Effective parenting requires a hefty learning curve. Today’s parents must observe and adapt to survive. The more I parent, the more I learn lessons the hard way.
The silver lining in this cloud of imperfection is this: I’m gaining more insight each day. In fact, I’ll probably be about halfway there by the time my youngest leaves for college. (I’ll be almost ready for this parenting thing by the time my grandkids arrive!)
This past year has provided plenty of these life-lessons, allowing my wife and I the opportunity to test-drive three parenting practices truly helping us better connect with our daughter.
Three Practices Helping Us Connect with Our Teen:
1. The fine art of shutting up
My oldest kid would be the first to tell you, “Dad loves to lecture.” The problem is, the more I talked, the less they listened. I’m on kid #3 and I think I’m finally getting the hint: dialogue is far more effective than monologue.
One of the best practices I’ve learned this year is simply shutting up. It’s amazing what you can learn when you just sit back like a fly on the wall, noticing your kids and listening. Try this when you drive a car full of your kids’ friends. Shut up… and they’ll forget you’re there. You’ll learn a lot about your son or daughter’s world that you never knew.
Better yet, try this at the dinner table if you want to get your teenager talking.
Ask a question… then just clam it. My youngest never answers the first question. I have to wait it out. Eventually she’ll kill the silence.
Most kids love being heard—they’re just never given the opportunity. But this requires proximity. You can’t listen to them if they aren’t there. That’s where I learned this next practice…
2. Saying “yes”
Say yes to any opportunity to connect with your kid.
“Dad, have you eaten lunch yet?” Interpretation: “Will you take me to Rim’s Deli and buy me that hot pastrami sub?”
This year I’ve tried something. I’ve tried saying yes to any opportunity to connect. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the middle of doing yard work, taxes, or even tackling a writing deadline due the next day. I slide it all aside and take the time to connect with my kid. In all honesty, I've probably improved this practice with the most urgency this year because the clock is ticking. My youngest moves away to college this fall. I’m going to miss these moments.
I reflect back on countless times as a young parent where my kids would ask me:
“Dad, do you wanna play video games?”
So many times I was too busy. (Can you hear Cat’s in the Cradle playing in the background?) How I wish I could go back in time and change my response.
“Wanna play Barbies?”
“Wanna play a Barbie video game?”
Now I look for any opportunity to be in the same room as my kids, and that includes…
3. Providing the house to “hang”
“Dad, can Megan spend the night… on a school night?”
“Can we feed her dinner?”
The question is simple. Would I rather my daughter be at someone else’s house, or have her here? This year we’ve not only committed time, but also money to this practice.
“This Sunday night we’re all thinking of going somewhere to watch movies.”
“Bring them all over here. I’ll buy pizza and Mexican sodas.” (Italy and Mexico get along well in my house.)
This year has provided plenty of opportunities… costly opportunities.
“Dad, next Wednesday is senior cut day, so I want to bail school and go to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with my friends, but two of them can only go if a parent goes.”
“I’ll take you. Let me email your school and excuse you.”
Yeah, call me crazy, but I did it (it helps that she’s getting a 4.2 grade point average and it’s the last month of school). Any opportunity to be with her.
In fact, opportunities like this give me the chance to rehearse all three of these practices. I said yes to this opportunity, and got to
spend the day with my daughter and her friends in Santa Cruz. I shut up most of the drive and listened a lot. The same group spent the night at my house the next week and I made them all breakfast. They know our door is open to them any time.
Is your door open?
Adapting and learning as a parent has opened the door to numerous new opportunities to connect with my daughter this year. Does that mean I have this parenting thing perfected? Hardly. Am I some super parent? Ha! I wish. All I am is a parent who is learning from my mistakes and gaining more insight each day. These little life lessons are providing me with new opportunities to build into my kids regularly.
What is an opportunity to connect with your kid that you can say yes too?
Have you tried just shutting up and listening?
How can you be proactive to make your house a safe place to "hang"?
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