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Staying Connected with Your Kids Through Thick and Thin

Posted by Jen on September 30, 2009 at 12:52 AM in Jen
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I'm watching as moms all around me are weathering little squalls with their tween children. It's not anything any of us cannot handle, but still--we ask one another almost daily, "If it's like this now, what will it be like then?"

Well, there's no way to know and no way to guarantee the future, right? The best we can do is pursue connection right now and cultivate our trust that our children can stay close to us in their hearts, even as their developmental tasks ask them to take a little time here or there to be more independent and sometimes pull away.

Here's my stay connected strategy for the in between years:

Follow her lead. Each child has her own way of reaching out; your willingness to take the invitation will carry you both a far way. While it's easy to overlook Madeleine's constant invitations to "come here and see this!" as an annoying interruption, the truth is, she is including me in her interests and world. By saying yes as often as I can, I'm meeting her where she's happy to join me.

Stay on the lookout for new openings. New interests provide new opportunities to connect and discuss what's going on from a slightly different perspective. One of the most delightful things about watching my kids grow up is realizing that each new development challenge always carries with it a new opportunity to reconnect. Carter now enjoys reading to me, for example, where the ritual used to be me reading to him.

Take charge. Kids aren't responsible for staying close to you; it's your job to remain a constant available resource to them. If you're struggling to make a meaningful connection, take the initiative to create the environment where something can happen. Long car rides, new outings, asking for input, trying new foods, inviting kids to help you mastermind logistics or scheduling--all these things can really open doors for easy breezy conversations that can take you somewhere fun and new.

Don't apologize for your desire for connection. All kids go through phases where they want to assert their independence and pull back a little. Don't let this fool you into thinking that they need you any less. By continuing to state your desire to be with them, to spend time together and to hear their thoughts, you keep the door open and release them of the burden of making up the difference during developmentally trying times.

Be affectionate. I'm determined to keep the love flowing over here--even though Madeleine feigns disinterest in my cozy displays of affection. I know her well enough to understand that there's a lot of security for her in knowing I will reach out--even when she's moody and appearing indifferent per her tween age script.

How are you staying connected to your kids during difficult parenting times?


Serena writes...

This is a good daughter is 12 and boy is she a tween, but these suggestions can help me get closer to my baby whom I love so much!

Mommy Reporter writes...

Thanks for this post. This is great information to help parents and kids stay connected, especially now when so many families are struggling through difficult times. Keep up the great work!!

Michele writes...

Great post--they still need hugs, even when they're taller than I am! I also really make an effort to know their friends and enjoy them. This makes it more likely they'll spend time at our home, and it gives me a window into their lives/conversations/priorities. When my teen's friends started friending me on Facebook, I thought that was a good thing!

Jennifer writes...

Love this article! I spend 5-10 minutes every night with my children talking about their days, what went right, what they had difficulty with and how the next day can be different, they are 5 and 3 and LOVE to share with me...if I don't ask, they just volunteer the information, something I hope continues to stay with us as they get older

AMY writes...

This is a simple but great article. It states very well many lessons I have also learned, but puts it down in a more tangible form for me. Thank you. I think the most important point is stating clearly that it is not the child's responsibility to stay close to us. It is their job to grow up and away from us. Yet it is our job to keep offering connection to them -- through thick and thin, over and over and over again.

HeidiRenee writes...

Hey Jen, I think that the tweens are boot camp for the teen years - just like the "terrible twos/threes" are boot camp for childhood.

It's my experience that parents who navigate these difficult years well reap the benefits during the next stage of life, but those who cave and fade in these years are punished during both terms.

Being there through thick and thin, and setting boundaries during the early years and sticking to them really makes a difference. If they know they are loved and that you are firm in both your love and boundaries it will make life more stable for everyone.

Genea writes...

My family plays the 'low/high" game at dinner. Every night we sit down together (yes, sometimes this is hard when dad gets home late or when there is soccer -- but that is what snacks and the slow cooker are for! ;-)

We go around the table and each person tells the worst part of their day and then the best. By starting with the worst, it really gets the kids dialogue juices flowing. And the 'best part' of their day really helps them keep their lives in perspective.

wii recepteur writes...

I worked with them to create new strategies of communication, because it was clear to me that they couldn’t talk without hidden resentments emerging. I suggested that they use a notebook to list and check off tasks that needed to be done. Other suggestions included hanging up a white board or using Google Calendar, which allowed them to communicate without bitterness or anger.

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