Effective parenting requires a hefty learning curve. Today's parents must observe and adapt to survive. This past year has provided plenty of these life-lessons, giving 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
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.
This year I've tried something. It doesn't matter if I'm in the middle of doing yard work, taxes...I slide it all aside and take the time to connect with my kid.
I reflect back on countless times as a young parent where my kids would ask me:
"Dad, do you wanna play video games?" or "Wanna play Barbies?"
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.
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?"
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."
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." (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.)
Opportunities like this give me the chance to rehearse all three of these practices. I said yes 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. But I am 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.