This is a guest post by my amazing and incredibly talented wife, Jess.
“Having kids is the most rewarding way to ruin your life.”
I once heard a friend say this, and it makes me laugh every time. If you’re a parent, you’ll know that having kids is hard work. You never know if you’re getting it right and there always seems to be someone doing it better than you. Just when you have the little person in your life figured out, they go and change their strategy and you’re back to square one. I mean, you have to go through more training to serve cappuccino’s at Vida than you do to reproduce offspring.
If only there was some amazing set of skills that would guarantee that your little munchkins turn out to be well-adjusted, vegetable-loving, human beings. But no matter how many books are read and written, most of us are still wondering what the heck is going on.
Ironically, I recently read a book that really helped me to think differently about parenting. Gordon Neufeld, author of Hold Onto Your Kids: Why Parents Need To Matter More Than Peers, writes this profound statement:
Parenting is not a profession. It’s a relationship.
Parenting is about being in a relationship. And relationships are more about instincts and feeling than technique and strategy. Hear me out, I don’t mean that we can’t learn how to do this parent relationship well. Or that we can’t get advice and wisdom from others. But I do think it means that relationships are more about instincts and feeling than technique and strategy.
Now, if parenting was a profession, I’d be the unpaid intern who does the filing. Definitely not the CEO. I’m such a rookie mom. But thinking of parenting as a relationship is helping me to not freak out when I don’t know what to do. It’s helped me to look at my kid as a person, not a project.
Here are some the things that I’m trying out to help me build a better relationship with my toddler.
1. Put down your cellphone
I’ve decided that for the hour between when we wake up and when we leave home in the morning, I’m not picking up my phone to check emails, Facebook or Twitter. It can wait for the office. Instead of standing next to the kettle checking statuses, I have a few minutes to sit on the kitchen floor and do a puzzle. Instead of reading emails while he’s eating breakfast, we read a book. Getting down on the floor means being part of my son’s little world, and we start the day with a connection.
2. Collect your child
This is another one of Gordon Neufeld’s pieces of advice. Have you ever noticed that when you’ve been away from your child – daycare, school or even a nap – they punish you for being away by ignoring you? This is apparently a normal response to separation, and the best way to respond is to “collect” your child emotionally. Don’t let them push you away. Keep working for that moment until you’ve made eye contact or had a smile. It might mean turning off the radio on the drive home, or playing peek-a-boo with your toddler when you walk in the door. My husband takes our son for a 10-minute walk around our complex when he gets home, and by the time they’re back for dinner they’ve bonded and reconnected after a long day apart.
3. Laugh together
Whether it’s your spouse or your best friend, you’ll know that there’s something great about having a good laugh together. It’s the same with your child. Find something that makes them crack up, even it its a bit ridiculous for you. Maybe its when you pretend to miss the soccer ball, or when you toss them in the air, or when you chase them like crazy down the passage way. Once you’ve found what makes them chuckle, do it for a little longer than usual. It’s amazing how much more cooperative my son is after we’ve piled the pillows on the bed and jumped on them together! Get a little bit silly, and laugh with your child. Just a few minutes of this goes a long way.
These may not translate directly to your family culture, kid’s age or life stage, but maybe the thinking behind them can help you a little. So when you feel like you’re a terrible parent, remind yourself that parenting is a relationship, not a set of skills. You don’t need to be pro, you just need a little time to connect, collect and laugh together. Every little bit helps!