Q: I have this nagging feeling that my children and I are not connecting. They're boys (9 and 7), I'm not. They are rough and tumble, I'm not. They love sports and games, I don't. They have a blast with their dad, I feel like I'm the boring nagging person who makes them clean their rooms, brush their teeth, stop playing video games. In general, do you have ideas on how to reconnect with kids you're feeling not so connected to?
A: So, I have a friend who is a pretty amazing woman. She is one of the brightest women I know, extremely hard working and accomplished. She loves to travel (and is brave in her travels) and can cook like no one's business (you really want to go to her dinner parties). Her love and knowledge of art is superb, and her interests are wide-ranging and distinctive. In short, she's one cool lady.
She parents two sons, both bright and sweet and sporty as anything. And while my friend loves watching a good football game or enjoys a hike in the woods, she would not include herself among the sportiest of people. Her husband, on the other hand, coaches the boys' soccer teams, runs in 5Ks with them, trains with them for mini-triathlons, rides bikes everywhere with them . . . you get the idea, right? The commonalities between this father and his sons are obvious.
So, how does an interesting parent, such as my friend, connect with her children? Pretty well, from what I have seen. First, she attends almost all of the soccer games (and that's a lot of soccer games). Yes, there are dishes to do and toys to clean, but she prioritizes these games so that she can connect with her sons through their wins, losses and growth. Second, she brings them into her world with her cooking. Through recipes and time, she has cultivated "special meals" with each child, and her children are brave and skilled in the kitchen as a result. Third, she has started spending special time with each child that is unique to him. For instance, her younger son showed an interest in birds, so she and her son have gone bird-watching with groups. The entire weekend is dedicated to travel, bird-watching and hanging at restaurants together.
If you are inspired reading this, you should be. I certainly am, because it is easy to see the differences between you and your children and rest in that sadness. It is easy to pigeonhole yourself as the parent who is the "boring nagging person who makes them clean their rooms." It is easy to write yourself off as the un-fun parent and allow your partner to enjoy your kids. But oh, what a waste of life. While your boys love time with their father, you are at home stoking the fires of resentment, slogging through chores and issuing orders. This is not okay. Don't get me wrong: Rules at home need to be created and upheld in your family. And yes, there is generally one parent who seems to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to that, and yes, it may be you. But that does not mean you cannot find some fun and connection with your sons.
Here are some ideas to get some connection going:
1. Call a meeting with your spouse. Let him know that this lack of connection is bothering you, and you want to change it. Ask for his support. So many times in a partnership, we assume that the other person knows how we feel, and we don't ask for the help we need. Who knows? Your partner could have some great connection ideas.
2. Make a list of activities you like to do. Yes, you. And write them down. Art, live music, dance, knitting, baking, gardening, bike riding, reading, travel . . . all of it. If you think, "Yikes, I don't have any activities anymore," remember: An interesting person is an interested person. It is perfectly fine (and recommended, in fact), that you cultivate your own life. Your children are not babies anymore; you can find the time to pursue something.
3. When you have your list, think about which activity could work with each child. Begin to daydream about what this might look like, what's local, what's affordable and what's practical. Maybe you love animals, but it is too cold for the zoo. Is there an aquarium nearby? Is there a way you can take care of animals in a shelter? Get creative!
4. Let go of perfection! The kiss of death, when it comes to doing things with your children, is hoping and expecting for your children to be "so happy and grateful." I have dragged my children to events where they crossed their arms and rolled their eyes, only to say months later, "Mom, remember when we went to that cool live music thing? This music reminds me of that!" If we only spend time with our children to make them happy, everyone will be happy.
5. Get interested in what your children like. Yes, some of the sports may make you nutty, but be the adult and get curious. Surely, you can take five minutes to Google the team the children love and bust out some surprise facts at dinner. Or do some special Winter Olympics viewing with the children (check out the skeleton racing, which is terrifyingly amazing). Get the schedule ready, print it out, and do some popcorn and ice cream fun with it!
6. Finally, the people in your family need to pull some weight for household chores. Again, one parent is primarily in charge of these duties, but there is no reason a 9- and 7-year-old cannot unload the dishwasher, take out trash and do laundry. Chores are seldom well-received and yes, even the most skilled parents need to nag a bit, but helping to train your children to work is important and needed. It can stave off building resentment, and children like feeling useful and valuable.
So, I just gave you several ideas. Take it slow; there is no emergency here. Call a meeting with your spouse first and go from there. You are just the parent your sons need; you do not need to change. Just get interested in your life again and prioritize some fun. Life is incredibly short, so go live. Best of luck.