There’s a story about a father who was lamenting his broken relationship with his son. He turned to his spiritual adviser and asked what could be done. The adviser said, “Turn the clock back twenty years.”
This story always reminds me of the heartbreaking song, “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Whenever I hear that song, it just makes me so sad. First, the father doesn’t have time for his son and then when the father finally has time, the son, having learned so well from his father, doesn’t have time for his dad. It just makes my heart so sad.
Time is the one thing we cannot get back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Forever. And it goes by so very fast. I feel like I went to bed last night and it was 1990 and woke up this morning in 2019.
After my parents died, my sister and I went to live with our grandparents. My grandfather told another family member, “I didn’t do so well with my children, maybe this time around I’ll do it better.” He realized he could never have that time back with his own children.
Eighteen years seems like a long time looking forward, but looking back, it feels like it was a brief moment in time–at least that’s how I feel with my kids. Sometimes, I sit in my recliner and just try to remember when they were young, but I feel like my memories resemble Swiss cheese because there are too many holes where I can’t remember. Thankfully, I’ve kept a journal and taken lots of photos and videos, so I have those memories.
But, sometimes, I wish there was such a thing as a time machine and I could go back when my kids were all little and running around the house in diapers.
I fully believe that the relationships we form with our kids when they are young are so instrumental during the teen years and even as they become adults and establish their own families. Relationships take time, effort, patience, and sometimes a lot of tears. But relationships with our kids are worth it.
In order to form relationships with my kids, I’ve learned that we need to spend time together, I need to ask them questions, I need to support their activities and dreams, and we need to have opportunities to work together.
Spend Time Together
In order to build any relationship, people have to spend time together. I used to hear people say that kids want quality time with their mom and/or dad. That’s true. But they also want quantity. My kids have always wanted to spend a lot of time with me. Even when they were very young, my kids just wanted me to be around. If I wasn’t there to meet them at the front door after school, they’d shout out my name and when I’d ask them what they needed, they’d say, Nothing. I just wanted to know where you were.” Even now, my kids come home and look for me in the house just to know where I am.
Time together also create memories. We live in an area where we I can walk with my middle school kid to school. I started this when we moved here and my son, at the time, was in 7th grade. He’s now a senior in high school. He still talks about walking to school with me during his middle school years. That was such a great time to talk about his classes, friends, things he wanted to do, books he’d read. We talked all the way to school. I repeated that with my daughter and now with another son. It’s my time to be with that child.
I’ve also spent time with my kids doing activities like sledding, going to the gym, riding bikes, playing tennis, walking to the park, and swimming. The more time I can spend with my kids, the better.
And spending time together doesn’t have to be planned out. Spontaneous time together, like a spur of the moment trip to the mall, builds relationships.
I’ve missed plenty of opportunities to spend time with my kids, something that I regret, but I try to look for time every day to spend with my kids.
Ask Questions, Then Listen
We lived in a rural area for many years that was about 30 minutes away from schools, shopping, doctors, and activities. I used the time we were driving to ask my kids questions about all sorts of things. We used to talk about animals, school, friends, dreams, and future plans.
I haven’t always been the best listener, but I’ve learned that it’s important to ask questions with the intent to listen to the answer. I learned, and still learn, a lot about my kids when I truly listened to their answers. And listening to them makes them feel like I’m interested in what they have to say. Back in the day, when they were very young, I listened to lots of “unimportant” things, but that paved the way for my kids to feel comfortable talking to me about important things because I listened to them when they were young.
Asking questions sometimes turned into long discussions about life and I got a glimpse into how my kids felt about things that were happening in their lives. Asking questions and then listening allows me to be connected to and involved in their lives.
When my kids were young, they’d come to me and say, “Mom, watch me.” As they got older, they didn’t say that as much, but it was still very important for me to watch my kids in their various activities, even if I wasn’t a huge fan of that activity. Watching my kids and supporting them made them feel important and made them feel like I believed in them.
Many of my kids played sports in elementary school, but in middle school and high school they chose to perform on stage and become thespians. I watched (and still do) many, many plays, one-act festivals, and other performances. I’ve watched them sing at the country fair and even perform for some state representatives at a special dinner. I LOVE watching my kids perform.
I have also gone to soccer games, choir concerts, state history day competitions, and basketball games.
Supporting them in their activities was (and is) important to me and it communicates to them that I care about them.
We’ve spent a lot of time working on fences, hoeing gardens, pulling weeds, feeding animals, and doing home improvement projects. During this time, we talk and laugh and have fun.
I’ve learned a great deal about my children as we’ve worked side by side. Doing hard work and becoming tired while doing so also encourages kids to let down barriers or walls they might have in place. After a long day of work together, I’ve felt much closer to my kids.
And when we work together, as opposed to me just telling them to go work on something, we form a bond. Doing something hard together helps us be more connected and shows them that I believe they can do hard things.
Put Away Electronics
We live in an interesting era where we are so dependent on electronics. When I was a kid, phones were connected to the wall, no one had even heard of a personal computer, and playing a game meant going outside to kick a ball around.
Today, we seem to be connected to our electronics, especially our phones, as if they are an appendage. I often wonder how much I miss when I’m scrolling through my phone.
Am I present in the moment? Am I enjoying this time with my kids? Am I too involved in the next big argument on social media instead of talking to my kids?
We have a rule at our house. No electronics at the dinner table. This has helped us to have conversations and spend time together instead of looking at our devices.
Technology is neither good nor bad, but how we use it can be detrimental to our relationships. So, I try to put away the electronics and focus on my kids. I hope to be better at being present in the moment and putting my phone down.
Now is the best time to build and strengthen relationships with our kids, no matter their age. Once today is gone, it’s gone and we won’t ever get it back.
No amount of money or prestige or fame will ever be a substitute for failed relationships.
Children want relationships with their parents. They yearn for a connection to us. Even though I lost my mom and dad at a young age, I still have that yearning and wish I’d had an opportunity to have a deeper, longer relationship with both of my parents.
One of my daughters, when she was 12 or so, said how much she looked forward to having a closer relationship to me as she became a teenager. It made me stop in my tracks and make a commitment to spend even more time with her.
I now have several adult children. I talk to most of them every day or so. We call, text, and FaceTime. They include me in their lives and I include them in mine. We love to spend time together and look for any and all opportunities to do just that. I believe these relationships began years and years ago and were built on spending time together, asking questions and then listening to answers, supporting their various activities, working together, and putting away electronics.
It’s never too early or too late to build a relationship. I get the chance every morning to start over and look for ways to build my relationships with my kids.