Stress Less / Maud Purcell
Updated 5:40 pm, Monday, July 21, 2014
I think you'd agree that you practically have to make an appointment to spend "quality time" with your child during the school year. Soccer practice, theater rehearsal or volunteer activities make September through mid-June a mere blur.
So why not make this summer an opportunity to reconnect with your kid? I'm talking about spending real, uninterrupted, one-on-one time together -- time that your child ends up enjoying almost as much as you do.
Recently, when I suggested this idea to my client Jason, here's what he said: "Maud, I'd love nothing more. But my 14-year-old daughter Jackie thinks I'm way too strict, a dork and wants nothing to do with me."
In reply I said two things. First, developmentally it's Jackie's job to be in the process of separating from you, both physically and emotionally, so that she's capable of leaving home someday. Second, chances are good he hadn't spent the kind of time I'm talking about with Jackie in ages, if ever -- time where she begins to see him as a person who truly enjoys her company and has great interest in the person she is, rather than the person she thinks he wants her to be.
If Jason's situation sounds familiar, here are steps you can take this summer to strengthen -- or in some cases build -- your connection with your child, whether you're a mom or a dad:
Recognize that even in the best parent/child relationships, our kids tend to see us as task-masters and disciplinarians. Don't get me wrong; these are indispensable parts of your job description, and good parenting isn't a popularity contest. That said, it's great to be able to step out of that rigid role and experience your kids in a new way and vice versa.
With this in mind, start by having a different kind of conversation with your child, possibly while in the car (always an easier place to have a chat, as you're both trapped, and don't have to make eye contact). Ask him what three or four adventures -- daytime or overnight -- he'd love to have this summer. If he responds, before you open your mouth and potentially insert your foot, remember that this is about his interests, not yours. As long as his ideas aren't physically dangerous or psychologically damaging, be grateful that he offered them, especially if he's a teenager. Let him know that this is an experience you'd really enjoy sharing with him (even if you're lying through your teeth).
Be prepared to suggest some possibilities in case she draws a blank. Your suggestions should reflect your knowledge of her particular interests, whether it's watching the popular movie "Frozen," having a tea party in the backyard, or getting tickets to hear her favorite band. She'll be delighted to know that you've paid attention to who she is, and wants to do these things with her even though they're probably not up your alley.
Suggest that the two of you plan the experience together, making him feel more invested in the process. This may allow even the most cynical teen to get a bit excited about the activity, even though he'll likely never let you know it.
Once you're underway with the planned experience, don't use it as an opportunity to grill her about her innermost feelings, her boyfriend or her academic performance. Instead, do a lot of listening and possibly share some age-appropriate things with her about your own childhood or teen years. It never hurts for her to know that you were once a kid who also experienced some of life's ups and downs.
Most importantly, use this time to make memories that will last a lifetime. Shared adventures provide the glue that hold your parent/child relationships together, even when the going gets tough. And the next time you have to take a play date away or ban use of the car, maybe, just maybe, he'll remember that you're also that great guy who taught him to fly fish.