How to Connect with your Kids for Life |
Most of us would die for our kids. Literally. Faced with an “It's your daughter or it's you” scenario, we'd all say, “Take me!”
Likewise, few of us would think twice about killing anyone who attacked, abused or mortally threatened our kids. We're hardwired for that. For me, nothing produces anger, hatred or despair like the mistreatment or neglect of a child. It shouldn't happen and those who perpetrate it should not be allowed within 100 miles of a kid.
I was lucky. Despite both of my parents suffering physical and emotional abuse as children, they were loving, supportive and emotionally available to my sister and me. They set a benchmark that I aspire to each and every day. I'm not there yet but I continue to try.
Basics vs Techniques
Parenting is part science and part intuition. Some people say there's no handbook for parenting but that's nonsense. There are thousands of them. That's a blessing and a source of confusion – mainly because kids can smell inauthenticity a mile away. And techniques are hard to remember and apply consistently.
Although parenting is indeed complex and riddled with traps, the basics account for a huge percentage of it all. It's the 80/20 rule. It doesn't just apply to business or learning the piano…
I'm a lifelong learner of many things, but wherever possible, I don't learn to be clever; I learn to simplify. I try to distil complex ideas into something usable.
A head full of knowledge does nothing for my quality of life, but a few principles – applied consistently – change everything.
I have three gorgeous and thoroughly interesting children. My girls, Amy and Sarah, are 16 and 14. They're becoming woman faster than my 49-year-old brain can process. My boy, Tommy, is six, and his progress is beautiful to watch.
I love my kids so much it physically hurts sometimes. It's a mixture of adoration, protectiveness and fear for their safety and happiness. I don't know if these feelings will ever wane but it's a ‘curse' I'm resolved to bear for as long as it takes.
I love them and I know they love me, too. I've wanted kids since I was about 12 and I think that comes through. I just ‘get' kids, and like a dog who senses a dog-lover, kids can tell I haven't forgotten what it feels like to be a kid myself.
I believe this has helped me to connect with my kids in a way that maybe other parents don't. I remember what it was like to be in their shoes. I have memories going back as far as when I was two – laying in my dad's arms; the smell of Old Spice, his huge arms cradling me as he chatted with mum in our modest kitchen.
We Watch More Than we Listen
My brain holds thousands of memories of my parents' behaviour; the examples they set, how they dealt with stress and adversity, and the way they explained the world to me. They showed me how to live authentically; how people should treat each other, and how issues should be resolved.
These were important elements of my upbringing. But something else – something few parents excel at – made a huge difference. They listened. They acknowledged and respected my views. They didn't dismiss them as childish, immature or ill-informed – even though they usually were.
They were wise enough to let this young boy discover things in the time he needed to uncover his own truths. They didn't need to preach to me because the example they set was enough of a benchmark for me to work with. I already knew where the lines in the sand were. I didn't have to remember them because they were on display for all to see.
I see a lot of parents struggle to connect with their kids. They try to be cool, or they try to buy their way in. Or they try to be authoritarian. But they forget their kids are watching – always watching. They offer their kids soundbites of trite ‘wisdom' – hollow platitudes off Instagram. They act like parents instead of being parents.
They Want What You Want
All of us want the same things – our children included. We want to be heard; to be understood and to be respected. We want to matter.
My childhood is filled with beautiful moments where my mum and dad just sat with me and listened – sometimes intently, often casually as we walked our dog on the golf course.
My dad and I have driven thousands of kilometres across this country together. We've worked on projects in the shed, fettled motorbikes and cars, we've sat in front of a hundred roaring campfires and played games on the kitchen table till the wee hours of the morning.
He could have hung out with his mates at the pub or gone sailing on the weekend but he chose to spend his time with me. Likewise, my mum and I often chatted in the kitchen as she prepared dinner. We sat in the loungeroom and discussed my tastes in music, my awkwardness with girls and my dreams for the future.
My parents were there for me. Truly there. They didn't glance at their phone mid-sentence. They didn't offer canned advice. They cared.
Even when I ‘abandoned' them for a couple of my late teenage years (getting my driver's license made it hard to stay home), they never stopped being there for me. And they still haven't. They still drop everything to see me and have a long chat.
And that's how you connect with your kids. That's how you make your kids a lifelong fan – by being theirs.We all want the same things - our children included. We want to be heard; to be understood and respected. Click To Tweet
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Also published on Medium.