Paula is the mother of four children. She also holds a degree in education and works in an elementary school.
Is Your Family Disconnected?
Do you ever feel disconnected from your kids: like devices and screen time are taking over your family, and you feel like you have no idea what is going on in their lives? Last Saturday, my four kids, my husband, and I were home. I decided to take a nice, leisurely shower. When I got out, something seemed weird. It was absolutely silent—so quiet that I thought maybe my family had left me because I took too long in the shower.
When I stepped out of the bathroom and walked down the hall, I found that everyone was sitting in the living room together. But each person was using a device, and each of them was completely in their own world. As a young mother, I would have loved this—a moment of quiet that I could have for myself. But this moment made me sad because it was becoming all too common. There we were, all together yet completely disconnected.
Shallow and Deep Attachment
We hear that we are living in a more connected world, which is true, but we are connected with the shallowest types of attachment. That is why the more we connect with screens, social media, etc., the less we feel truly connected to others. Loneliness and depression are increasing. Polarization is rising. We don't feel a sense of community.
Children are connecting more with their peers than with their parents. The problem with this is that their peers are just as lost as they are during these growing-up years. They are like a ship without a rudder. Our children need us. They need the wisdom and experience from the older generations to help them connect and find their way.
Six Ways We Attach
As a substitute teacher, I deal with a lot of children who do not listen, who talk back, and who are disconnected from people. I am noticing a culture of disconnection among children. People are wired for connection, real human-to-human connection. Dr. Mate Gabor calls it the attachment theory in his book Hold on to Your Kids. He says people attach in the following six different ways:
- The Senses: physical proximity
- Sameness: being like those you feel close to
- Belonging or Loyalty
- Significance: that we matter to someone
- Feeling: emotional intimacy
- Being Known: in which being heard and seen is experienced psychologically
The rarest and deepest form of attachment is to be truly known by another person. We want to be there for our children, to let them be their true, authentic selves. We want to love them through the journey, through their mistakes, and through their good and bad times. How do we do this? Here are a few simple ways that have helped my family develop that attachment and helped reconnect my husband and I with our children.
There is no closeness that can surpass the sense of feeling known and still liked, accepted, welcomed and invited to exist.
— Dr. Mate Gabor, "Hold on to Your Kids"
1. Take 10 Minutes
This idea came from a video by Bill Corbett, a parenting expert who wrote the book Love, Limits and Lessons. In the video (see below), he says to sit quietly for just ten minutes in the morning and also when your kids get home after school. Just sit silently and listen to them and reconnect with them. Then use the time afterwards to share positive messages with them and give them encouragement.
As Corbett says, "our kids receive so many negative and bossy messages all day. Just yesterday, my son came home and told me he had to 'practice walking in a straight, quiet line' outside on a day when it was snowing and freezing. What message did that send to my son? This is what he got: 'We don’t care if you freeze; you need to shut up and listen and do whatever we say.' I know this because he told me that is what he thought. Meanwhile, I am trying to keep my mouth shut and just listen."
Listen to Them and Encourage Them
So, yes, take some time to encourage them and tell them how important they are and that they matter to you. Let them share what they love and what they learned that day. Make sure you not only listen but also give them your full attention in those ten minutes.
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2. Practice Mindfulness
To help create those moments in which you listen, practice mindfulness. It doesn’t need to be a deep, serious meditation session; small moments can also be effective. The longer sessions do help train your brain to be more aware and connected in the moment, though.
I have had several moments where I was calm and aware, and I felt connected with my children and knew they needed me, even though they were not with me. I also had a time where my child desperately needed me, but I was so stressed out that I didn’t feel connected. When I realized I was stressed, I took a deep breath and focused, and the first thought I had was my child's name. I called him, and he was having a panic attack. It hurt so much to feel his pain and not to have been there when he needed me.
Be Both Physically and Mentally Present
I know it is not always possible to be there for your children, but that incident has motivated me to stay in that calm, connected state as much as possible. When I practice mindfulness, I feel calm, and it deepens my ability to connect with my children in the moments that arise.
Practicing mindfulness helps you be aware and in the moment instead of distracted. It can help you know when to put away your phone or other device. Then, when our children are with us, we are there with them mentally as well as physically.
3. Create Family Rituals
Create daily rituals, holiday and weekend rituals, and rituals around anything your family does or loves to do. One ritual that we have done since my children were tiny is what we call "Two Questions." At the end of the day, when we were getting them in bed, my husband and I would take turns sitting on their bed and asking them the two questions:
- What is one thing you liked about today?
- What is one hard thing that happened today?
It only took about five minutes, and they were able to share something positive and get something, like a worry, out of their minds. That small moment made such a difference. It helped them sleep better and thus led to better behavior.
Adapt the Rituals as Your Kids Get Older
Now that our children are older, we have adjusted the questions:
- What is something you’re thankful for today?
- What is something that was hard to deal with today?
- What is something you learned today?
However, it is still basically the same ritual, and it still creates that moment of connection.
A Reconnected Family
The day after I discovered everyone sitting silently with their devices, we decided we were going to have a media-free day. The kids were all so excited. I’m totally joking; they were all mad at us, but only for a couple hours.
We went for a drive, one of our family's Sunday rituals, then we ate out and went shopping together. And then we slowly saw our kids come back. We talked, we listened, and we laughed together. We even sang along to the radio on the way home. We were actually together. We were connected.
© 2020 Paula Flu