If I could create one thing to have with my kids, it would be connection. It isn’t that I lack the ability to connect with them, it’s just that I value it more than ever. Maybe I am a bit sentimental right now, as my first child soon heads off to college. I find myself reminiscing of the cute little words, the countless hugs, and the endless curiosity. It causes me to treasure the time that I have with all four boys.
Connecting the links
I hope to have a bond of trust with my kids, which makes them feel secure and loved. I think “connection” helps establish this sort of bond. Imagine a series of links creating a chain. Each link is a separate piece, yet when interlocked with the next, a chain is created. Strong, impenetrable chains are formed through interlocking links. In the same way, connection with our kids can create a strong, lasting bond.
Not only do I value connection with my kids, I want them to feel connected as well. Above all else, I desire them to feel connected to God, and to my husband and me, which is central to their well-being. Connection encourages that good rich soil (that I talked about a couple weeks ago) and helps open up ears to hear (see “Hearing for a change, we’re talking life changing hearing“).
I am sure there are countless ways to encourage connection, yet I want to hi-light just four principles I have observed to be helpful. Since each family and person is different in their make-up and needs, we will differ in the ways we live this out. And that is ok! But hopefully these principles are helpful for different, unique situations. The question is, “How will I help create connection?”
1. Physical Presence
As I reminisce, I am aware of ways I might have done things differently. At times I am too busy, too tired or have my focus on the wrong things. One thing I know for sure, my children (at any age) need my physical presence, whether they act like they need it or not! Young children, especially, connect though our physical presence. It does not mean that I am always “playing” with them, but it means I am available and mindful of their growing needs. When they have a question, I am available to hear them. When they are on a device too long or at a neighbor’s house I am not comfortable with, I am aware and able to say, “no,” or set appropriate boundaries. “Physical presence” is regular, daily availability and attentiveness.
A small thing with big benefits
In the mornings, my husband takes the youngest one to school on his way to work, which has been his routine with all our kids during the elementary years. They park on the street across from the school, then walk together with a few last words and a hug before parting in the school. Our oldest would blow kisses to dad as he parted for kindergarten. At that age, they love for us to be with them. They love and look forward to mom or dad volunteering at school or eating lunch with them. It is obvious they treasure our physical presence, for sometimes they seem to be oozing with love.
Life is full and the demands are great, yet “physical presence” is available to all of us. It is not about an expensive family trip, eating out at restaurants, going to the movies, or spending tons of money, but “physical presence” is found in the simple, everyday things. A way my husband and I have found to regularly be physically present, is by doing things we already enjoy and sharing them with our kids. Since we value reading, we read certain series with our kids starting at a young age. I also like reading ahead in some of the books the kids read, so I am familiar with the content and able to connect with them over it.
2. Margin needed
To connect with them also requires extra space in my life. A long time ago I figured out the benefit of setting my margin wider on my good ol’ typewriter in high school. I then created less space to fill with words. Having more margin in my life, allows me to free up time for possibilities. I am creating more space for what is really important— in this case, I am creating margin for people. I am creating margin in order to have connection.
Adjusting our margins
Where do I find margin? Usually I have to make some intentional changes in my schedule or in the way my family operates in order to create margin. We started keeping our weekends more open when the kids were young for our sanity. Soon, this became more of a habit. With four boys there are countless opportunities for competitive sports. The age for competitive teams and even traveling to other cities seemed to be getting younger and younger– leaving weekends disjointed and on the road. We began to avoid the competitive teams in order to preserve our weekends. Instead, the weekend typically became a time for getting things done around the house, a time for initiating with others, for taking a Sabbath and going to church. For us, it was difficult to find margin during the week, for more things seemed out of our “control:” homework assignments, youth group, school sports, and bible studies. Opening the weekend gave some needed margin for our week.
Each person and family has a different schedule to work with, but creating margin does take some sacrifice. One family I know changed jobs (taking a huge pay cut), and downsized considerably to have margin in their lives. This enabled them to do the things they felt God leading them to do.
If you had some extra time what would you do with it? Would you enjoy more time with your children? Would you be available to take a meal to a neighbor, take a walk with your spouse, or be able to invite someone over for dinner at the last minute? In order to connect with our neighbors, friends, or kids we need to be available.
Connection often happens with my kids in those surprising, unplanned, candid moments– like late in the quiet hours of the evening when my eyes are heavy and I am ready for bed. But I have found connection also takes intentionality– a deliberate choosing of a way to create connection. Sometimes, it has been a choice of a new path to tread– which is not always easy. If I don’t choose another path, we continue on the same one, possibly ending up where we don’t want to be. Our culture encourages a path independent from mom and dad sooner than I am comfortable with. Growing in independence is a good thing, but growing independent from authority is not what I want.
Putting some things on hold
Intentionally waiting to buy a phone for my kids was a positive decision (but not popular). Sometimes these decisions make the path rocky and are not met without a fight. As soon as most kids have a phone, the interaction and dialogue goes up between them and their friends and down with their family.
Waiting for dating
Intentionally having my boys wait to date or to have a girlfriend may seem odd to some. Yet, I see it as an opportunity to grow in maturity, encourage friendships, concentrate on school work and develop their hobbies. Waiting until the latter half of high school has equipped them to make better decisions about who to date. They are also hopefully more mature to understand and discuss the consequences and blessings of dating.
4. Anchoring at home
Home is the best place for my kids to be anchored. An anchor keeps us grounded, steady and oriented; without it we drift. Helping them to value family/community is a good model for life– for putting others’ needs above our own is at the heart of a fruitful life. Being at the center is not good for anyone! I treasure and enjoy that often my three teenagers are at home on weekends. For them, it is okay to miss the football game, to play games as a family and have time to relax.
What do you want to be known for as a family? What are things that characterize your family? There are some simple traditions we have developed without really trying. I love that many summers we have a new or different card came we play together as a family. This summer it is “Nerts.” We also have a favorite place we hike regularly for a summer vacation. This has created many family memories. My husband and one of my sons are getting ready to take a group of students on a mission trip to South Asia. Usually, we all go as a family for 6 weeks of the summer. These are things that I think my kids will remember and will have shaped our family identity.
The joys of connection
My hope is to continue to develop connection with my four boys. Personally, during this “sentimental” time I am relishing the conversations about life. I see the growing vulnerability as healthy. I appreciate the questions about dating and making decisions. I value when my son and I apologized to each other for our heated discussion the other day. I enjoy the packed room today, full of friends of my boys, devouring my chocolate chip cookies and watching the soccer game. I am thankful I can experience the fruit of the connecting points from over the years. All of these things: the time needed, the margin made, the unfavorable paths chosen at times, and the work of anchoring, are all worth it. Each of these “links,” strengthens the bonds of the chain. If I was to start over again with my kids, I would of course, still choose connection.
If this was helpful or something you can relate to, consider sharing it with a friend!