What does it really take to connect with someone? We talk about quality time over quantity. We talk about the benefits of real life connections over those online. We talk about really listening rather than just hearing.
All these things are relevant and true.
After all connection is everything. It gives us purpose and meaning to all that we do. I know I would struggle to find relevance for anything I did without the sharing of those achievements, challenges, failures and successes with my family and friends.
But what does it take to really connect?
In my work I have often come across families that for whatever reason are stressed, fragmented and even hostile.
I hate hearing parents say their child is no fun to be around. That they don’t understand their world. That they are only interested in computer games. That they have no concentration. That they are attention seeking. That they only care about their friends. That they don’t want to talk to them. All these things may have an element of truth. And certainly there are moments when we all may have felt some of these things.
But I believe all children really want is connection. They don’t always ask for it. They often don’t even realise that is what they want. And if they do know, they are unlikely to know how to articulate it. Most of the time it comes out in other ways. It could be that attention deficit misbehaviour. It could be that closing up and refusing to talk. It could be that tantrum, that slammed door or that ‘I hate you’.
It is easy to connect with our kids when they are little. Their squidgy little faces are so easy to kiss. Their inability to move unaided means we are mostly holding them close, picking them up and carrying them from one destination to the next. Their reliance on us for everything ensures that we need them close in order to feed, bathe and keep them safe.
When they are toddlers and small children we know how much they want our attention. Apparently toddlers ask 467 questions on average a day! That can be genuine curiosity, but also a desire for attention. We know that as soon as we get on the phone they want something to eat. As soon as we sit down they need to go to the toilet.
But I now know if I set my 3 year old up with play dough or drawing and pay attention for 15 minutes, I can get maybe 30 minutes without him nagging me for something. Or some relative scale.
As they grow and their independence becomes more cool than mums hand, then we let go a little. And we should. But only in the physical sense. We still need to keep them close. We still need to make sure they know we are there.
As my older boys enter in to that world of it not being so cool to hold mums hand, I am become very wary of how I keep those connections strong. Sometimes common interests and pursuits may allow it to happen more easily. Other times, it may require a more conscious effort. Here is what I hope to continue to do:
Make time: A computer game we can play against each other, a visit to the coffee shop for a milkshake by ourselves. A chat before bedtime. A movie together. An outing to somewhere that interests them.
Take any opportunity: My eldest isn’t always forthcoming with a cuddle, but he is happy to take me on with some wrestling moves to see if he can flip me over (which he seems to be not far from achieving). I’m happy to take that though. Similarly, a drive in the car to sports training or a friends can sometimes get more out of my kids than sitting them down for a chat. It is important to use these moments to let your kids know that you are always able to turn your attention to them. Sometimes issues or concerns are more likely to be brought to the surface in these moments.
Listen to them: Let them ask questions and ask them questions. Try not to interrupt even when we believe we know exactly what they’re going to say. This is sometimes easier said than done for me and a constant work in progress!
With 5 children I think it is natural that they get different attention at different stages. As parents I believe we need to ensure that connection is always there, no matter what external challenges and difficulties arise.
Have you had to find different ways to connect with your kids? Or what are the memories of your connections with your own parents?