I remember my confusion and guilt the first time I yelled angrily at my first child. He was only a baby, maybe a 9 months to a year old and I was a mom, who at that time, was living entirely by his needs – sleeping poorly, exhausted and run down.
Fast forward a few more years and I’d added on my second child – an intense baby who, by the time he was 18 months, was in early intervention services for sensory integration.
These two were like my training wheels on being a connected mom. (Frankly things have been a lot easier with my third child, even if she is twice as destructive as her brothers, ha.)
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 these connection-eroding emotions if we let go of certain mistaken notions.
Here are the mistakes I made when it came to connection:
- 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 and I took on their challenges as my own. I also thought if I was connected and kind my kids wouldn’t get upset with me. This made it hard to set limits.
- 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 parenting wanting to be very connected, sometimes I still didn’t trust connection.
There seemed to be so many things to focus on, and so little time. Once I put connection at the heart of our days I realized that our best moments, when we learn the most together is when we are connected.
- 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 change tactics too quickly. My kids may not show me immediately that something is connecting with them – I need to give things time.
- 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, I just want a few moments to myself, I’m not ready right now – yeah, it frequently feels inconvenient. That really surprised me.
And the biggest connection mistake: 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.
Being connected means we are able to be present with someone we love and see them and hear them just as they are. Building connection means building the skill of waking up and being in the now, whatever that NOW may hold.
And when we practice this being present, 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 the richest parts of our life. 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 not perfect, but I’m practicing being present and connecting just as we are, because life isn’t waiting for me to be perfect, it’s ready for me to show up.