When I think back to my childhood and reflect on parenting then and parenting now, I am amazed at the differences I see.
The main thing that stands out for me in my own childhood is how we, as kids, entertained ourselves all the time. I do not remember the family coming together to watch movies, play games or any type of day-to-day organized activity together.
My neighbor and I, best friends, spent most of our weekends outside. To my recollection, my mom opened the door on the weekends, sent us out until dinner when she rang the bell or called for us. I lived on a farm, not in a neighborhood, so it was very safe and easy for my mom to call for us, as it was, she and my best friend’s mom were the only moms in sight. When we were called, we ran. We did not say “no, please Five more minutes, we just need to finish our game,” or anything of that nature. Our time outside was up. Dinner was on the table and we were hungry.
Dinner was enjoyed as a family, but without much child participation, outside of eating what was on our plate. My parents would talk about work and my dad would share about his day with my mother. We sat, mostly in silence, and ate the food that was put on our plate.
The connection and time together were quite minimal. Even at bed time, the amount of time spent was not necessarily fulfilling, especially for me, since I typically felt a lack of love from my parents.
As the disconnection continued and I got older, I began to
hide things from my parents. I became a bit of a rebel and would often lie. I
won’t get into all the details here about what the lies were but the premise
basically is that my parents knew very little about what truly went on in my
life, nor did they ask. So, if trouble ensued, there was always a way out – to
lie and make it a good one.
When I think back to all of this, I realize so clearly that this disconnection with my mom and dad was the leading factor in why I would tell lies; on the opposite side, the punishments were not fun at all. I was usually grounded. One year I lost my privileges to participate in Halloween. To this day, I can still feel the utter sadness and the loss of something so important to me in my childhood. So, I learned through the consequences and the lack of connection that truth telling did not benefit me in any way. I lied to protect myself.
How can we look at this differently today? Connection for one is key. Our kids need to feel like they are seen, heard and valued for who they are – daily. This is not just by dropping them off at school, packing a nice lunch for them and doing their laundry. True connection happens by seeing the child in front of you, learning about that child by listening and asking questions, and spending quality time with this child.
All children want their parents to see them for who they are, rather than mold them into what we want them to be. They want us to honor their likes and dislikes, instead of pushing them into our likes and agendas. They want us to spend time getting to know them and what they are all about. Once we begin this process, the connection starts to strengthen.
If you want your children to come to you when things go awry, share the good, the bad, and the ugly with you; they need to know that you are there to listen and help, rather than scold and discipline. Learning takes place just by the mistakes our children make. Recently one of my clients told me about her son getting caught in school with a few other boys writing something that was inappropriate and against the school’s policy. The school called the parents. When the son finally told this mom, she said he had a look of shame on his face. This is part of learning from the mistake – he knew he was wrong, acted out of need for social approval and acceptance with his peers, and not from logical thoughts. The shame on his face and his discomfort in reporting this himself was all a part of the learning and growing. Our question to our children can be be what did you learn from this or how can you make amends for this.