When our children are born, we are immediately connected to them. It’s just what happens. And while not everyone gets the amazing rush of love straight away, without fail, every single parent will immediately feel that sense of duty and ownership over their children. But do we really feel a bond?
The answer everyone wants to hear is “yes”, because no one likes to think otherwise, but the truth is, it can take a little longer to really ‘bond’ with our children. The reason for this isn’t sinister. It’s simply that until they develop their own little personalities, likes and dislikes, and mannerisms, we can’t really understand them on a deeper level. The good news is, until that point, they are so cute and wide-eyed that we don’t even care. Once they start growing up, however, we can really start trying to bond with our children.
Sometimes, we struggle to find ways to really connect with our kids, so here are some ways that families can make strong (and lasting) connections:
Turn off the technology.
I never realised just how much I was on my phone until my firstborn became obsessed with trying to grab it from my hands when he was 18 months. Looking back on the scenario after, I realised that while I
was taking photo after photo of him with the phone, from his point of view, I was looking at the screen instead of him, and so he wanted to see what had my attention so much. I felt ashamed and promised myself I would try to live in the moment more, instead of watching life through the lens. Spending time as a family without the burden of technology is so vital. We have all become so immersed in screens (televisions, tablets, phones, computers, the list goes on!) that we sometimes forget what’s most important. Sit and talk to your children; ask them for their opinions and look at them when they are replying.
Our five-year-old is obsessed with the card game Uno. It has become a ritual in our household for a game before bedtime each night and every spare moment of our day has become “Uno time”. Teaching him to play has become one of the most rewarding (and exhausting) things we have done so far. He enjoys it so much that he has now begun teaching his younger brother the fundamentals of the game, just so he can have another player to try to beat. Playing games as a family is a great way to open dialogue in a fun atmosphere, whilst creating lasting happy memories for the kids.
Get some fresh air together.
Exercise releases endorphins into the body, promoting a happy feeling. Put on a hat and step outside! Whether you take a walk together, go for a ride, or just spend the day at the beach, the fresh air will do you all good. It doesn’t need to be an expensive trip anywhere; the kids will remember how it made them feel, not how much it cost mum and dad, and an afternoon building sandcastles at the beach together is going to be just as special as something that costs hundreds of dollars.
Take turns sharing a hobby.
Just because we have kids, doesn’t mean we have to give up our hobbies. A great way to still stay a part of your world “before kids” is by including them. Introducing your children to a skill or sport that you love is a fun way to show them more about yourself. My boys love watching their dad at his CrossFit competitions, and they love when he teaches them some of the moves even more. Taking turns gives everyone a chance to share a little more about themselves with the family, in a fun and supportive environment, whilst giving each family member their own turn to shine.
Try something new together.
Sometimes it’s best if everyone is on an even playing field and seen more as equals, and this is where trying
a new activity together as a family can be great. When no one is the “leader”, everyone has a chance to shine. This is also a great chance for us, as parents, to be an equal to our children and this can be a great gateway to open conversation about our lives (something that is vitally important once our children enter middle childhood and adolescence).
Schedule family meals.
Growing up I used to hate when my stepfather would turn the television off during dinner, but dinner was a family time that had to be spent together and without disruptions. Looking back now, our dinners remain some of my favourite memories, because we spent the time listening to each other, rather than the television. Try to organise at least a few family meals each week where everyone is present, technology is off, and you can all connect and talk about your day.
Reading together is an important exercise for so many different reasons. Immersing in a new adventure together provides a great bonding experience for child and adult alike, and there are so many amazing books out there these days that cater not only to the small but also the adults that everyone can enjoy the time together. Books also open up great opportunities to discuss events that are happening to the family that are of a similar theme.
Share your memories.
Nothing helps a child to humanise parents as much as hearing stories from their childhood. It helps the child to really see their parent as a person, and not just as mum or dad. Sharing your own childhood memories and experiences with your children is a great way to teach them to look at the bigger picture rather than just their inner circle. Camping and fishing with dad back on the family farm. Visiting mum’s old hometown and seeing where she used to live. Remembering baking your first cake with grandma. Children love hearing these experiences and knowing that they are doing something that mum or dad did back when they were the same age makes it all the more special.
Take some time to invest in your relationship.
This might seem like it’s in the wrong list but hear me out. The bond you have with your partner plays a huge part in your family dynamic and one of the most important relationships in your children’s life. How they see you operate together can have a lasting effect on their own understanding of what a relationship is like, and so it is important that you are able to work as a team and show your best side. Taking time for Mum and Dad, separate from the kids, allows you both to re-engage with the people you were before the kids arrived. Everyone needs a little time off from time to time, to recharge and refresh, and just because you have children doesn’t change that.
Developing a sense of belonging and a deep connection between a parent and child is so important for their sense of self. With a world full of new and sometimes scary things to explore and learn about, having a solid foundation to know where they come from and who they can come back to is critical in ensuring they are brave enough to venture in the first place.