Over the last 6 years I’ve wrestled with the balance of work and life but there has been one thing that has kept me connected with my two boys, time alone.
Despite the relentless emergency department roster, the 14 hour intensive care night shifts and the all-night caesarean festivals, I have found that carving a few hours into the week to spend with them one on one has paid great dividends.
This is the most important concept for any busy parent and a game-changer in the lives of your children.
Time spent alone is love in action. It isn’t fancy holidays, flashy new toys and not even cash in the bank. Although providing security and resource is important, the value of an involved, committed parent is priceless.
In particular being a present father is a significant protective factor in the lives of growing children. Professor Bruce Robinson of The Fathering Project asserts that “research shows that involved, affectionate and positive fathers contribute to secure attachment of their kids which is important for emotional and relationship building”.
As a young busy parent, you can make significant changes in this season to place these little ones as your priority.
Here are some thoughts on how you can make lasting connections with your children.
1) Organise a regular date with your child
I guarantee that you will love the unique feeling of importance that your children will feel as they spend time alone with you. It is a powerful message to them that they matter and that work, meetings and hobbies do not hold you captive, but they do.
I remember the first time that I took 13month old Samuel out on his own without mine/his safety-net, my wife.
We went for a walk around the Narrows Bridge in Perth. He immediately lunged for the water as most kids do and my heart skipped a few beats as I caught him. After gathering my bearings, he laughed and smiled as we sat and watched the boats whilst drinking our juice boxes. It was magical, my son and me, sitting and enjoying time alone. In that moment, I caught a glimpse of the future of the both of us doing the same thing and realised that it would only be possible if I started to lay the groundwork now.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just needs three ingredients, you and your son or daughter and activity to do or place to go. It might feel clunky at first but persist at it, it will flow and your children will look forward to it. For added disconnection, leave your phone off and out of reach.
“Spending time alone with your children sends a powerful message, that they matter”
2) Start the conversation early
This is one of the most important connections as parents that we can develop with our children. This is particular for fathers, as their words, tone and encouragement can have a significant impact on a child emotional wellbeing and future relationships.
Findings from the Fathering Project, a group dedicated to championing and studying the importance of fathers showed that a father’s words had a protective effect on the lives of their children.
For girls, it was about talking to them with respect and honour and letting her know she was worthwhile and beautiful. It has about instilling confidence in her inner beauty and showing her a high level of respect that she is to expect from other men. When the bar is high, she won’t tolerate anything less than that from potential suitors.
For boys it was about watching their fathers talk and interact with the world. It was about listening to the way that you talk and treat your wife and about the way that you talked to those less fortunate. Most of all it was important for them to see you make mistakes, apologise and make changes in your life.
Spend time talking to your kids and asking them questions as it begins a lifetime of listening to stories that begin about insects and play-doh and progress to discussing major issues such as study, relationships and their life course.
3) Follow each other
You have a calling, a purpose and a mission in your life. Every parent has been equipped with a unique set of gifts, talents and interests that children can follow and develop a love for.
We can see this early in their development as little children often play by copying their parents and it is not unusual to see a little child pretending to help alongside his dad as he works in the shed or mum as she prepares dinner.
For boys this is especially true as they learn by watching and emulating. A deep connection can be founded over time as boys walk alongside their fathers.
The boys love it when I exercise at home. They pretend to do box jumps and pull ups and Hunter loves doing kettle-bell swings. This can sometimes be distracting but it occurred to me that through watching their dad groan and lift weights, one day we may find ourselves working out together, high fiving and shouting slogans at each other.
Equally and more importantly we need to follow our children as they discover their own uniqueness through exploring the world. Parents can help to accelerate and release their children into finding their own gifts and talents by observing their strengths and weaknesses.
And as our kids find their course, we need to surround them with praise and encouragement and confirm this by instilling confidence in them.
My son couldn’t stop talking about cricket, he desperately wanted to play everyday and start junior cricket this summer. I made arrangements to leave work early to take him and have been utterly blown away watching him develop into a little batting master! His chest visibly puffs out and smile broadens as I yell “well done Samuel, you smashed it!!”.
The chances are that your kids will have opposite interests and talents than you. That is excellent! I certainly do not want my boys to become doctors because that’s what I do. Our job is to facilitate and follow. Facilitate them to find their calling and follow them along the way.
“Facilitate them to find their calling and follow them along the way”
One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is your time and presence. No one has more an influence over their lives than you do. These are just some of the ways that you can start to build a lasting connection as you raise your amazingly unique kids.
Jonathan Ramachenderan @thehealthyGP