If I’ve learnt anything about a good parent child relationship I’ve learnt it all, every miniscule morsel, from my children.
Take this, from yesterday.
I was nursing Juno, while Ramona, her older sister, was sat next to me reading. I murmured “I love you” into Juno’s hair, she looked up and, for the first time in her life, said it back. Except that it sounded like “By Bub Bu” because she still had the whole of my nipple in her mouth. Hearing her say by Bub Bu felt so lovely, and I was so overcome and curious about her understanding of this phrase that I said “Do you know what I love you means, Juno?” I was hoping for something enlightening, something upon which I might write a poem, something that might ping into my mind for the rest of my life, even. She thought for a moment and answered; “Redbush!”, our favourite kind of tea.
Fortunately Ramona piped up, right into my bafflement. “I love you means when you feel really, really, really, really, really connected to someone.”
She is five and a half and with that explanation nails one of the discrepancies that can haunt a potentially magnificent parent child relationship.
As Gabor Mate in all his brilliance puts it:
“Love felt by the parent does not automatically translate into love experienced by the child.”
We love our children with every bit of ourselves yet can spend so much of the day disconnected from them.
Surely the love that swells our heart as we gaze at their sleeping bodies before we head to bed is enough? I want to say it is, but it sort of isn’t.
(When I say “we” here I very much mean “I”- the pauper “we”!)
We need to take the time and put the effort into making sure this love we feel is experienced by our kids as connection.
But you want to know something awesome? I totally believe we can make connection a habit.
Here are five things that will restore the connection in a parent child relationship:
1- Make loo time me and you time
This is my best tip. BEST TIP. I know it sounds weird, especially if you like to take a dump solo (but it is good to start lists with low expectations.) This isn’t about your dump, but the dump of your kids. Hold on, it’s actually not about anyone’s dump. Let’s start again:
What do you do when you have to accompany your children to the toilet? Do you squeeze blackheads in the mirror? Check your phone? That’s exactly what I used to do!
But now I do this instead:
Squat in front of them (good for your thighs! See it as a micro multifunctional Aerobics class) and ask how their day is going. Keep tuned in, keep the conversation flowing. Even if they are only 18 months and can only babble. Soon they will be done, you can wipe their bum, and move along.
Your kid goes to the toilet a few times a day, right? So this is instantly a few minutes everyday spent just hearing from your kid, looking into their eyes and connecting.
This is totally inspired by the incredible Emmi Pikler and her emphasis on doing Nappy Changes with total care and attention. Doing nappy changes with love and respect can be a foundation for a parent child relationship, and I reckon the same principle can carry you right through until they go to the toilet on their own. (Herald the day.)
2- Turn tension into play
Play is our children’s language, the way they connect, the thing they understand. When they poke your bum while you make the tea – that is them telling you they love you and they want to connect with you! (You used to do that too, you know.) Dig deep and turn tense moments into a play moment. It might feel like more effort than you have but I genuinely believe that putting the effort in here actually takes way less time and energy then yelling I’M GONNA COUNT TO THREE AND IF YOU HAVEN’T DONE IT I’M GOING TO PUT ALL YOUR TOYS ON EBAY and the huge fall out from that.
What are the areas in your parent child relationship that are always a bit tense?
Teeth cleaning? Put a teddy bear glove on and get the teddy bear to clean their teeth.
Getting dressed? Put all their clothes on you first, they will literally be rolling around on the floor in giggles as you try and put their legging over your head.
Juno needed to put some cream on her face this week and really didn’t like it – until I drew a face on my fingers and put on a funny accent. HELLO! She was like WOO CREAM ON MY FACE!
This principle, of speaking a child’s language of play can start early – read more here, playful parenting with a baby.
3- Love what they love
Oh, this is SO HUGE. Take an interest in the things they love, ask them about it, play it, dress up as it, open the doors to their interest, blow them away with the wonders of their interest.
Do they love tutus? YOU KNOW YOU NEED ONE. Spend the whole day wearing a tutu and you will feel the connection with your child palpably. And you know you will rock it like Darcey Bussel.
Do they love playing on the ipad? Sit down with them and try and make the cakes for each other or build the town or secret machines for each other.
Do they love dinosaurs? Bury bones in the garden and spend the afternoon at your dig, draw a massive dinosaur on the pavement, east meat off the bone for dinner.
Even if it is stuff you fear (I’m thinking princesses for the feminist parent!) use it as a platform for connection.
4- Say it with your eyeballs
Eye contact is the first point of connection, an ancient, powerful, subconscious method of building a relationship with someone. In all our busyness it is easy to just chat to them while we drive/ cook/ clean/ walk and go a whole day without having eyeballed each other.
“Eye contact produces a powerful, subconscious sense of connection that extends even to drawn or photographed eyes.”
It is pretty well documented that eye contact is one of the pillars of good healthy connection.
There is a well known Zulu greeting; I see you. As with many indigenous phrases it hard to capture the full depth of its meaning. But it is something about being fully present with your being, shown through your eyes.
We see you is
“an invitation to a deep witnessing and presence. This greeting forms an agreement to affirm and investigate the mutual potential and obligation that is present in a given moment.”
When you speak to your child take that one step further to get on her level and look at her with your loving gawpers.
5- Don’t let a bad day take over
AH! How easy it is to relinquish a day into the gloomy depths of unrecoverablity! Some days are just really freaking bad, aye? And you just think “F*ck this Sh*t.” (Sorry Grandad.)
Somehow, SOMEHOW, we have to press reset. It is up to us to do that. I’m sorry. It’s called adulting and sometimes it just totally sucks. So. Chuck back an espresso. Scream into your armpit. Eat a bar of chocolate and then FIND YOUR MOJO! You can do it.
My absolute favourite for getting out of a horrible rut and restoring that parent child relationship is number 35, it is insanely simple but works a treat:
Quit the now, for a few moments. Becca says “Looking at baby photos with them. Remembering that innocence and vulnerability – that we are the caretakers of (hard to remember at times of extremis.)”
Children LOVE looking at their baby photos and as well as entertainment for them it helps you remember that they are truly small, and you are responsible for their happiness and it is hard for them too. (Such a great blog post in that link.)
The most important thing we can do for our children isn’t in the DOING. It is in the BEING.
It is prioritising connection with our children over all the other things we “should” be busying ourselves with for the sake of our children.
It is in the simple sitting with, the joining in, the loving gaze shared from eye to eye.
It is strewing a fully present “I see you” throughout each day.
Take the time to make sure the love you feel for your children is experienced by them, and you, in turn will have all the joy of a fully restored connection.
And maybe even all the joy of an adult sized tutu to wear anytime you feel like it.