By: Nina Malanay
In today’s fast-paced and busy world, it is easy to get lost amidst all the distractions of everyday life. Often, we go through the day (or even the week!), just getting through our to-do-list and shuffling the kids through their routines. Before we know it, days and weeks have passed without any meaningful interaction with our kids.
And while most parents instinctively know that they need to spend quality time with their children, the mundane and day to day rigors of work, family and home life leave little time and energy for quality interactions. However, it is when we are rushing through the busyness of every day that sometimes erodes parent-child connections. This is why it is more important than ever to purposefully connect with your kids – to constantly refill and refuel your child’s love tank. Here are 8 signs to watch out for to know if you need to spend more time with your kids.
Parents, especially working parents, are hardwired to feel guilty that they are not being involved enough in their kids’ lives. When mom-guilt strikes, listen to it – it may be telling you something. Perhaps, you’ve had a toxic week at the office or have been battling traffic and coming home after the kids have gone to bed. Your instincts will tell you if you need to spend more time with your child.
But take heart, mama. A recent study shows that the amount of time a mother spends with her child has no direct effect on the child’s future success. Instead, various studies over the years suggest that it is the quality of time spent that creates a more lasting impact on the child. So put aside mom guilt, but do listen to the voice inside you – the inner longing of your own maternal heart – to connect with your child.
2. Your family schedule is full.
Between juggling homework and housework, sports events and dance lessons, fulltime jobs and horrendous traffic, there is little time left for trips to the playground or game nights with the family. With the day to day things that need to get done, most parents cannot even begin to imagine where to find more time (and energy!) to connect meaningfully with their kids.
If you feel like you are drowning in your to-do-and-to-go-to list, you might need to take a step back and re-evaluate how you spend your time. In our desire to get as much done as possible, we tend to neglect the more important things – meal times with the family, meaningful conversations, playtime, and family time.
Instead, simplify and prioritize. Look for opportunities in your routine where you can slow down and create an opportunity to connect with each other.
3. Interactions are lukewarm.
Consider this situation: In an attempt to spend a few minutes of meaningful interaction with your kids, you rush home after a busy day of work. You make it in time for the family dinner and try to engage your kids in a meaningful conversation. However, their answers to your questions about school and about their day went are direct and shallow, instead of the engaged response you were hoping for. Your interaction is lukewarm, lacking in intimacy and connectedness.
When your children do not feel connected to you, they find it hard to show their trust and openness to you. This is a sign that some repair work needs to be done.
Building connections take time. It is the result of the small acts of love we put in everyday. It is the everyday process of reaching out and receiving a warm, empathic response that builds the relationship and increases the level of trust between you and your child.
4. You don’t know what is going on in their lives.
Do you know who your child’s current BFF is? Or the latest cartoon character your son is going nuts about? If you find yourself clueless about what is going on in your child’s life, then it’s a sure sign that you need to spend more quality time together.
Schedule at least 15 minutes of one-on-one time with your child to join them in their world and be intentionally present. Whether it is playing with them or snuggling on the couch together as you talk about their day at school or your family’s plans for the weekend, be physically and emotionally present and respond to whatever they want to share with you.
5. Screen time trumps family time.
Are your kids endlessly glued to the TV screen? Or are they constantly playing on their iPads and game consoles? How about you?
The sad truth is that with technology taking over almost every aspect of our lives, we have become socially connected but emotionally disconnected. We are constantly holding our smartphones and connecting with people halfway across the globe, yet we ignore the people sitting across the table at dinner. We routinely interrupt our interactions with our loved ones, slipping in and out of attention to constantly glance at our phones. As a result, our conversations become shallow, losing the very essence of what it means to “connect”.
If you notice that much of your time as a family is spent paying attention to screens more than meaningfully interacting with our loved ones, it’s time to put away those gadgets. Telling your children you love them is not enough. We must also demonstrate the truth of it by our actions. Putting down our phones and getting rid of gadgets will show our desire for connection and make it clear that we value family relationships over everything else.
6. Your kids constantly ask you to play.
Is “Can you play with me?” a constant refrain in your home? If it is, then it might be your child’s way of telling you that she is craving for some quality time with you.
When your child comes up to you and begs you to play, it is an invitation for connectedness. Children crave their parents’ attention. Having one-on-one time makes them feel special. And when this one-on-one time involves play time between parent and child, it becomes more than just getting on the floor and building blocks or “driving” toy cars across tracks. It becomes an opportunity for sharing problems and concerns, a chance to be comforted as it lets the child know he is loved and appreciated.
So the next time your child comes up to you and invites you to play, indulge her with a few minutes of uninterrupted, child-directed play. It may be just what you both needed.
7. Your kids stop asking you to play.
While it is true that most kids would almost always want to play with their parents, there are times when they stop asking you altogether. If this is the case, maybe it’s because you say no all the time that your child just got tired of asking.
Often, in the craziness of everyday family life, we busy parents resort to an instinctive “no” to our children’s attempts at connectedness, particularly during stressful times of the day. But when these attempts are often shut down and rejected, the likelihood that they will ask again and reach out to us decreases. If it happens quite often enough, a little wall gets built and this leads to a break down in your relationship with your child.
So if you notice that your child has given up getting you to play with him (or read to him, or listen to his joke, or watch him shoot hoops), take a moment to slow down and reflect. Proactively be the one to ask to join him. Be the one to invite him to a game he loves. It’s not too late.
8. The kids are misbehaving.
Perhaps the most telling sign that you need to spend time with your kids is when they begin to act out. Often, children act out as a cry for help. They become overly clingy, push their limits and boundaries, become defiant or disobedient, or launch full-scale temper tantrums – all as a desperate call for connectedness.
Parents serve as an anchor, or safe base, for kids to attach to. When children feel disconnected from their parents, they feel lost and insecure – the outward sign of which is the tendency to misbehave and become uncooperative.
So if your child is trying to push your buttons, or is unusually defiant, try to spend time to reconnect with her. An encouraging smile, a word of appreciation or a warm hug can do wonders for rebuilding your connection with each other.
It’s very easy to get lost in the unending demands of life. But close family relationships are built by the day-to-day, moment-to-moment interactions that bind our hearts as one family. Prioritizing quality family time by making small changes to redirect your priorities and reconnect with your kids is an investment you can make now that will have a lasting payoff over time.
Nina Malanay is a mother to two rambunctious, affectionate boys, aged 7 and 4. Her husband-slash-best friend died in a tragic bombing incident in 2013. As she tries to navigate through life with her boys as a solo parent, she hopes to rediscover herself beyond the many hats she wears – mother, teacher, writer, baking enthusiast, student of life – and move boldly into her future.