Sometimes I stop for a moment and realize that I’m so concerned with taking care of my children: doing laundry, cooking meals, making sure their bedrooms are inhabitable from time to time, teaching them to be polite and learn the Bible, that I forget to be their friends, too.
Now, I’m not talking about laying aside my mom role so I can be buddies with my kids. I’m talking about getting to know them. Finding out what is keeping them up at night, what they’re looking forward to most of all, and enjoying their company. That takes effort, just like any relationship.
I have to be deliberate about this sometimes. I caught myself this week pushing my kids away. Laurel wanted to sit in my lap, and I told her I was too busy. David wanted to show me his latest lego creation, and I was annoyed because he was supposed to be cleaning his room. I never did remember to look at what he made.
When Lee was away on a transport for work, Bethel came in late at night and asked if she could read next to me. I told her to go to bed. I wanted to read by myself.
After she left and went back to bed, I started fussing at myself. Am I pushing them away while at the same time wanting meaningful conversations? I can readily see the futility of this kind of inconsistency.
So I decided to write some things I’m learning as I remind myself to put them in practice.
- I need to put away my smart phone. They know when I’m barely listening because I’ve got an eye on my email or Facebook.
- I need to be willing to chat during “me” time. Too often I resent them trying to stay up later than their bedtime. Or trying to get an advantage that the other kids don’t have. But even if these things are true, can’t I be one step ahead of them and take advantage of their willingness to come see me and spend time with me? We’re beyond toddler years when they (and I) desperately need all the sleep they can get.
- I need to seek them out. Some parents do a much better job than I do at planning dates with their kids, or organizing times to talk. I have noticed that not all of my children are knocking at my door to talk, and when they are, they just want to be with me and talk about dumb stuff. or they want me to play with them. Blech!
- Make eye contact. I’m in the kitchen, cooking. They come in to say something, and I say, “Yes, dear?” while still paying attention to what I’m doing. Sometimes I can’t stop, but really, I need to remind myself that it is not hard to turn down the heat, turn to my baby, and say, “What are you showing mama?” If I recognize that my children’s eye contact is related to their ability to listen, then I need to practice what I preach and look at them when they are talking for the twenty seconds that it takes to respond.
- Ask questions. I am still learning this, but one question I have been working is a response to when a child expresses like or dislike. “I like that flower.” “What do you like about it?” Sometimes they don’t know, but sometimes I get a good answer. What do you like or dislike about it is a really great way to keep the conversation moving.
Here are some more questions I’m asking them. Some of these questions I’m asking in faith that someday when I ask, they’ll have an answer that will be helpful. Often, when we have “talks” they’re not very substantive. Again, my goal shouldn’t be for the earth shattering detail, but to understand the child God has entrusted to my care. This shift in emphasis makes listening to talk about legos and other boring topics worthwhile.
- What are you looking forward to the most?
- What is God teaching you right now?
- How are you doing with your friends? I noticed you weren’t talking with so-and-so. Is everything okay?
- What did you like about the last book you read?
- Is there anything that is bothering you lately?
- How are you doing at getting along with your sisters?
- Any questions for mom?
- What do you think about Okinawa so far? Like it? What’s you’re favorite part?
- What was your favorite part of today?
Those are the questions I want answers to, and I ask them. I must also keep in mind that my children want to talk about what’s important to them. How do I love them? I look for the things they want to talk about.
- What’s the next bird you want to see?
- Why do you think the Chinese bulbul likes our yard so much?
- Show me the Japanese sparrow hawks again. Why do you think the bird we saw isn’t one of these guys?
As my kids get older, I can tell I’m improving in my ability to ask good questions, even though I have a long way to go. Asking questions is clearly a skill that is learned by practicing. I’m most recently learning that the point of asking questions isn’t to find that one zinger that unlocks the entire heart of my child. I am simply learning to be a friend and mother. I am learning to love them.
How have you been working on enjoying your children lately?