Do you find yourself getting stuck in “task” mode as you parent your kids? It’s so easy for the daily grind of parenting to become totally focused on getting your kids to do stuff—making their bed, getting dressed, remembering all their school gear, doing their homework . . . the list never ends!
There’s nothing wrong with helping our kids get stuff done. But it’s so important that we don’t allow focus on tasks to take over our parenting. If we’re not careful, a task focus can easily spill over into the way we parent our kids around other areas of behavior—manners, character choices, managing emotions, etc. When this happens, it’s possible to start parenting from the outside in, communicating that what really matters is that they know how to go through the motions of certain behaviors—saying thank you, giving apologies, or using words to communicate feelings—instead of helping them cultivate the heart that produces these behaviors.
The way we shape our kids’ hearts is through a heart-to-heart connection, so it’s essential that we keep pursuing this connection as our priority.
We like to use the metaphor of a kite string to describe connection with our kids. When they are little, the kite is closer to the ground. We’re very hands-on as we help them learn basic things like how to put their shoes on. At that height, if the kite falls, it’s not very damaging. But as our children grow and get older, that kite gets further and further away. The next thing we know, we’re teaching them how to drive and they’re walking in more freedom and independence.
Parenting isn’t easy, but if we can consistently show our kids that our connection with them is what we care about most, we will set ourselves up to grow through every challenge.
In high school and into adulthood, the kite is way up in the sky, and that string of connection is the only thing we’ve got to pull on to influence our kids and hold on to them as they weather the winds and storms of life. If we’ve neglected that connection or chewed on it, then when the winds and storms come, it’s going to be tough to reach their hearts and offer them our strength, support, and guidance.
Prioritizing connection helps us to keep the end in mind. Parenting isn’t easy, but if we can consistently show our kids that our connection with them is what we care about most, we will set ourselves up to grow through every challenge.
So, here are five practical steps for keeping connection as your priority and strengthening that kite string connected to your kids’ hearts. As you read this list, be encouraged that you can do this!
5 Ways to Keep Connection as Your Priority:
- Have a vision statement for your relationship with your kids and revisit it regularly. When you’re climbing a mountain, you tend to look at your feet because you’re tired and just trudging along. But every once in a while, if you just look up at the mountaintop, you’ll remember why you’re going through the pain. A vision statement is a way to paint the picture of the mountaintop so you can look at it when you need to. Write down a short vision statement that expresses the goal of keeping your heart-to-heart connection with your kids as your number-one priority. It doesn’t have to be long—if it can fit on a Post-It note, great! Then you can post it on your bathroom mirror or wherever you’ll see it every day.
- Mend the little disconnects quickly. As you work on maintaining and strengthening your kite string of connection, you’ll start to recognize when it slips or frays a little bit. In those moments, it’s important to go to fix it as soon as possible. Don’t wait until you have a big gigantic disconnect to do something about it. When something feels off with your children, go connect with their heart. Make daily and weekly check-ins a priority so that you’re proactively pursuing them instead of always responding to disconnect.
- Treat messes as opportunities. I remember a time when my son Levi was really young. I came out to the kitchen and found him sitting on the floor in front of the refrigerator. He had cracked all the eggs onto the floor. It would have been easy to get frustrated and inadvertently send him the message that him not making a mess was more important than protecting our connection. Instead, I did my best to be gentle, show him my heart, and explain why we don’t crack eggs on the floor. Some of the most important moments we build connection with our kids is in the midst of their messes!
- Remember that kids are forgiving. Danny and I worked with foster kids, and they were in the hardest situations. Yet, at the end of the day, even though their parents were messing up or making mistakes, the kids wanted to be with their parents. They loved their parents. I learned that kids are so forgiving. So, remember that your own little mistakes throughout the day, even if it’s choosing disconnect over connection, are repairable. What good news!
- Don’t expect connection with each of your children to be the same. Every child is different, so connection will look different with each one. We don’t get the first kid and go, “Oh, I got this. I know what to do with the second one.” Nope! They’re all different. Make sure that you’re looking at each relationship as special and unique, and giving the specific attention each deserves.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “Where do I even begin? How do I do this?” I want you to know that by simply making an effort towards connection, you’re already on the right track. Just take it one step at a time!
It’s never too late to start pursuing connection.