Friday, February 11, 2011

Investing your time, creativity can build richer relationships

Of our four children, one is particularly “spirited,” which is another way of saying that the boy is an expert at sniffing out trouble. Just yesterday, he was happily occupied with a small, battery-operated vacuum cleaner. When I looked away for a moment, he decided to take the brush attachment from the vacuum I was using, dip it into the toilet, and “help me” by “scrubbing” the floor.

Moments like these often leave me frazzled and worn out, a familiar state for virtually anyone in the trenches of parenthood. This is true whether you’re tending to a newborn, chasing a toddler, running a tween to baseball practice or dealing with teenage angst.

In the midst of the chaos and the fatigue, the busyness and the routines, my husband and I have learned how difficult it can be to connect with our children in deep and meaningful ways. But we have also learned that, above all else, connectedness is what we want and what our children need.

Still, connectedness doesn’t always come naturally for us; honestly, we’ve found that it can be easier to divert or distract our children than to connect with them. In our home, movies often end up being our go-to diversion. Television, video games, the Internet, cell phone apps, a barrage of extracurricular activities, or buying new material possessions can just as easily serve as distractions and time fillers that keep us from building the relationships we really want.

Although diversions do give us an occasional break from the demands of parenthood, my husband and I want to invest in the relationship we have with our children. We try to do this by spending our time and our money in ways that enrich our family.

We often spend time together on simple activities. We pull out board games, do artwork at the dining room table together, include our children in meal preparation (as painful as it might be to wait for a 6-year-old to finish peeling three carrots), and try to engage in the things they love. We drive Matchbox cars and sword fight, sip water from tiny tea cups and swaddle dolls.

In the evenings when we’re all home together, we gather in the living room to read. One of the tangible investments we’ve made in our children is a library of beautiful and engaging books. We’ve received some as gifts; the others we’ve picked up at rummage sales and secondhand stores for a dollar or less.

We prefer investing our money in books and playthings that encourage our children to use their time creatively – and that sometimes allow us to jump in and play with them. We like simple, low-tech items such as new cookie cutters that can be play dough tools, wooden bowls for their little kitchen, thrifted dress-up clothes or paint sets and sketchbooks.

Finding ways to connect with older children can be challenging, but it is just as essential. Start by committing to 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with them. Resist the urge to send a quick text message, answer the phone, send an e-mail, or start dinner. Challenge your children, too, to take a break from their electronic devices to spend time with you.

Being wholly present may take some practice and effort, but investing in your children, regardless of their age, has rich rewards.

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