Tuesday, September 30

Connecting in the Chaos, Part 2

      Last week I wrote a post about my struggle to connect with my girls, in a meaningful way, in the midst of what often feels like utter chaos around the house on weeknights. If you missed that first post you can click to read it here.

     For those of you who are in the middle of young family life, you know what I mean. The girls get off the bus around 4 p.m.  and the next 4 1/2 hours are filled with a non-stop string of  high-energy activities that include after school snacks, homework, dinner, ballet/gymnastics on the nights the girls have them, baths every 6-8 days, but only if the kids start to stink (I'm joking here...kind of! We usually try to squeeze a bath in every other day, but sometimes it doesn't always happen!) and then the bedtime routine.

     We try, try, TRY to squeeze something fun in there...a craft, a bike ride, some enjoyable reading, coloring or playtime outside, but it's really a challenge most nights.

     I'm guessing many of you can attest to a similar version of evening events, especially if you have multiple children. It's hard to connect, but so very important. I feel like we have to grab our kid's hearts now, while they still look up to us, so that later when they have so many distractions vying for their attention, we'll still be one of the first places they look for answers, support and encouragement.

     It is my deep hope that building bridges now is creating lasting gateways to their hearts for years to come.  

     But that is easier said than done on the fast-track of parenting life, which is why I really liked the quote above when I found it this week. Family time must be viewed as sacred and important.  In order to make it such we must be  super, duper INTENTIONAL about connecting with our kids on a regular basis, or life will just keep flying by one carpool, soccer game and rushed mealtime at a time, leaving us to feel like we're doing so much, but are we doing enough to connect?

      I decided to float the question out on Facebook to find out what other families are doing and promised I'd compile all of the answers into one blog post. Here is a round-up of the answers I received (Thank you all for your feedback!).

7 Ways To Connect in the Middle of the Weeknight Chaos

1. Dinner table conversation. 
Particularly the high/low game where every person at the table (parents included!) shares their favorite and least favorite parts of the day (Jennifer Seiler, Leslie Stewart)
We have tried this at our house and have enjoyed it. Scott prefers to avoid the "low" part and keep the conversation more upbeat (though I can see how this would have relevance as the girls get older). We have also purchased these cool little dinner conversation cards, which the girls have loved- each card has a question on it for everyone at the table to answer. On some nights we all answer the same question, and on others we will each blindly choose our own question to answer. It's a ton of fun!

2. Making an effort to listen, even when it's not convenient. And I mean REALLY listen. 
            "Listening. REALLY listening, even for just a couple minutes, or even when the talking is incessant and you just want a moment to yourself. It validates them as individuals and builds a trusting relationship. They'll know that they can talk to you about anything down the road"(Karyn O'Connor, mom to 4) 

            "Also, sometimes I want them to tell me about "life" or the day when it's convenient for my schedule. Sometimes they (especially my 3rd grade boy) are ready to talk when I'm busy with something else. That's the time I've got to stop and listen." (Karen Davis Jones, local mom and creator of the fantastic site Fun 4 Kids in Buffalo)

3. Making the Most of Bed Time.   
            How often are we tempted to rush through bedtime? I know I've been guilty because I'm so tired myself! That said, I appreciated these moms sharing how special bedtime can be when we make space for extra snuggles and offer our listening ear. 
            "Both of my girls beg to be taken up to bed early so we have extra time to snuggle and talk, one on one. It's very relaxed and great to hear about all the parts of their day that I missed."
 (Tina Keller Fronden, mom to 2, with one more on the way!)

            "Finally at bedtime is when he wants to divulge everything I've been dying to know from the second he gets off that bus. Lol!"  (Danielle Macaulay, mom to 2)

            "Yes to bed a little earlier so we can unwind and talk about their day. It's also a time for me to pray with them, encourage them and make sure they know how special they are to me - even if it was a day of frustrations and tears.
" (Amy Kinda, mom to 2)
            "Bedtime and dinnertime. Colby tends to tell me more when things are quiet, calm and less distractions (tv, phone, noise)." (Jess Fancher, mom to 2)

4. Making the Most of Homework Time

When I do homework with the older two, I do it one at a time, make a special snack or tea/hot coco and we sit together and do it and have conversation then and it's individualized with no distraction (hopefully!)" (Erin Pankow, mom to 4)

            I love Erin's idea and definitely plan to try to implement this one at home. I would add our version of special homework time, which I started with Ava occasionally last year...

            Tim Horton's homework time!  Because the house always feels full of distractions, she and I would pack up her homework and whatever books she was currently reading (from home or the library) and go the the closest Tim Hortons (5 minutes away for us). She and I would order lemon tea, and usually split a muffin or a bagel. I would help her with her homework, read with her and sometimes we'd even both bring our journals and jot down some thoughts on a page or two! The few times we did this last year were some of my very favorite evening moments with her. I plan to start this again this year...now that I have two in school we might shoot for 1x per child one on one and then maybe another evening where either Scott or I take both girls and leave the baby at home. 
5. Making the Most of the Everyday Moments

Car rides, snack times, or finding the kids playing in their rooms. While it can be easy to shrug some of these times off as unimportant, these moms have found ways to maximize them for connecting potential! 
            "Mine is often in the car conversations or around the dinner table. Right off the bus with our after school snack "porch talk" or when they are in their rooms putting their clean laundry away I will sit and chat. When I'm fixing my daughters hair I can get one on one.( maybe I'm connecting more than I thought I was!)
" (LJ Anderson, mom to 4)
           "I find the kids are totally engaged when we spend time in "their world" , we often do this by hanging out in their room with them, doing things they enjoy. I find it helpful to be intentional about this time after discipline, it helps tie strings between our hearts to each other . We also enjoy baking together, and making little gifts for people together." (Laurie Gworek Henderson, mom to 2)
6. Extra Hugs and Kisses
            "Hugs. Even if I don't get to have heart to hearts, hugs throughout the day changes EVERYONE's attitudes (Brigitte Holbert, mom to 2)"

Thank you for the super fantastic reminder Brigitte! We do hug a lot in our house, but there are NEVER enough hugs. Never, ever, ever. Ever since I read Brigitte's comment last week I've been keeping this in the back of my mind and when things are feeling extra nutty, busy and chaotic, I go up to the girls and give them an extra big squeeze before I keep going on with the to-dos, or dinner, or whatever. 

7. Be Silly and Have Fun. Whatever that looks like for you!
Turn on music loud in family room after dinner ... dance, hug, snuggle... turns everybody into goodmoods!.... doesn't always allow for conversation but often leads to it.."  (Jennifer Jackson, mom to 3) 
Another fantastic reminder!! I so often get into "serious, get things done" mom mode. Sometimes it's hard to turn that off and just be silly, but it's incredibly important to the vitality of the house. It infuses the house with joy, and at the end of the day, isn't that the feeling we want our kids to grow up with when they think about their childhood years?!!!

Thank you all for your fantastic suggestions. What I found so encouraging about reading all of your answers was that connecting with our kids is sometimes as simple as making the most of the everyday moments. Bringing meaning to the stuff that is already going on; meal time, car rides, snack time, bedtime, etc.

What is so beautiful about this is that most of us don't have time to consistently add one more thing to our days, but we can all make the most of the moments and things that are already there.

So, here's to making meaning out of the sometimes mundane moments and creating memories that will last a lifetime for our children! 

Hope this was helpful!!

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