Do your kids know that you enjoy them?
I mean, sure, you take great care of them and ‘manage’ them and their lives, but do they know that you also ENJOY them?
This is important because parents have taught me that it is: parents who have shared with me their own experiences in raising kids who are now adults.
What they’ve taught me is that, no matter how great a parent you were in terms of taking care of their needs, there will be something missing in the relationship unless you also ENJOYED parenting them and they saw that.
So, while you are lugging them to music rehearsals and recitals, while you are dropping them off at soccer, football, or crew practice, while you are helping them with their homework or volunteer project, and while you are making them eat their vegetables–are you also enjoying them as well?
Here are 10 basic pointers you can use to make certain that you inject some everyday-joy into your responsibilities as a parent:
1. Monitor your attitude: Make sure you’re not always seeming to them as frustrated, rushed, or put upon. (This relates to numbers 8, 9, and 10 below.)
2. Have some unstructured fun with them: This morning my daughter and I played a fun hand-clapping game we made up on the fly. Just hang out and have fun with them.
3. Make some deliberate plans with them to hang out: Go see a movie, have an ‘unhealthy, greasy’ burger together, play catch or some other game, or read together–or just sit down with some snacks and sipping drinks and just talk and tell stories. (You’d be surprised how, given the opportunity, even the most introverted child will come forward and enjoy this.)
4. Just watch them and ‘mess with them’: One of my favorite things to do with my kids is to observe them as we just hang out and play around. This can be either verbally or physically, through structured or unstructured activities, or just in passing and on the fly. Hearing their responses to me or the statements and questions they come up with can be both enlightening and hilarious, as I’m sure you’d agree with regarding your own kids. Sometimes physical play, including running around, chasing them, or play-wrestling with them can also be fun, especially when combined with the verbal interchange that comes along with it.
5. Listen to what they’d like to do and do it: Do things with them based upon THEIR agendas sometimes. This tactic has gotten me into some pretty interesting situations (at some pretty interesting times) over the years, including randomly ending up at petting zoos, movie theaters, toy stores, the local park, the town pool, and our front yard playing volleyball with a makeshift net.
6. Control your anger: When you’re angry with them, which is inevitable, make sure it’s appropriate. This means that you show them your anger at WHAT THEY ARE DOING OR DID, and not at their fundamental character or who they are as a person: there’s a big difference–and kids feel it and remember it very differently–between being appropriately angry at something they’ve done vs. attacking them personally and staying angry at them. (This includes appearing cold and withdrawn from them, or giving them the “silent treatment”.)
7. Tell them you love them and how cool/special/handsome/beautiful/thoughtful/talented/etc. they are. Yes, they need to hear it from you, so say it. (Again, I’m not making this stuff up–adults who were once children have taught me this.)
8. The last three tips are actually the same one, because I feel it is that important: Tone.
10. TONE! I’ve written about this before in terms of how closely our spoken tone reflects our inner emotional states. Please get to know your tone and learn to modulate it before it comes tumbling out: The memories that your child will come away with about you will absolutely–either in their conscious or subconscious minds–be colored by the tones you habitually use with them. The most common ‘problem tones’ are the Angry Tone and the Overwhelmed/Rushed Tone. If you’re chronically feeling one of these two things, please address this. I’ve written about chronic anger and some of that might be useful to you. And you can always do some other reading and reflecting on this subject and/or get some professional help as well.
I hope this list was helpful, and that it will help you really enjoy your kids. But, if not, then I’ve got something else that might help: an image.
Picture that person (or pet) in your childhood, or even today–whether it be a parent or grandparent, a crazy uncle or aunt, a sibling or friend, or a particular dog or other pet–that you absolutely love or loved; one that made a big impact on raising your self-image, self-esteem, and feelings of self-worth and acceptability just because of the unconditional, accepting vibe that they gave off or still give off to you, along with the clear sense you get that they really enjoy or enjoyed being with you.
Now, go be that person for your child.
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.
Author, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand a Few Things First)