I am really enjoying my re-read of Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate’s book, Hold Onto Your Kids. In this book, they describe how children’s excessive attachment to peers sabotages their development. What our children really need, they say, is a strong attachment to their parents and other positive adults who can provide the invaluable support and apprenticing which help them fully develop and mature.
For example, the authors suggest that many developmental ‘challenges,’ such as teenage rebellion, that we call “normal,” are actually an outgrowth of the way we have been living for only the past 6o years or so. Once we started grouping peers together in schools for large periods of the day, and reducing their connection with loving adults, problems emerged.
When everyone is running on the same hamster wheel of school and extracurricular activities, it’s easy to think that the problems we experience with our children are just their developmental phases. But when we look at the bigger picture, we see that these challenges are often just what happens when there has not been enough relaxed, focused, loving attention and connection with each other.
I appreciate this reminder that in our fast paced society, we must be vigilant in order to keep our children close and provide the loving attachment they really need. And yet, as parents, in our own overstressed lives, we may struggle to fit in connection time with our children, let alone time for ourselves. Here are a few suggestions with my practical, parental self-care spin on them to help you keep your children close:
Collect yourself and your child- An essential concept in the book is, ‘collecting’ our children throughout the day and after any separation. We get in their face’ in a friendly way, eliciting eye contact, a smile, a nod. We act as their compass point, guiding them through the day and inviting their dependence where needed. We show them we delight in them and communicate ‘here we are together, I love you, you are safe with me.’ While this is an essential reconnection for our children’s well being, it is equally important that we do this for ourselves. We ‘collect’ ourselves throughout the day by tuning into our own soul with love and compassion, asking ‘How am I feeling? What am I needing? What would be loving to me right now?’ When we treat ourselves this way, we have more authentic love and presence to share with our children when we ‘collect’ them.
Work Together- Some of our repetitive activities like meal making, laundry folding, sweeping, gardening, etc. can be enjoyable time spent together. It helps to have children take turns for special one-on-one time with you while you do these tasks, instead of competing for your attention. For example, have one child (at a time) chop celery (a pumpkin carving knife works great) while you listen to her talk about her day. My children always enjoy the meals we make together the most, and after connecting, they are more open and content at the dinner table.
Power Dates over Playdates- It is tempting to let our children have yet another playdate (there is so much we can get done in that hour!) but it often reinforces their disconnection. Designate days when playdates are ok, and set aside a couple days or times a week when instead of a playdate, your child can have a ‘power date’ with you. Come up with something you like to do together, a craft, a project, a walk, but ensure that it is enjoyable to everyone. Whenever possible, make it a one on, ‘special time’ so that you can reconnect to your joy in knowing each other. But don’t worry when this is not possible. Simply shifting your energy from ‘getting through the day’ with your children, to having a power date, can increase the quality time and connection for all.
Go to Bed Earlier- It is priceless to ensure you are well rested so that you can be the parent you want to be. And it also helps immensely to plan your bedtime ritual with your children an hour to half hour earlier. In the evening, most children given the opportunity, tend to ‘open up’ and want to tell us all about their day or ask wonder-full questions. Be sure you start early enough so you are rested and able to set aside time to enjoy this invaluable connecting time. You will feel better about your whole day if you do.
Get Away- One of the best ways to ‘unhook’ our children from their distractions to connection, is to go on an outing for the day, weekend, or longer if you can! Ignore the complaints and head out to someplace natural where down time is ensured; a hike, a walk in a park, the beach, etc.(children who are hooked on media, peers, and convenience tend to balk at nature outings but they need them!) Remember to make it fun for you by negotiating activities you all like, i.e., bike rides, fishing, volleyball, etc. and make sure there is plenty of time for relaxed down time where connections thrive.
And as always, remember that taking care of yourself alongside your children, always leads to stronger and richer connections.