I know it can feel hard to treat our children kindly and put them first when we feel distracted, exhausted or worn down by typical childhood behaviour. However, it is important for parents to understand that the way they treat their children does greatly affect their emotional, intellectual, and even physical development. How parents interact with their children influences who those children are.
This influence can really feel like a burden if parents feel badly about time away from their children or perhaps guilt from continually putting them at the bottom of the priority list. Thankfully it is never too late to consider how we interact with our children, and to do something to positively change that. A good example of this was how a mother’s wish to change her child’s aggressive behaviour led to a change in how she and her husband interacted with their son.
The mom explained to me that her son had become very aggressive and no parenting strategies she was trying were changing that behaviour. After asking questions about their life and family interaction, I discovered that her husband was never around in the mornings and rarely on weekends. When he was home at night, likely because of his intense work life and tiredness, he had one eye one on his phone and was quite sharp with his son. As I expected, bedtime was a constant battle and when his dad was not around, the son would have large tantrums that included hitting.
We had a great conversation (with both mom and dad) about life and their parenting goals. The father actually realized on his own that his schedule and the way he spoke to his son were likely the problem. They realized I could teach them about attachment bridging or strategies to reduce battles but the issue was mostly that the child just really missed his dad. He was trying to express this, but as most young kids don’t have the words to explain their hurt, their communication comes out sideways as shouting or hitting.
These parents made a commitment to use the time they have with their son positively and for dad to find a way to recharge, regroup, and put his phone down so he could come home to his excited son and enjoy some connection time with him.
As I read through a book called HANDS FREE MAMA by Rachel Macy Stafford, I thought about this couple and how we can feel at the mercy of our schedules, desires and mobile devices. It is easy to get caught up in the noise of demands and distractions, whether that noise is originating from our phones or our heads. I marveled at Stafford’s awareness of how her distracted tendencies were causing her to miss out on her children’s lives, and what she did to change that. The part of her book that really had me cheering was about choosing what matters.
Many parents throw their hands up in defeat citing work commitments, laundry piles, and binging phones as the cause of disconnect and relationship trouble with their children. As Stafford describes in her book, parents have a great deal of choice to pick things within their work or home demands that create space for children and themselves. I completely agree with her. For example, we can choose to have the kids help us put the laundry away, not worrying about how it gets folded, or schedule when our phone gets attention, and when it does not.
Stafford writes touching anecdotes of how she chose her children over being busy, instead of being in a hurry and despite the demands of her electronics which will help others to do the same. I like that she admitted how hard this can be, and what can be done to address challenges.
The thing parents and I talk most about when they ask for help is how to put the relationship with their child at the top of the priority list. Children want to feel they matter. They also want adults to respect them and treat them fairly. They do not want to be constantly nagged, shouted at, and ordered around.
Distracted, busy, exhausted parents tend to have a harder time communicating the sense of importance children desire. They also might have a harder time being friendly or hearing their own good parenting wisdom through the noise. As I mentioned above, it is never too late to reconnect with your child – to make space for him or her. If you are interested in learning more about how to do this, I suggest:
- Reading HANDS FREE MAMA
- Taking time to consider your parenting goals
- Engaging in a reflective activity like journaling to write out your needs and challenges
- Talking with a trusted friend or professional about how to make space
- Writing out a schedule which includes time for work, family, chores, fun and exercise
- Popping over to my facebook page where I continually post free parenting resources.