During the first few years of parenting, some parenting beliefs and practices that I thought were part of being connected were actually increasing my resentment and exhaustion.
Negative and difficult emotions are a natural part of parenting, but we can reduce some of these stressful emotions if we let go of certain mistaken notions.
Here are the mistakes I made when it came to connection:
- Giving up too soon. I am not the most patient person. Sometimes, I underestimate the power of sticking out a habit, tradition, or idea, and then I change tactics too quickly. My kids may not show me immediately that something is connecting with them – I need to give things time.
- Thinking I always needed to make my kids happy. I was so uncomfortable with my children being upset. I often would try to fix things just so I wouldn't have to hear my kids be angry or sad. I took away many of their chances to build resilience and confidence in their own ability to solve problems when I took on their challenges as my own.
- I mistakenly thought if I was connected and kind, my kids wouldn't get upset. This made it hard to set boundaries. And when you aren't setting boundaries very well, resentment and exhaustion are natural results – not connection.
- Not respecting my own needs enough. Connection and respect means having connection and respect for myself as well as my kids. I have become so much happier since learning to accept my own needs, limits, and wishes – it makes me feel like part of the family instead of the neglected martyr. Respecting my own needs has been a lot about getting comfortable with who I am and looking for win-win solutions instead of thinking I should just stuff my own needs down for everyone else.
- Underestimating the importance of our connection. Even though I started out parenting wanting to be very connected, sometimes I still didn't trust connection. I didn't grow up in a ‘conscious parenting' style household, so it was hard to trust this more connected way of parenting. There also always seemed to be so many things to focus on – what were the priorities? Once I put our connected relationships at the heart of our days, I realized that our best moments, when we learn the most together, are when we are connected.
- Thinking it will feel natural and easy to connect – Look, honestly, it often feels inconvenient to pause and be present with my kids. I am being drawn away from whatever task I'm doing. They want my attention and I just want a few moments to myself; I'm not ready right now – yeah, it frequently feels inconvenient. That really surprised me. It also was worth noticing and changing my expectations so that I'd stop waiting for connecting with my kids to feel convenient.
- Getting caught up in perfectionism. It's easy to think of all the things you “should” be doing to connect. Our relationships, naturally, are extremely important to us, and with our powerful desire to connect, we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get it right.
We have an idea of how connection should look, and sometimes, that ideal gets in the way of seeing opportunities to connect that don't look perfect. Let go of some of those expectations and shoulds, and you'll notice the more simple ways you can build a connection with your kids.
Finally, the biggest connection mistake I was making was not realizing that connection is a habit.
Connection truly is a habit, a choice we make over and over again – in joyful moments and sad, in fearful times and loving. It doesn't always feel positive and happy.
- Building connection means building the skill of waking up and being in the now, whatever that NOW may hold.
- Being connected means, we are able to be present with someone we love and see them and hear them just as they are.
And when we practice this connection over and over, something magical happens:
We notice when the unexpected meaningful moments show up, slipping into an ordinary day. Because we've been practicing the habit of connection, we don't miss out on the richest parts of our lives. We're awake, present.
The other night, there was a huge rainstorm here. We have big windows in our bedroom, and I gave over the evening to sitting in the dark with my two youngest kids, who were both frightened of the thunder and also delighted by the chance to cozy under the covers while watching the storm.
It was dark and rainy, and I had these two warm kids wanting nothing more than to be by me when I remembered I still had a few pieces of birthday chocolate tucked away in my bedside drawer.
“Guys, you want a storm treat?” I whispered.
We sat in sweet contentment, eating our storm treats, snuggled together, and I thought –this is what all the practice is for, so I don't miss moments like this. I want to be here, aware of the memory-making moments with my kids.
I'm certainly not perfect, but I'm practicing being present and leaning into connection over perfection. Life isn't waiting for me to be perfect; it's ready for me to show up.