"Mom, are you listening?"
Have you ever heard your child ask this question? Or felt overwhelmed and exhausted by your children's demands for attention? If you have, you are not alone. Our daily lives tend to be full of competing needs and long lists of things needing to be accomplished. And that is how you find yourself in situations where you might be hearing them talk but you are not actually listening, most likely because you were being distracted by something else. However, before starting to feel guilty, stop and realize that if you are reading this, you are already a great parent. Yet even the most amazing parents have moments when they are not doing their best.
Sometimes you might feel that you are there with your child, however if you look closer, you will realize that you are not actually present. Perhaps you are checking your email, or texting with a friend, or busy preparing dinner or thinking about the things you have to accomplish at work. It is not possible to be entirely tuned in to our children all the time, nor should it be the goal of a good enough parent. However, you want to ensure that you do have enough moments when you are tuned in into whatever your child is occupied with and responding to her in a timely and sensitive way. Beyond that, we know that children are observing us and learning from our behaviors, oftentimes much more than from our words, so if you want your child to grow to become a good and sensitive listener, try to be one yourself.
So what are those obstacles that prevent us from being attuned to our kids? One of those is the desire to be the perfect parent. You know, the one who has a spotless house, serves delicious healthy meals, does interesting crafts with the kids during the day, while staying on top of their work obligations and goals. However, if you try to maintain this, you will soon realize that something is lost in the shuffle. And most likely this something will be your child and your own emotional needs. For example, I am guilty of drifting into organizing my children's toys in the middle of a play with them more than once, or telling them that I will be there once I will finish preparing food or folding the laundry. If you have ever been in this situation, you know that although things get accomplished you are oftentimes do not feel satisfied. Why is that? Because the need to connect with our loved ones and being heard while sharing our thoughts and feelings is fundamental for our well-being.
Life has become quite challenging for many of us as the demands on parents have increased while the social supports that parents used to rely on in the past have diminished. Many of us live far away from the safety net of extended families and cannot count on those relatives for support with daily child care, resulting in even more exhausted and burned out parents. Furthermore, if you happen to have a spouse who works long hours, you may find yourself essentially single parenting most of the time. It is no wonder then that many of us struggle to simply stay afloat and the our psychological well-being and the emotional health of our children may suffer as a result.
So how can you try and stay in the moment, be present for your children and enjoy parenting even during the crazy daily race to accomplish all your goals? There are several simple suggestions you can follow to feel connected while still multitasking in a way that will leave your satisfied and not frustrated by the end of the day.
First, get a good night sleep and try to wake up earlier to take a little time for yourself before the kids wake up. You can meditate, go for a jog, do yoga, read, pray or simply have your morning coffee in silence. This little refuel will carry you throughout the first half of your day, not only physically but also emotionally, because by filling your emotional cup you will be able to keep pouring this energy into your children.
Second, reduce your to do list to only a few essential goals and resolve to be OK with not accomplishing everything on it. Make those goals your priority but once they have been accomplished, do not move on to the next items before spending at least one interrupted moment with your children. What do I mean by that is if you needed to cook lunch today, once you did, do not move on to laundry before taking a walk, reading or playing with your child. Do not postpone these bonding experiences because they are bound to be neglected or forgotten in the midst of this list of things that need to get done.
Third, prepare to be interrupted and know that you will stop what you are doing to actively attend to your child. It is inevitable and by being mentally ready, you will save yourself the frustration that interruptions may create.
Fourth, vow to neglect the devices - put your phone away, hide the iPad, disconnect the TV and the computers until the kids are truly busy with something or until they are asleep. I realize that for some of us it is impossible as we need to stay tuned in via email or phone for work. If that is your case, choose a dedicated time (for example, 10 minutes every two hours) and only then attend to your devices.
Fifth, and most important, always listen with your eyes - when your child talks to you or asks you a question, get down to their eye level and look at them while listening to what they are saying. If you are not able to look at them, at least ask them to wait (verbally or via a gesture), until you are able to focus on listening. The eye contact is essential to convey the feeling of truly being heard and children, just like adults, want to know that their ideas, questions, or feelings are truly being heard.
And finally, aim to have at least a few moments with each child every day when you are focused on what they are doing and noticing the things around you, whether it is a new bird you are seeing on your daily walk or a new way you discovered to build a Lego house. Soak your child's smiles, laughter and words - these will nourish you throughout the rest of the day and remind how important you are in your child's life. Let go of the need to control and allow your children to get messy, to fall out of the expected routine and accept that certain things will not be accomplished today. Imperfection is part of this messy, fun, surprising, challenging and fulfilling journey of parenting. By embracing unpredictability, you will be curving the path towards creating better bonds with your children.