Friday, June 17, 2016

Connecting with your child as a single parent

Mom2MomEd blog: Connecting with my child as a single parent (and a challenge for ALL parents)
I loved McKenzie’s recent post about connecting as a family and connecting with her husband. So sweet, but what if you are a single parent? How do you connect with your child? How do you carve out “me” time to recharge and fulfill your own needs?

I’ve been a single mom for more than 14 years and my son and I are incredibly close—that is no accident!

I knew even before I left my son’s abusive dad that I would make a concerted effort to stay connected with my son and to ensure that we have a strong, lifelong bond. I have tried to be realistic and to recognize that I am not a perfect parent and my son is not a perfect son—we’ve had our share of ups and downs—but I believe that my efforts have kept us both grounded, connected, and moving forward in our individual lives and together as a family.

To be totally honest, carving out time and ensuring that we are connected has not been easy! As a single mom, I’ve worked, gone to school, and homeschooled my son all at the same time. Some days I would want nothing more than to take a nap, spend ten more minutes cleaning our home, or simply to have a few minutes of uninterrupted silence...alone. Some days my son would want to talk my ear off about the latest game, or to play video games instead of do chores, or spend ten more minutes drawing instead of going on an errand. Some days we would butt heads, get mad at each other, or say things we later regretted.

However, because of my commitment to our relationship as a family and to also balancing that relationship with our individual needs, I feel that we’ve made it through some rough times intact and stronger than ever.

So, how did I do it? What worked? What didn’t?

First of all, not everything I tried did work. Most recently, we drove from Southern California to Northern California and I had grand visions of how wonderful this trip would be and how it would bring us closer together. I envisioned us driving leisurely up the coast with the Pacific Ocean to the left, salt air wafting through the open windows, and music we both enjoyed on the radio as we talked about whatever came to mind for each of us. 

Cue reality! 

In reality, we had already driven eight hours across the desert just to get to Southern California and we were both grumpy, hot, sweaty, and generally uninterested in spending any more time than necessary in the car together. With ten hours of driving still ahead of us by the time we reached Los Angeles, we were simply DONE with each other!

We ended up taking the fastest route possible, up the middle of California, and hardly spoke to each other at all. JP listened to music on his phone with headphones will I listened to a non-stop loop of U2 followed by Queen on repeat.

We both couldn’t wait to get out of the car have some time apart.

And, I honored that aspect of our relationship—my son and I are both natural introverts and we both need as much alone time as we need time together.

Because I’ve learned to honor my son’s need for alone time, he has also learned to honor my need for the same. We both work hard to mutually respect this aspect of each others personalities, and it is probably one of the most important things I have done as a mother.

After a few hours alone—my son at our hotel and myself at a coffee shop—we were able to regroup mentally and come back together and enjoy each others company. We were able to talk about the trip and what we enjoyed and what we didn’t, and we could poke fun at how grumpy we both were.

When my son was much younger, I was working a lot more while earning a lot less money and often felt like those bonds with my son were slipping away. At times, I struggled many times with how to overcome my fatigue (60 hours of work plus 20 hours of commute time every week takes a toll!) and distractions, but I knew my son might suffer if I didn’t make an effort to be present whether literally in the same room with him or by other means.

Some of the ways I have stayed connected with my son over the years include: 
  • Writing a note to my son every morning (nothing fancy—often just “I love you and hope you have an amazing day!”) 
  • Set aside 10 minutes every single day to do whatever my son wants—when he was very young this might have been playing Legos or drawing together; as he got older, it might be playing a video game together or reviewing comics he has drawn or watching a YouTube video he loved. 
  • Look him in the eyes when he is talking to me—it’s amazing how much impact this one little action can have! It also teaches him to make eye contact, a skill that will help him greatly in his future adult life. 
  • Making up silly words of affection for one another—at times we simply make silly sounds or make up words that we say to one another. The tone is far more important than actual, literal meaning. 
  • Lightly poke him in the shoulder—touch is an underrated method of conveying affection, interest, and care. A light touch on the shoulder, pat on the back, or simply holding your child’s hand can be greatly reassuring. 
  • Hugs—I hug my son EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. This is so important, I’m making it a paragraph of its own...

Hugging is the number one mode of connection I can think of in my relationship with my son. However, I don’t just give him a quick hug and it’s over. I hug my son and I don’t let go until HE lets go. After 14+ years of this (my son is 17 now), I can almost always tell my son’s mood and energy level through a hug. If he holds on for more than a few seconds, or holds on tightly, I know he’s feeling insecure, uncertain, or sad—I know in those instances that I should keep hugging him just a little bit longer even when he is ready to break free. If he gives me a light and quick, single-armed, side hug, I know he’s likely feeling light hearted, happy, and enjoying life. If he gives me a kiss on the cheek with his hug, I know he’s happy with life in general.

Now, as most parents know, pre-teens, tweens, and teens often do NOT like to hug their parents, especially not in public. I encourage you to hug your children anyhow. My son went through a phase, like most kids, where he didn’t want hugs and didn’t want public hugs. I kept at it and told him I would continue to hug him because I love him and I want him to always know and feel my love and care. To a degree, I would honor his feelings about public hugs, but I still might give him a light and fast squeeze as he ran into a class or store or event. Over time, he has tolerated public hugs more and more, and on occasion has even initiated the hug. In fact, the more I hug my son, the more he hugs me back.

Our hugs don’t have to be long or frequent, but I do insist that they be DAILY and that they last until HE breaks them off. 

So, my challenge to you is two-fold:
  1. Put down your cell phone, tablet or other electronic devices of distraction and spend 10 minutes totally focused on your kids and what they want and need from you every single day.
  2. Hug your kids every single day, even if they don't want you to do so, and don't let go until they do.
If you love the hugging challenge, be sure to check out the book The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children: Parenting from the Heart by Steven W. Vannoy. It's the one book that truly revolutionized my relationship with my son early on and it is packed with all sorts of great parenting philosophies and ideas (read more about the book HERE)

Tell us, how do you connect with your kids? Are you a single parent or do you have a parenting-partner-in-crime? How do you stay connected as a family while honoring your own need for “me” time? Leave a comment and let us know!
Need more ideas on connecting with your kids? Give Conversation Starter Cards a try! 

These cards are printable (print as many as you need!) and easy to use. Just print them, cut them out, and select a card to spark an interesting conversation. Your set includes 20 pre-printed prompts and questions, as well as space for four of your own. Each card also doubles as a coloring page for an additional fun activity. 
Conversation starter card set
You can get your cards HERE or visit THIS post for ideas on how to use the these to spark fun and interesting table talk. You just might be surprised by what your kids have to say!

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