Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I asked each parent, "What do you do to make this happen?" While there were variations on how it was done , every parent said the same thing. They all said "we stay connected with our child." No matter what the child had done or how busy they were, these parents kept a real connection. They were very aware that they needed to build and keep a bridge into their child's life. They were very aware of the danger of burning that bridge.
These parents stayed connected with their children in different ways. Some had children who had developed a habit of talking each night at bedtime. Some had regular meal times together to visit, no electronics. Some used travel times in the car every morning as talk time. Some parents of teenagers took naps early in the evening so they would be awake when their child came home more ready to talk. One took his fourteen year old son to breakfast once a week. They all found ways to be there and create possibilities of communication.
Yet, none forced the conversation. You can't make a child relate. But, you can establish opportunities for relationship. You can treat them with respect and not react to their frustrations or choices so he or she wants to talk with you. You can listen a lot more than speak. When you do speak, you should pick your battles carefully; most things aren't worth ruining communication. There are times to demand and rebuke, but it is often when and how those are done that keeps communication open or shuts it down. As the saying goes, "earn the right to be heard." But, you have to do that again and again. Maybe a better picture is to "keep the bucket full" of positive interactions so when you have to draw out, there is plenty there.
The idea of incarnational parenting, of stepping into our children's world, is key to communication. This doesn't mean being a "helicopter parent," stalking them, or intruding in their relationships . It does mean getting on the floor to play Pretty, Pretty Princess. Taking them on outings they enjoy--not your favorites--before it is too late. Maybe it is skipping school and work, and taking your twelve year old son rock climbing on his birthday. It can mean taking your daughter to the mall to shop, and hanging out at the coffee shop just to be her fashion critic...and to help pay! It means finding things children enjoy and sharing some of it, in their way and time. Don't wait for your children to find these times. It is your job. They won't probably think of it until they are closer to thirty!
When I was fifteen, my dad wanted to show me how to change the oil in the car. I had other things on my mind. As I got older, I often turned down his offers to enter his world and connect, one of those things I wish that I could go back and change. But, I was so much like most children. I wasn't drawn to enter his world, I needed him to enter mine at some level.
May God bless your efforts to connect with your child, give you the wisdom to know how, and the patience to wait until your child is ready to talk.