Years ago, an episode of Oprah featured an incredible wife and mother who was dying of cancer. This woman decided to videotape herself discussing a wide range of topics so that her daughter could have conversations with mom once she was gone. Leading up to her passing, this woman’s family did a number of wonderful activities to create happy times and memories. However, what touched so many viewers was that when the tween-age daughter was asked what her favorite memory was of her mom, she recounted one late night when the two of them simply went to the kitchen, ate cornflakes and hung out together.
Those minutes and moments of basic intimacy with our kids are priceless. Not only do they allow us to know and be known by our children, but they are the healthy building blocks of the lifelong relationships we’ll have with them over the years. Added bonus: the good feelings we enjoy in these moments send a surge of happy hormones throughout our bodies, boosting our health and immunity. There’s power in connection.
How do we create such times when it’s so natural to get caught up in the push and pull of daily life? It’s easy for parenting to devolve into a stressful whirlwind of commuting, drop offs, meeting the demands of work and school, paying the bills, extended family obligations, pulling meals together, fears that we’re not doing enough or too much, and obtaining and maintaining all of our stuff. Here are three suggestions.
1. Prioritize spending quality time with your children. Certain things get done in our lives because they’re non-negotiable. We eat, wear clean clothes, pay the cable bill because those things are important to us. It’s so easy to take for granted spending time with the people we love. If we don’t make doing so a conscious priority, the tyranny of the urgent will reign and this important, rewarding experience will pass you and your family by. Even ten minutes a day of being truly present and undistracted is better than nothing. It’s an investment you won’t regret.
2. Redeem the pockets of time you naturally spend with your kids. Two non-pressurized times for connecting: when you’re walking or driving in the car and right before bedtime. Sometimes the topics of discussion are incredibly random, but I find these are times when my kids volunteer what’s on their minds. If you need to push back the time your kids go to bed so that you all can just get quiet, hang, nuzzle and chat a bit, I think you’ll find it well worth it.
3. Ask your kids open-ended questions instead of questions that can be answered with one word replies. The three questions asked in my home daily are: What was the highlight of your day? Your lowlight? Your “funny-light?” (The latter was created by my youngest daughter.) Once in a while I still get the answer, “Nothing,” which is simply the truth some days, but far more often I get a flood of info. My kids often start filling me in as soon as they get off the bus or into the car. Be sure to share your answers too (as appropriate) — this allows your kids to get to know you too.
Just as our hearts gushed when we first saw our babies rejoice at the recognition of our voice or presence, life continually offers us opportunities to experience joy, pleasure and a deep comfort in parenting as our kids get older. Creating room for connection is key.