It’s harder to stick to routine when there’s so much fun around and kids challenge the boundaries. Instead of yelling – you can create magical bonding moments. Here’s how.
“Right we’re nuts, Mommy?” My daughter asked me on one of those nights when I kept shooing the kids into bed too many times to count. I had walked into the kitchen to start washing the dishes in peace and quiet (wishful thinking) when I found two of my daughters at the snack drawer – a no no around here. Very probably fearing the repercussions of being caught in the act, this little first grader preempted my serious response by throwing her shrewd defense at me. “We’re crazy, right?”
Now that gave me pause. Instead of opening my eyes wide and stern and getting into discipline mode, I took a moment to process what was going on, to see the situation more objectively. True, what they were doing was not okay, but instead of reacting in a way that may have confirmed her suspicions of how I felt about her, I decided to look at the big picture. “Actually,” I answered with a smile, much to the girls’ astonishment, “You’re not crazy at all. In fact, I used to suddenly get really hungry and come out of bed when I was a kid, and I think all kids all over try to do this all the time.” To that, they burst out laughing in what was a giant mix of relief and surprise – and I joined in. Mommy and her daughters, giggling at our humanness, well over an hour after bedtime. Perhaps it wasn’t a most boundary-setting moment, but it certainly was a most bonding moment.
Just a few sticks of pretzels (they weren’t that hungry) and a good laugh later, my older daughter said to me, “You know, it’s so good that mothers are kids before they’re mothers. Cuz now you know what it feels like to be us.”
These are the moments that build our children – the moments when they feel validated, cherished, allowed to be human. Sure, every home must have its boundaries so that the kids can thrive and develop into responsible, functional adults, but there’s much to be said about looking out for those moments when real bonding happens and how crucial they are to our children’s nefesh.
Especially when the opportunities to spend time with our kids are more plentiful, like during summer vacation, it’s so easy to get stuck on the boundaries part of parenting. Get dressed, eat breakfast, if you’re wearing your Floafers put your sneakers away—why are they still here from yesterday? Brush your teeth, I said brush your teeth, why have you still not brushed your teeeeth? But then, when summer’s over, what’s left? It’s great that those teeth are nice and white and that all the shoes are where they belong (we hope!), but we also want to make an impact where it truly counts. We want to give our children what only we could give them—valuable, precious moments that will not only be ingrained in their memory, but also in their hearts. Moments that even after they forget the nitty gritty details of the experience (which they probably won’t), their heart won’t forget. It’s through bonding moments when we parents choose to see beyond the immediate view in order to connect that the kids we raise feel great about who they are, so comfortable in their skin, so loved and valued.
Interestingly, the most powerful bonding moments are usually the ones we’re least prepared for. They don’t generally happen on the carefully planned perfect day out, on that fun family trip. Those experiences, too, are very valuable if the atmosphere is light and the family feels connected, but the moments that matter most are when we’re caught off guard, when we’re thrown a chance to show our kids we understand them. Whether a child spilled juice all over her white t-shirt (on photo shoot day, no less) or the teenager keeps nagging that she’s bored, how we react to all of these testing moments (shared laughter is always a great choice) makes all the difference in how these kids will relate to themselves and the world. It’s not usually a scenario we’re prepared for – and it’s one we might dread – but with a switch in our mindset, an eye on the big picture, and a heart that wants to connect to the child – we can come away from it with something huge.
Even when we do find it important to instruct a child to do something, conveying that we recognize where they’re at goes so far in building their self-esteem. As a simple example, suppose a kid whines, “I hate having baths. Why do I need to bathe every single night? I want to skip it today.” As the parent, we might decide that there’s no compromising on this basic hygiene process. But instead of saying, for instance, “I don’t care how you feel about baths, that’s what we’re doing tonight and every night,” we can easily remain at the same outcome while still giving the child the feeling that he’s being heard and understood. “I know how much you don’t enjoy the bath, sweetie, but it’s something we must do to stay clean and take care of ourselves.” If we’re feeling especially giving, we can even offer some kind of incentive or reward for something a child finds difficult to do. “I see how hard it is for you to _____. Tell me, what can I do to make it easier for you? Would you like to do a contest together?”
What all of these parenting responses have in common is that they see the human that is the child. They convey that we appreciate and value the child in her entirety – including her struggles, emotions, and thoughts – and that she matters to us. And to the child, nothing matters more than that.