As parents, the responsibilities that we carry are numerous. We have bills to pay, homes to care for, food to make, cars to maintain....the list goes on and on. And no matter the specifics of the jobs we have under our stewardship, I think we all find ourselves in those moments where it seems impossible to get it all done (maybe some people more than others...ok, me. it's me.)
I never want my kids to feel like just another item on my to-do list, but it can be hard to be the patient, attentive parent I want to be when I have so many other tasks I'm trying to accomplish. And while dedicated, one-on-one time can be a great tool to foster relationships, there are many schedules, family set-ups, or other particulars that can make this practice virtually impossible, or too stressful to be worth it.
Does that mean that our kids are destined to feel less individualized, less unique, less loved, or less valued? No! A concept I learned while listening to some podcasts by Janet Lansbury really solidified this idea for me, and it's been both motivating and inspiring ever since. Connection can happen just as deeply in the everyday moments as the special ones. With a bit of intentionality, I can show my children that they are a priority and that I treasure them, while still having boundaries and time to accomplish other things. Put the phone down.
If my kids feel like they have to compete with the literal universe at my fingertips for my attention....compete they will. They get louder, testier, ruder, and less cooperative. I don't blame them. Maybe it's their youth, maybe it's the fact that I'm around them constantly, but it's a lot easier to fall into not showing the same respect and attentiveness to them that I would to an adult. Don't get me wrong...I check my phone throughout the day while I'm with them. I take pictures, I text my husband, I even occasionally get on Instagram. But I try to keep any long periods or bigger projects online for when they aren't around. I want them to feel like I am present, and not just physically. If you're tied to your phone for more pressing reasons than I have, at least consider holding certain times sacred. Meal times, getting ready for bed, a family walk...make sure there are moments that your family is front and center and getting the best of you.
If your kids are like my kids, they are talking more than they're not. I can't just sit on the couch all day with them and converse. But, as much as possible, I try to make eye contact with them. Sometimes it's a glance to establish that I'm listening before I continue whatever I was doing, sometimes I'm able to give them my undivided attention. In as many ways as I can, I want to let them know that I am listening, that I want to listen, and that I want them to share their heart with me. What they have to say isn't just noise that I pretend to engage with, it's something I value because it tells me more about who they are. I know that when they're little it feels so inconsequential and trivial, but to them, it's the world, and the more confidence they have that I care about their opinions, the more they will share, even as they get older and the topics are more weighty. Bonus: you get to watch their eyes literally light up when they are telling you something exciting. There is little else that touches me as deeply as watching the eyes of a person who knows how much they are valued.
Whisper Secret Messages Throughout the Day. I like to randomly go up to one of my children, lean down, and whisper something in their ear, like "I'm so glad I get to be your mom" or "you are doing such a good job growing up!". I think that the unexpectedness of it makes it more special to them, and it solidifies that I am thinking about them even when we aren't necessarily in the middle of engaging with one another. And don't leave babies out of it! You never know when they begin to understand, and I love the idea that a baby can't even remember a life when Mom was telling them how much they are loved. Involve Them in Your Day-to-Day.
Folding laundry together, making dinner, setting the table, cleaning a bathroom....all of these are times that can foster real conversation and connection, even while you get other things done. My three year old, in particular, loves to feel useful. Giving her tasks to complete alongside me is actually a tool I often use to help her regulate or work off aggression or emotion. Often, just being silent and allowing them to talk (or not talk!) at will gives them space to feel involved and meaningful. Some of the best conversations I remember having with my mom happened during lunch, or while I sat in her bathroom as she applied makeup. Nothing fancy, just everyday life, but so life-giving. Bedtime Routine.
Everyone handles this differently, and we've certainly had our routines switch up depending on what season we are in. Right now, all our kids are young enough to need a lot of parental involvement. I used to put the youngest to bed, and then hustle the other two (5 and 3) upstairs together. I'd bark orders for them to use the restroom and put on pajamas while I alternated brushing their teeth. They'd be distracted and silly, I'd end up frustrated and threatening. Lately, I've changed the way I do bedtime. I play some soft worship music on my phone and leave it on the dresser. I take them up, one at a time. I brush their teeth, help them brush their hair, assist with going to the bathroom, and help them into their pajamas. It's a lovely time that I truly look forward to. It doesn't take long, but the focused attention and opportunity to connect with Mom at the end of the day, one on one, seems to be something that they really treasure, as well. NOTICE WHAT THEY NOTICE.
This one has extra emphasis, because it is one of the easiest, and yet, from my experience, most effective ways to truly connect with our kids. Watch them. What are they looking at? How are they playing? Are they methodical and precise (my 5 year old)? Are they messy and silly (my 3 year old)? What inspires them? What catches their attention when they are outside? I have learned so much about my children simply by silently watching them. Not all day...not for hours, even. By just taking a few minutes here or there to study them. Especially when they try to share their joys with us, it is so important to reinforce that we care about what they care about by matching their enthusiasm. I get it... I hear "Mom, look at this!" or "Mom, watch this!" one hundred billion times a day. And, sometimes, the answer has to be, "I'd love to come check it out, but I'm busy right now. I'll be over as soon as I'm finished." But, more often than I care to admit, the answer could be a yes, and an involved and excited response, but instead ends up a sigh and a half-hearted "oh yeah cool". The thing is, once again, we are working to lay that foundation in these early years that we are invested and involved. Welcoming their desire to bring you into their happiness now will incite them to continue to as they get older.
These are just a few, of so many, ways that we can intentionally build a relationship and establish connection with our kids. Day-to-day life gets overwhelming sometimes, but I've had great encouragement from the fact that the more I practice these principals, the easier and more second nature they become. Our children are such treasures, and some of the greatest gifts we will ever receive...I hope to not just know that fact, but live it as well.