Last Sunday I had barely walked in the door when my son came up to me and said, “It was really bad. I’m just not ready to live on my own…”
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I’d been away on a training and although I had encouraged him to come with me, he’d said, “No, no, no, I’m fine, Mum. I’d prefer to stay at home.”
But he hadn’t been that fine. That evening as we ate together, it was very sweet the way he was very appreciative of me – telling me I’m a very good cook and noticing there were two sets of vegetables and all the things that he hadn’t had over the weekend.
At one point, he remembered that he’d eaten that very same thing when I was away, and he said, “But when I was eating on my own, Mum, it didn’t taste so good. It’s because you’re here.”
In that moment, we looked in each other’s eyes. We were connecting. And we also knew we were connected. It was a very precious moment.
So today, we’re talking about parenting by connection. Connection underpins everything: It’s one of my three pillars for a happy family. But why is it hard and why don’t we do it more, if it is so good? I’ll give you a definition of what parenting by connection actually is – and some examples of what connected parents do.
First of all, I think it’s really important to realise that parenting by connection is very new. It wasn’t an option for most parents in the last century. In the 20th century we inherited our parenting style from the Victorian era, when it was about ‘do as you’re told or else’ and ‘children should be seen and not heard.’ It was about discipline. It was about hierarchy. It was about keeping children’s challenging emotions in a box so that they wouldn’t disrupt adult life.
Paradoxically, it was during the 20th century that many discoveries were made about children’s needs, and particularly children’s need for attachment and connection. Psychologists such as John Bowlby established that children need to create a secure attachment with their parents or primary carers and that this process creates the safety a child needs for healthy development.
This knowledge has now filtered through into the public arena, so that now, parents in the 21st century are beginning to understand the importance of parenting by connection. But it remains a relatively new concept.
The second thing is that, because it’s so new, it can be challenging. We need to do deep work as parents in order to be able to parent by connection. Because parenting by connection requires us to be truly present for our children. As long as we’re in our old programmes thinking, “their behaviour shouldn’t be like this”, or “the house shouldn’t look a mess like this”, we aren’t really present. We’re caught up in old programmes of how things should be, which just makes us feel bad. And while we’re feeling bad, we’re just not able to parent by connection. So it involves some deep work.
This deep work is, in my view, a gift in itself. It enables us to revisit the programmes from our childhoods and reshape ourselves to be the best we can be. This is why I think parenting by connection is such a hugely valuable thing to learn. We go beyond parenting by numbers to become more truly ourselves – and enjoy life a lot more, too.
So what does parenting by connection look like?
I define it as a deep commitment to your relationship with your children and to making the relationship more important than anything else.
It’s more important than being on time, more important than the way the house looks, more important than your own success or failure at work, or what you think of yourself, or what other people are going to think of you – what grandma’s going to think – more important than anything.
That’s what I think, at the core, parenting by connection means. And it then follows that rather than being the policeman who has to police everyone, or the judge who identifies the perpetrator and creates the victim in a situation, you become the coach. So you’re still very much the leader – children need to be led and guided. You’re the leader who guides, who coaches, who helps people feel better, and who helps facilitate resolutions to conflict.
This is a very different role to the previous role that maybe your parents, and definitely your grandparents would have had, which was of being the police or the judge.
So do you parent by connection? I’ve identified four things that connecting parents do :
#1 – Cuddles and Physical Closeness
This can be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of connection with children – cuddles and physical closeness. Whether it’s co-sleeping, or children climbing into your bed at six in the morning, or snuggling up on the sofa, or stories at bedtimes. With my son who’s 16, I really consciously make the effort to give him hugs or sit closely together with him on the sofa. It’s very precious. This physical connection is not the only way to connect with our kids, for sure, but it is really important.
#2 – Being Available
This is about being present and available, when your children need you. For example, when your toddler brings you those wonderful ‘cups of tea’, and you appreciate them and say, “That was delicious, darling.” Then, as they grow older, it’s about being available and present when they want to talk about something – not endlessly, and not without looking after yourself, of course. But it’s that ability to stop what you’re doing, put your concerns aside, look at your child and be available for them and what they have to say.
#3 – Matching Your Child’s Energy
Matching your child’s energy is another way to be a connected parent. This can be really useful, for example, when your child is trying to initiate more and more games at bedtime. You match their playful energy, meeting them where they’re at, and then helping to bring them into a calmer state. (We all know that saying “Calm down!” just doesn’t work.)
#4 – Seen, Heard, Loved and Understood
The fourth way of being a connected parent is helping children feel seen, heard, loved and understood. This is the core of what connecting is, in my view, and it is so important – particularly when conflicts arise. How does this look? A child takes a toy from another child. “Don’t snatch!” would be the’ old’ way to respond. If you’re parenting with connection, your intervention will be more differentiated. As well as problem solving with the two children about the best way forward, you’ll also say something like, “I wonder if seeing Joey play with that made you want to play with it?” You help your child feel seen, heard, loved and understood. Yes, they’re in the very act of doing something that you don’t want them to do. But still you’re helping them feel seen and understood. This is vital to the art of parenting by connection.
Have you had any ‘Aha’ moments about parenting by connection? I’d love to know if you have.
And if you’re feeling a bit disconnected from your child and wondering how to rebuild this feeling of connection, I have an audio meditation called Reset Your Relationship with Your Child that fast-tracks you to feeling more connected. When you’re feeling imaginatively more connected, it makes it much easier to take those outward steps to connect too. Why not give it a go?
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