We all crave human connection. The parent/child connection is one of the strongest of all. But how do we really connect with our kids? Let’s explore a few ways we might tighten the bond. Be In The Here and Now How many times have you found yourself thinking about your kid’s future? If you’re like most parents, it’s pretty often. Will they be successful? Get a good job? Be in a good marriage? Develop the skills to maneuver through life’s challenges? Many of us react to these thoughts, attempting to shape children into who we believe they should become and many times don’t even notice who they are – right now, in the present. What if, for just a moment, we could let go of what their future might look like and be present with them right now? What kind of world could we create if we confronted our own fears and inadequacies and didn’t bequeath them to our children? Being present with our children means being mindful of what is, today. Resisting the fact that he doesn’t like math for instance doesn’t make him better at math. Insisting that she dry those tears when she’s sad doesn’t magically make her happy. When we notice the “should” and “should not’s” that invade our thinking, we realize that our thoughts have hijacked this unique moment with our child. Perhaps instead of reacting we can ask, “If there were no tomorrow, how would I be with my child right now in this situation?” What if our kids come with their own blueprint? Could our love and confidence in them be all they need to flourish in life? Can we have faith that what makes them tick now will lead them to the perfect tomorrow? If we challenge their every move and make demands on them because we’re caught up in their future, we lose something very precious; this moment in time, being with them just as they are. Meeting our kids today becomes an opportunity to know them and accept them here and now. It gives us a chance to embrace gratitude and discover gifts in the present. It puts laser focus on what is good today. When we sincerely see our kids and value this day as it is, they know it. Only when we unconditionally accept them now – their thought processes, their interests, and their dislikes – are we making real connection with them. Connection builds trust. Trust establishes authentic relationship. We all want genuine relationships with our kids. And what’s more, they want it with us. Relationship now equals a future that will take care of itself. REALIZE YOUR KIDS ARE NOT A REPRESENTATION OF YOU Every human being is born unique, with distinct thoughts, ideas, creativity, gifts and fears. We may know this, however; many of us unconsciously view our kids as extensions of ourselves. If we disapprove of their ideas, actions or lack thereof, we are embarrassed or ashamed. We might think, “Where did I go wrong?” If we’re proud of their ideas or actions, we tend to take a bit of credit for raising them right. “I did good raising that one!” Why do we do this? Why do we put so much of the focus on ourselves? In our society we tend to view our children as representations of “our” values, beliefs and goals. If our kids project the “appropriate” values, beliefs and goals, we feel we’ve done our job as a parent. If they don’t, we tend to feel that something is wrong with them or that we’ve somehow failed in our parental duties. But what if our children were born with distinct ways of moving in the world? What if left alone with love and acceptance from us, our kids’ ideas could morph into concepts that change the world for the better? Is it possible that we’re focused on who our kids should be, rather than who they are, in an attempt to appear favorable in the eyes of society, family members or friends? When we attempt to shape, form and yes, even force our children into certain behaviors or ways of thinking, they tend to shut down. They either comply with our ideals out of fear or the need for our approval or they rebel against them with anger and confusion. We all know that fear and confusion are not the ideal emotions in which to operate our lives. And yet so many children grow up sacrificing their own unique gifts and ideas for the sake of their parents, their peers and their society. Their voice is lost to a confused world. Our kids are not a reflection of us. It’s okay to let them explore the world and come up with their own unique style, values and goals. Our relationship grows stronger when we accept them just as they are, relieving them of the duty to project a good image of us. BE STILL AND LISTEN Parents have more life experience than their children; this is true. But do we know all there is to know about life? Can we be sure that we know what is right for another human being? We have our perspectives to go on but the buck stops there. When we assume that we know more than our children, that we know what our children should be doing, feeling or pursuing, we cut off communication. If we know, we don’t listen. We shut ourselves off from further query. Living in the question of life is magical. It sends the signal into the world that we are open to new perspectives, new ideas and unique problem solving techniques. When we listen to our kids, really listen, we are open. Open to the possibility that they know something about their own lives. We shut them down when we already know how or what they should be, act or pursue in life. If we open up to the possibility that they just might know more about their lives than we do, we connect with them on a deep level. We inspire them to look within rather than chase approval or direction from the outer world. Can our kids teach us if we let them? Perhaps if we find ourselves judging our kids, we can pause and listen. Maybe instead of responding with our own knowledge we can ask open-ended questions. “What excites you about that video game, Johnny? I’d like to learn more.” or “I see that you’re angry, Sara. I’m listening.” And then listen fully without trying to change what they are doing or what they are saying. If we choose to be present and listen – put the focus on how we can assist rather than change – our child feels heard. He feels as though he has a voice and his most intimate partner, you, is listening. Open dialogue is established and the child feels empowered rather than managed and judged. Our kids don’t need fixing. They need experienced partners in life who believe in them and value their wants, needs and desires. They need calm human beings who can empower them to find answers within. If we can’t listen honestly and openly, we negate any chance of connecting with them on that deeper level. Many of us believe we have our children’s best interests at heart. We don’t want them to be hurt, fail or look stupid. We want them to thrive. But sometimes hurt and failures are the springboards to living a life filled with meaning. If we focus on the possibility that our children might be hurt or fail and we stop them from what they are feeling or doing, we rob them of learning how to navigate their own lives. We cut the cord of relationship in favor of fear. Be present; envision that children are here with their own gifts to present to the world. Listen to what they have to say. True connection will be born and thrive in the parent child relationship if we only dare to let go and trust that all is well. Right here. . . Right now. See the original blog post on Texas Unschoolers here.