To connect with your kids as much as possible – what parent doesn’t want this? But family life is chaotic… full of juggling, spinning plates, however you want to describe it… If I’m being honest, sometimes I feel like I’ve barely got time to sit down and draw breath, let alone attempt anything more aspirational.
CO-EXISTING BUT NOT REALLY CONNECTING
Like any parent, I love my children to bits and so desperately want to bond and connect with them as much as possible. But the daily grind and crazy effort that goes into trying my hardest to simultaneously keep work, family, household and myself afloat sometimes leads me to feel like some days we just interact on a practical level… Serving dinner, making sure they’re washed, taking them to and from school or childcare… Like we’re co-existing but not really connecting.
I know so many of my friends have said the same. We’re loving and committed parents but we end up feeling fraught and guilty, desperately wanting to carve out time to connect with our children but not knowing where on earth that precious time can be found. I’ve felt like this loads with my own kids over the years and still often do.
CLICHÉ BUT TRUE: QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
What I finally realised a few years down the line, cliché though it is, is that the true value isn’t in the quantity of the time you spend with them, it’s the quality. You don’t need to spend hours on a complicated activity. Even if on one particular day you can only spare 5 undiluted minutes… As long as you’re totally focused on your kids, really laughing or playing or chatting or interacting with them… A few weeks later they won’t remember that it was only 5 minutes, they’ll just remember how you made them feel. They’ll just remember that they really enjoyed being with you that day.
Obviously I’m not suggesting that we only spend 5 minutes a day with our children. The ideal scenario is of course to spend as much time as possible in meaningful activities with our kids. Of course we all try to make time for longer activities, days out, trips away, holidays etc. All I’m saying is that for many parents, it’s just not always possible for us to commit to these on a regular, daily basis. We need to make the most of what we have.
THEY’LL REMEMBER HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL
This all got brought home to me so much more since becoming a single parent. Sharing custody and co-parenting means that I see my kids less than I used to. This obviously really upset me (and still does) and to begin with I spent large proportions of my day feeling horrendous about it. After a while though, I realised this was pointless – I can’t change the amount of time I see them – so instead I decided to change my perspective and approach to the time I do have with them. Thinking about my own parents was where this all clicked into place.
My parents separated when I was seven and so I only saw each parent for half the time. Both of them had busy, responsible jobs – in retrospect I realise how much they were each juggling and how stretched their time was. Neither could give my brother and me their undivided attention the whole time we were with them. Sometimes we had to amuse ourselves while they tackled what needed to be tackled.
HOWEVER, I couldn’t be closer to both of them. They are my best friends, my heroes. I genuinely don’t remember the time I spent apart from either of them, I just remember the time I did spend with them. I remember how incredibly loved I always felt, how often we laughed together, what great fun we had, and how I knew without any doubt that if I ever needed them, they’d be right there. I’m so lucky to have had an intensely happy childhood. The number of minutes / hours / days / weeks we had together was, and still is, irrelevant. I just know how they’ve always made me feel.
My situation is exactly the same as theirs. My kids also split their time between two parents. I too have a responsible job and am sole breadwinner for our household. My time is also stretched and I can’t always spend hours on end with my kids each day. So instead of feeling guilty, I decided to apply the same kind logic to my own relationship with my kids as I realise is true for my parents.
REGULAR, BITE-SIZE, EASY ‘WINS’
With my own parents in mind, I resolved to stop focusing on totting up amounts of time, and would instead focus on the frequency and quality of connection. What’s made a massive difference to me and how regularly connected I feel to my kids is to stop beating myself up about how often I can or can’t spend massive chunks of time with them.
Instead, I now really try to focus on a ‘little and often’ approach… Bite-size, easy ‘wins’… Simple shared activities that bring the family together when time and resources are limited. Whenever we can spend more time together, of course that’s wonderful and I welcome it. But I’m not relying on those bigger chunks of time to bond us together any more. The little ones are enough to keep us closely connected.
Of course we all still do each other’s heads in – we’re family! Sometimes we’re still like ships in the night and sometimes one of these little activities goes ‘wrong’ and ends up being annoying and crap for everyone. Sometimes if I’m being honest I can’t wait to ‘disconnect’ and go and chill out on my own again.
But committing to keeping on with these regular little moments of connection has made a massive difference to me and my sense of wellbeing, how close I feel to my children, and I believe it’s made a massive difference to my kids too. Sometimes they’ll speak really fondly remembering one of these simple, ‘throwaway’ times, and it reminds me how it’s often the smallest things that actually matter the most.
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Take care folks and enjoy those lovely families of yours!