I’ve been very busy at work trying to wrap everything up before going on our nearly two week Christmas break, which means that at night, I’m exhausted, but still trying to fit in dinner, dishes, laundry, and last minute Christmas shopping and preparations. My little five year old and two year old however, just want to talk about Christmas, make Christmas crafts, sing Christmas songs, read Christmas stories, and pull me away from my to do list in whatever way they can.
I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling an extra strong pull from my children away from my “busy-ness” and onto their priorities of laughter, fun, and the magic of Christmas. I so want to join in, but what about the sink full of dishes? What will we do if there are no clothes to wear? And where on earth am I supposed to find the energy to work hard all day and then roughhouse with kids all night? My patience wears thin which just makes their need for connection that much stronger.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m reading a new book on peaceful parenting. I’m really make a strong effort to do less yelling, demanding, threatening, and punishing and more loving, connecting, and coaching with my kids. It feels better for me, it’s more instinctive to love my kids instead of being mean to them, and research shows that it’s the best way to raise kids. But its not easy.
I’m learning that “our children need to know that we take joy in them or they don’t see themselves as worth loving.” Ouch! How much joy do my kids feel I take in them when I’m constantly ignoring them to prioritize the dishes or my smart phone?
Or how about the fact that “study after study shows that the best protection for teens from the excesses of the culture and the peer group is a close relationship with their parents.” I’m pretty sure I can see from my own teen years that culture and peer groups are not exactly where I want my children looking to for direction in life.
I’m also discovering that “children freely, even enthusiastically, cooperate when they believe we are on their side.” This, I need. Kids who cooperate when we are hustling through the morning rush to get out the door in time. Kids who will enthusiastically brush their teeth and get in their car seats and eat their vegetables without any fuss or arguing. I’m in!
So how do we take joy in our kids, develop a close relationship with our kids, and help them to truly understand that we are on their side? It starts with a little thing called connection. Time. Good old quality time, and as much of it as we can give. Putting away our phones, tossing away our to do lists, ignoring our exhaustion, and focusing with full attention on our kids. Like I said, it’s not easy, but I’m starting to see that the long-term results make it all worth it. Happy, well-behaved, loving kids that don’t drive me crazy every day, that meet my expectations without nagging or yelling, and who feel like I’ve got their back.
I’ve put together just a few ideas to help us reconnect with our kids. To give them the time and attention they need to feel loved, wanted, and secure.
I love reading and the best part is that reading takes very little physical energy. After a long day in the office, all I want to do is collapse on the couch and veg out. Instead of turning on the TV, have your kids collect a pile of books and snuggle up for a read-a-thon. Read as many books as time allows, stopping to talk about the characters, the stories, the pictures, and asking your kids all kinds of questions. If you can find silly books or ask silly questions it’s even better because laughter diffuses anxiety and other negative emotions that kids may have bottled up during their long day.
Bring them into your activities (but make it fun)
You really do have a long to do list. Your family needs clothes to wear and tensions will really get ugly if you don’t serve dinner soon. Invite your kids to participate. Pull out a stool and get them mixing up the ingredients, or if they’re old enough have them chop the veggies. My kids love pushing the buttons on the microwave so much that I specifically use the timer on the microwave instead of the stove so that they can set it for me. My two year old is too little to help much, but he loves to sit on the counter and watch while I work as long as I talk to him along the way. You can also include kids in the daily cleaning chores, make it a race to see who can clean up a room the fastest, or who can fold clothes the smoothest. You can also bring imaginative play into your chores by imagining a princess is coming to visit, so have your child go around the house shining all of the surfaces until they sparkle to impress the princess.
Arts and crafts
My five year old can color better than I can. Without a doubt, I have a budding artist on my hands. My living room is constantly littered with crayons, markers, papers, and coloring books. My office walls are covered in finished projects. I do not share this same enthusiasm for art, but I’ve recently realized that she thinks it is the best thing ever if someone actually sits down with her to color or craft. I usually set her up with her art projects and leave the room, but it’s amazing how happy she is if I stick around and paint with her. And I’m discovering that painting and coloring and creating something nice can be pretty calming after a long, stressful day at work.
Puzzles and games
Family game night anyone? Playing games or doing puzzles together automatically brings conversations, laughter, and connection. My daughter recently discovered the dots and boxes game, where you draw lines to connect dots and eventually make boxes. We snuggled on the couch and played that game over and over again the other night. I didn’t even have to move, but spent tons of quality time with her. She was in heaven!
My husband is currently going to school to get his degree. He takes online classes, so many nights during the week he is downstairs locked in the office plugging away at his homework. One of my favorite things about him is that when he hears yelling or crying through the floor, he’ll often take a break from his studies and come to my rescue. He breezes in and roughhouses with the kids for 10-15 minutes to give me a break and then disappears back downstairs when they all have had their fill of laughter and physical release. It gives me the chance to calm down and recollect myself, it gives the kids a chance to work off their steam, and it gives him a much needed break from his homework to play with his kids. Roughhousing is one of my favorites, I should probably do it more often myself!
I’m sure your house is like mine and there are gazillions of toys in every room, many of which never get played with. I think my kids just forget about their toys, or they aren’t quite sure how to play with a toy for one reason or another. I’ve made it my mission to remember neglected toys. When the kids get antsy and it’s obvious that they need someone to pay attention to them I’ll find a toy that never gets any attention and sit down with them to play. After several minutes of playing with me, they are often reminded of the fun of the toy and having such a good time that they don’t even mind when I sneak away to go finish making dinner.
The most important part of parenting seems to be connecting with our kids. We enjoy them more, they are more fun to be around, and the strong relationship that is built by this connection allows us to have a meaningful, strong influence on their lives and their choices.
You’re probably like me and you chose to have kids in order to enjoy them, so do that. Take the time today, to reconnect with them, to talk, to play, to laugh, to enjoy life with them.