I recently came across this book by Dr Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. And I am completely hooked. The main message is fascinating (and frightening). It is all about how our children are much more peer orientated than they used to be and that the natural connection with their parents is being replaced too early with a connection (and focus) on their peers. This happens before they are ready, before they are mature enough - and the end result is that the children end up in a situation where 'the blind are leading the blind.'
I think what has worried me recently, is that since lockdown, when we saw playing computer games remotely with his friends as a useful way to connect and socialise with his mates, has become a bit of an obsession for my 8 year old. He will choose playing with his friends over spending time with the family every time. Gone are the requests for 'Mummy play with me' or 'Daddy can you play some football with me'. I understand that this will become less and less as the child gets older, and that that is an important part of growing up. Children need to be able to venture out into the world and figure out their independence.
But to be able to do this successfully, they still need to be securely attached to their parents. So that they have a safe haven to return to. Unconditional love to rely on (especially as peers will not be able to provide this) and a helping hand in figuring out who they are.
The book states just how important it is that our children remain connected with us for as long as they need us. Even if they think they don't (or we might think they don't), chances are, they do. And it is our responsibility as parents to fight for that connection! It is not about excluding friendships - they are an important part of figuring out how to be part of society, but it is about remaining that primary connection and focus. If children are securely connected to their parents, they are free to develop naturally and remain individuals that are secure in themselves. Then they can they be with their friends without coming unstuck.
There are lots of different nuggets of wisdom that the book offers (and I have not finished it yet), but here are the ones that have stood out for me so far:
1) Build in time for family connection regularly so that it becomes the norm. Families would often do this automatically in the past - family meals were times to sit together and connect. And not to be disturbed. I still remember very clearly from my own childhood that if the phone or door rang (which was rare during dinner time) we'd either ignore it, or be very, very brief and explain we were eating and then get straight back to the table. Now, so often, parents and children are preoccupied with phones or TV, or with arguing over individuals not sitting still or interrupting each other. I think we need to reclaim that magical time of togetherness, of connection and setting the world to rights together, as hard as it may initially be. Another example would be family outings - walks or a swim maybe, or a trip to the theatre, or whatever you enjoy doing together. And that these times are completely about family. About exploring the world together, talking and laughing
together. With no other children or friends coming along - there is time for that on separate outings!
2) Always focus on the connection first. Even if (actually especially if) things are not going so well. If we connect with our child before we ask him or her to do something, then they are so much more likely to do what we ask. So make sure you gently pull them aside before you ask them to do something, make eye contact and get that understanding rather than shouting at them from across the room. Or when they are arguing with each other - show them in a positive way what behaviour would be better, again getting close, using a gentle but firm voice, so that they can learn by example and really understand that you are here to support and guide rather than just telling them off. That way (even if it is hard at times!) we get to maintain our connection with them rather than pushing them away.
3) Don't focus on the behaviour. This is a hard one, as children are so good at pressing our buttons! Sometimes it takes every ounce of me to not take the bait, remain calm and look past the behaviour to see the child behind it. One that is struggling with frustration, or is angry, hungry, disappointed, tired or just overwhelmed.
Another idea that I have recently come across (and that is aligned with the theme of 'Hold on to your kids') and I am currently trying with my children is to put in 15 minutes a day with each child where they decide what they want to do with you and your focus is entirely on them. I love the concept, and know that each of my children do, but if I am honest, I have struggled a bit with implementation!
The day seems to race by and unless I have scheduled the time in, it just doesn't happen. I am hoping this will get better once everyone is used to the new routine...! Another thing that gets me unstuck sometimes, is that the other two siblings tend to interrupt or want to be part of whatever I am doing with the third. I am finding it hard to give them something equally interesting to do by themselves...! And finally, a crucial part of this idea is that you let the child decide on the activity. Now, this has meant I have been playing football, Beyblades, cricket, Sylvanian Families, Horses, Piggy Back, tickle fights, pillow fights, Trampolining and everything in between... sometimes all in one day. It is exhausting. But if I allow myself to really let go, giggle with my children, immerse myself in the moment and really play with them, that is when the magic happens. It is as if a door opens and we are aligned again. And that makes me happy.
So, when the going gets tough, I try and remember that this connection with my children is what I want. Not just today, but for life. Like any relationship, that takes patience and commitment and time. And, as we are human, there will be mistakes made, things to learn from and move past. As one of my children said (when trying to teach me (relatively unsuccessfully) how to stop coming off the track in a Mario Cart game): 'Mummy, it is all about doing your best and never giving up.' ;-)