestle with them! Wrap your arm around them when you walk and bump them with your hip. It doesn’t have to be all lovey-dovey – these casual touches leave their mark for a long time. One of my favorite things has always been walking with my dad. He’d drape his arm over my shoulder and there was something so… safe about it. I figured nothing could hurt me if my dad was there. He has these big hands, rough and chapped by years of working, but strong and gentle. You can see his life by looking at his hands. With my mother, it was her hands as well. Broad and capable, talented and competent. We’d be sitting in church and she’d casually start scratching our back. It was an absent gesture, one she never thought about, but I knew she was telling me that she loved me every time she did it. So, reinforce your words with a touch to bring your point home. Tell your kids you love them without ever speaking a word. But, this doesn’t just mean touch – it’s also about eye contact. When you speak with your kids, meet their eyes. Show them that what they’re saying or doing is important to you, and what you’re saying to them is just as important. Eyes are the windows to the soul – use them to communicate earnestly and honestly with your children.
Make the Time, Take the Time
We’re all busy. Believe me, I get it. I’m a single mom of two kids, have a full-time job that often takes more than 40 hours a week, am a “free-time” developer with Squink, have taken up writing again (at least, in this blog. I’d forgotten how much I loved stringing a few words together), have an amazing boyfriend, a house to care for (I haven’t killed any plants yet!), and have a social life. Well, a sort-of social life – I’m a bit of an introvert – but it’s enough to keep me happy. I know we’re all busy. Are you willing to use that as an excuse? When you’re with your kids, be with your kids. Don’t give them half your attention and worry about the power bill, or the jerk at work, or the dishes in the sink. Be with them. Get down on the floor and have a tea party or create a 10-car pileup. Break out the crayons and color outside the lines. Go to the park or the beach and feed the birds. It doesn’t always have to be what they like or want either. Have them help you with chores. Teach them the best way to fold clothes or whip-stitch a seam, how to make the best french toast or your family’s secret recipe for caramel popcorn. Show them, through actions AND words, how to take pride in a job well done, even if that job is as icky as cleaning the bathroom. Having them help you with chores will save you time and still provide the chance to connect.
Make a Record
Keep a journal for each of your kids. Write them a letter every year on their birthday and give them to your child when they turn 21. Write a blog. Keep a scrapbook. Update their baby book. Keep their drawings and writings. Go into photobooths. Collect smashed coins. Take pictures… lots of pictures! Share them with your family and friends on Picasa or Facebook or any other of the 100s of social or image-sharing sites out there. If they’re old enough to have Facebook accounts, interact with them there. Instagram is huge – use it to document their lives – the little and big moments that make up the special times and the every-day times. Memories are precious and all of these are ways to ensure those moments are always there for you. Take them out as you sit around the table or the couch, wax nostalgic and share the memories, good and bad. They build up the foundation of who you are and who your children are… of who you are together and who they will be.