And then all of a sudden – the nest is empty. The world around you is strangely quiet.
Where did all the time go? Where did my babies go? Will they ever come back to me?
While I know that in life there are no guarantees; I also believe we can raise our kids in a way that when they get older there is a good chance they will still love to hang out with us.
My husband and I may have got a few things wrong while raising our kids. We also did a lot right during this time. One of the most important one has been establishing a rock solid foundation for our relationship with all four of them.
Today, I want to share nine things that I truly believe helped us connect with our kids when they were little that have helped us stay close even now when they are grown.
1. Make Your Home a Safe Place
Of course you are going to make sure your electrical sockets are covered, your steps have a gate and your pool has a fence/cover.
What I am talking about however is emotional safety.
There are plenty of people in our kids’ lives that will try and tear our kids down. Make fun of them. Tease them. Give them nicknames they hate. None of this should happen in our homes.
Again, this is easier when they are babies. But as they grow and go to preschool and kindergarten and learn “bus words” (you all know what I am talking about) it takes more energy, effort and consistency on our part as parents. Here are a few specific examples –
a) Do your best not to put your child down or to let siblings put each other down. I KNOW this is hard. Trust me. And while it may be impossible at times to stop it completely, you can still let your kids know that it is not acceptable. We are a family and we have each other’s back.
b) When my husband, myself or one of my kids offended another one, an apology was expected. I know there are mixed opinions about this. Why should they apologize when they don’t even mean it? To help with this I suggest using different words. Instead of saying, “I am sorry for kicking you”, they were to say, “Please, forgive me for kicking you”.
First – at that point they probably weren’t sorry and would do it again with very little provocation.
Second – the response to this would not be – “that’s okay” – because it was NOT okay! The response is – “I forgive you”.
Forgiving someone frees you from anger. You forgive someone to help you, not because the other person deserves it.
c) One of our rules was no cursing in my car, my house or my presence. That includes my kid’s friends as well. My kids and their friends learned really quickly that it wasn’t okay and they were great at respecting that. Our house and car should be a place of building up and using positive words, not curse words. Yes – this means mom and dad too…
2. As Great As It Sounds Our Goal Is Not To Be Our Kids’ Best Friend
This may seem counterintuitive when it comes to connecting with our kids. Of course we want our kids to love us and want to spend time with us.
But there is more to being a parent than that.
When we try and become their buddy we often let limits slide that we shouldn’t. We let them get away with a little more so they will like us. This is even harder for the single parent, especially if they have a “Disney Mom or Dad” who is all about fun and sparkle and dazzle. Who wants to always feel like the heavy?
As crazy as it sounds however, kids need someone in their life who can give them boundaries and rules.
We are like the guard rail on the side of the road; there to help them from going over the edge.
Have you looked at a guard rail lately? They are all dented and stained and bent out of shape – but they are doing their job.
Often, our kids may fight us when we are really trying to protect them, but deep down we are teaching them that keeping them safe, loving and protecting them is more important than being liked by them.
And THIS is the connection that will stick with them especially in the later stages of their lives.
3. Give Them Permission to Use You as an Excuse
As our kids got older they were always allowed to use us as an excuse. If our kids were asked “Want to go to this party?” and they didn’t want to, they could say, “No, my mom is making me do this” or “my dad needs me to do that”.
We would take the blame whenever they needed an out.
4. Let Your Friends Help
While we were not our kids’ best friend – my best friends were a huge help to us.
When our kids got to an age when they would be spending the night with buddies or going to parties they knew our phone numbers, but they also carried my friends phone number. We had an understanding. If at any time they wanted to leave or needed a ride for one reason or another and they just didn’t want to call mom or dad, they could call my friend.
She would pick them up and bring them to her house and tell me NO information other than they were with her and safe – as long as they were not in danger of hurting themselves or others.
And because I had been wise in choosing this friend I knew that she would give them good and sound advice. Advice that coming from her -not mom- would most likely have a greater impact.
5. Meet Them Where They Are
All of us know that each person is unique. Our kids have their specific likes, and fears, and strengths and talents. Therefore to make a connection with them we need to be who they need us to be at any given moment.
In my house in the exact same situation I often would be the cheerleader for one – “You can do it”. “You are amazing”. “You have so many talents”. “You got this.”
The comforter for another. “I know you are hurting”. “That stinks”. “I would feel that way too”. “It’s okay to cry”. “That was so unkind of that person to do that”.
And the coach for a third – “Suck it up, you’re fine”.
It is knowing what to do, when and with whom that is hard.
Before you react or respond take a moment to pause and really think about who THAT kid needs you to be at THAT very moment.
6. Make Memories
I will start this with a warning: When you start traditions that you repeat for a few years, your kids will expect you to do them FOREVER! Honestly, my kids and I were the oldest people ever at breakfast with Santa for years!
And while I do have things, like breakfast with Santa, that I did with all of my kids together, there are also things I did with them as individuals as well. Here are a couple examples.
Birthday Sleepover: When one of my kids had a birthday I would do a sleepover in their room. Often it was on the night of their birthday, but not always.
We would lie there and play and talk for as long as they wanted. No electronics.
I think I started this at 2 or 3 – the first year they were in a bed and it kept up for a good 10-12 years. I still remember being so tired I couldn’t see straight, but even today they talk about our sleepovers. It was a sweet time of connecting, relationship building and fun.
Birthday Lunch: Bring them lunch at school on their birthday. I did this up until middle school. I would show up with a balloon and a pizza or taco or whatever and have lunch with them in the cafeteria. If you kid has a summer birthday, do it on their half birthday and bring half a pizza. It makes them feel super special.
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7. Surprise Them
Once my kids hit middle school I stopped bringing lunch to their school (okay, that’s not entirely true – I did it once, big mistake, she was NOT thrilled) but I didn’t stop acknowledging and surprising them.
I remember one time when one of my daughters was having a few bad weeks, a friend of mine sent her a cookie bouquet – to her school! Had it delivered right to the office.
And I could look my child in the eye and promise her it was not from me! To this day she does not know who sent it. Keep this in mind as your kids and your friends’ kids struggle with different things.
Kids love getting packages in the mail. At times I would send my friends’ kids packages with little tchotchkes and a note saying they were great and I was thinking of them – but no signature. Mysteries can be super fun.
Making connections does not just mean with our own kids. And as we build up and encourage others kids, others will do it for us – and who doesn’t want that?
8. Take a Sick Day Every Now and Then
School is great. It is important. I work at a school – I get it. But there are times when you just need to pull your kids out of school and spend the day, or even half a day, even an hour with them one on one. In our house we would call it a Mental Health Day. Sometimes we would plan it and sometimes I would surprise them.
Jessica, our oldest insists that when she was in high school I showed up at her school and when the office asked where we were going I said she had an appointment with Dr. Sunshine. She said we spent the afternoon outside having fun. I remember the day, not the Dr. Sunshine part, but it does sound like something I would do.
But this doesn’t have to just happen when they are older. Even when they are little, out of the blue, grab one of your kids and do something special with them. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
Have a picnic. Put bikes in the car and pick them up and drive to a park. Just let them know while school is important, spending time with them is important too. There is plenty of school in their lives, missing a day now and again won’t hurt them.
Now if you have a kid, who does not like to miss school you can check their schedule and arrange taking them out during a class you know they would be okay missing. Also, some kids need to know things ahead of time as surprises can throw them for a loop. But it is worth the effort to work it out with them and have some good times ditching school.
Can’t take time off of work to do this? No worries. Weekend one on one fun works too. Grab a kid and head out the door. Just find time to spend with each kid, one on one, every now and again.
- 500 Things to Do With Your Children Before They Grow Up – by Linda and Corey Aber
- 101 Almost Free Things to do With Your Kids This Summer – by Rayven Perkins
9. Be the Last Person They See Each Night
When your kids are small, bed time can be exhausting. “One more story”, “I need a drink”, “Don’t shut the door” “Where is Teddy?”.
But before long, they reach that wonderful age when they can tuck themselves in. They can shower, and brush their teeth and crawl into bed, and you can collapse on the sofa with a book and a glass of wine.
Wait – before you pour a drink or crack a book, go up and sit on the side of your kids’ bed and say good night. If you say prayers, pray with them. If they need to relax, scratch their back.
Be the last person they see each night.
Let them know that as tired as you are, it is more important to you to spend a few quiet moments with them each night.
There are times when they will want no part of it – then just go in, give a quick “I love you and sleep well” with a touch on the shoulder.
There are times when they don’t want you to leave – take advantage. Especially in the tween years. When they are tired they often will open up and share (truth be told when they are tweens they will also often cover their heads and ignore you – just go back to paragraph above). But when they want to talk, treasure these rare late night talks.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
It is never too late to start connecting with your kids. Whether they are 2 months or 12 years, do what you need to, to make connections.
- Think of a way you can surprise each of your kids this week. It may be a crazy lunch, an anonymous letter in the mail, or a trip to the mall. Think of something they wouldn’t expect.
- How emotionally safe is your home? Is it a place where people are built up and supported? Watch the way people talk to each other under your roof and encourage positive and uplifting words.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
- Look at who your friends are. Do they build you up? Are they good sounding boards? If so, continue to nurture these relationships. If not, start looking for some people who can be there for you. Mom’s groups, church groups, book clubs. It may take some time, but it is worth the effort.
- When your friend’s kid is having a tough time, send them a little something in the mail.
- Try teaching “Please forgive me for __________” vs. “I’m sorry for ____________” . If the child is old enough, remind the victim that asking for forgiveness is not saying what the other person did is okay, it is saying it is not okay but I am choosing to forgive you anyway.
- Make an effort to be the last person your kids see each night. Tuff – yes. Worth it – for sure!