Spending quality time with my kids is on the top of my list of favorites, and priorities. However, we are together a lot. A lot. It is easy for me to start to tune out the good moments, hear just the whining/asking for stuff/hungry/tired and on and on and lose track of how good it is to just be together. When to-do lists get long (especially right now with Halloween just happening and the Holidays looming!), I can get pretty short tempered, and the trickle down to the girls is very real.
Since September, and the beginning of the school year, I have noticed that it takes a bigger effort for me to really enjoy my kids, hear them, and connect. The ease of summer, the beach, and endless playing is gone and replaced with the weight of school, grey weather, and schedules. I noticed that about this transition quickly, thank goodness, and put into action some easy practices to work on opening my eyes more to just how amazing these two little people are.
- Slow way down. Being over scheduled is the quickest way to become disconnected. Stress from needing t0 get somewhere (else), fed, packed, and dressed creates a level of anxiety surrounding any extra curricular that is hard to shift out of. The competition piece, “don’t be a quitter!” mentality, and the “we paid for this!” feelings that can really fuel a “stick it out and ENJOY IT” mind set (so enjoyable… right?), only serves to separate. Having activities, clubs, and hobbies is awesome, but if you find that you aren’t feeling very close or connected with your child (and that they’re showing that they are feeling adrift from you, often not in words but in behavior), and you are also shuttling them off from one activity to another every evening and weekend… take stock. Having time to get bored, read a whole chapter book, color ten pages, or get exhausted with a dance party, all of that will leave you closer and sharing an experience and is far more worth it in the long run for your relationship.
- Talk less. It’s easy to interject our own experiences, feeling, and “teaching moments” into their every story, question, or rambling. Asking a few questions and then letting them just talk is the quickest way to get to know and fall more in love with them. This hinges greatly on actually listening. Without a device in hand, without judgement about what they are saying, and with active listening skills (nodding, asking appropriate questions, and waiting for them to reply). This is embarrassingly hard to do at first. It’s hard to not put in your own story and experience right away, hard to not get frustrated when they don’t even kind of answer the question you asked, and REALLY hard to not make everything into a parenting moment. When my daughters say something that makes me want to go into MOM MODE TEACH YOU NOW… instead, I wait and say ” how did you feel?” (or; what did you think of that? what happened next? how do you think ___ felt about that? has that happened before? etc.) The less I interject, and the more judgement free I listen, the more I know and hear and learn about what is going on inside their ever ticking brains and hearts.
- Play! This can mean so many things. For my kids it means wrestling, running, and playing outside. It also means reading together, coloring together, and making messy art work. Art is a great unifier because often times you are on a level playing field (my oldest can out draw me now!) and can really, genuinely, help and work together. Finding what play your child loves, and doing it with them, is a great way to learn more about them and find more things that you enjoy doing together.
- Read Aloud. I realize this one might seem like “play” or like it only work with some children. But I disagree. We recently started reading aloud together from more complex books (we’ve always read, but now we’re diversifying! not just picture books!) and I was really nervous about it. Worried about how the content and themes would effect them and if I was just setting us up for nightmares. But it was the opposite! We have had so many amazing conversations about topics that wouldn’t have otherwise come up. It’s been a fantastic way to introduce ideas and ways of thinking that they don’t come into contact with, but are realities of our world. We have a context to discuss them, and it lives in a world of imagined characters, so it’s far less terrifying to have those conversations come up there, rather than because of a real life experience. It means that they have some framework when they do have those experiences and see those themes play out in real life. It’s a safe way to talk about big issues – your child can use the characters as an easy way for them to ask questions that might feel embarrassing or scary. It’s also a gimme for us as parents. We’re given easier tools to talk about big themes that are easy to shy away from otherwise. For reference, we started with The Magicians Nephew, then, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and now we are reading the first Harry Potter (our kiddos are 4.5 and nearly 7).
- Limit being on a device. I hate this one. And I struggle with it immensely. But it seems obvious, simple, and difficult. The less I have a screen between my children and me, the more I enjoy/hear/connect with them. I am not anti-devices at all (obviously, I was just singing their praises last week!) but the benefits in plugging my phone in and walking away for hours at a time are immense and impossible to downplay. I have also found that it has made me more engaged in my online communities when I don’t read them all day long, and instead only a few times a day (I know, I know, it’s still a lot). So, win win.
It’s easy to love our kids, but it can sometimes feel hard to enjoy their company. I’m so thankful that time spent, and words lavished, and playing hard all seem to operate under the ‘snow ball effect’. The more we do it, the more we do it. And the more we do it, the deeper in love I fall with these two little wonders who I have the honor of mothering. It’s magic knowing them, and big magic getting to know them more.