Stress-Free Parenting Part 5: Connecting With Your Kids

I’ve been blogging the past month about stress-free parenting. This week, I’d like to focus on ways you can actively engage with your children when you don’t let stress get in your way.

We are all busy parents and also have many  other responsibilities and stresses, which we tend to believe prevent us from spending quality time with our precious children.

I think it’s important to look at the time you are spending with your kids. When you’re together, what do you do with them? What are you saying?

My girls are currently 6,9, and 12. I find that before school every morning, I’m mostly giving directions: “Get dressed, brush your teeth, put your pjs away, eat your breakfast, we’re going to be late, etc.” Then, when they get home, it’s, “How was your day? Are you hungry? Pick up your room, please.” At that point, I start cleaning up, making dinner, and then eventually catch up on emails when I can escape to my office.

In 2010, a study showed that the average mother spent 13.7 hours a week with her children (less than two hours a day). Part of the problem is parents often feel guilty about how much time they are spending with their kids, so they stress about its significance or let their guilt affect the way they parent. However, research has gone on to show that it’s not the amount of time you spend with your children that matters — it’s the quality of that time.

Reading that most parents spend so little time with their children made me sad. Our kids are so special — each and every one of them. I know that despite being busy and stressed with life, we can find more than just 10 minutes a day to actually enjoy our kids and appreciate the beauty of childhood.

One of the most profound quotes regarding childhood and our role as parents is, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass

Creating strong, lasting relationships with our children has such a strong and long-lasting impact. You can’t go back and do parenthood over again with your children. Mental health prevention starts when your children are young. So many problems with young adults today stem from childhood experiences and habits. The more you know your children and work on your relationship now, the easier it will be as they get older.

The other morning, my 6-year-old came to me while I was working, saying, “Mommy mommy… Look at the new dance move I learned.” She was so excited to share her dance with me and while I make a big effort to play with her and listen to her I was in the middle of working on something important that was time sensitive. 

“I will be with you in few minutes,” I responded to her. I went back to finish what I was doing and a few seconds later I glanced toward her sweet little face — that a minute earlier was smiley and excited — and what I saw was her disappointed and sad face. 

I couldn’t resist and gave her a big hug and apologized. Yes, I know about delayed gratification and the importance of teaching children to learn how to be patient and wait, but it seems that many of us do that to our children way too often.

So I got up from my computer, sat on the floor, and asked her to show me her dance. Two minutes later I asked if she wanted me to find the song she was playing called “Sugar.” I blasted the song and for five minutes we danced and acted as silly as we could.

I hugged my daughter and told her how much I loved her. She gave me a big kiss. Then I told her that I had to finish working on something important, and she went back to her room to play.

I felt so happy and more motivated than before to do whatever I was doing. I connected with my 6-year-old and all she needed from me was a few moments of my time to know that she was loved and that I was attentive to her. She felt validated and important and I got the chance to spend a few minutes doing something fun and rewarding for me. 

What is my point? Yes, we are all busy people and there are things we have to get done as adults with many responsibilities. But if we pause to enjoy these small precious moments with our little ones, even if it means that we are doing something ridiculous or listening to something that we don’t care for, we’re sending such a strong message to our kids.

Try to spend whatever time you have and can with your children and make it quality time. You will discover a whole new world… 

When you are actively engaged with your child, the experience is so much more rewarding for both you and your child than if you are simply present with them physically. Make an effort to just be there and listen. Don’t judge or discourage your child… Practice being positive and just be. 

It’s a lot to think about when you are trying to always make everyone happy (including yourself). So here are a few guiding principles I like to think about:

  1. Practice mindfulness (whether you are at work or spending time with your kids, you should be mindful of that time)
  2. Don’t judge yourself
  3. Carve out time each week for special quality time with each one of your kids.