What is the most important thing to you as a parent?
All of those sound important, but are they the MOST important part of parenting?
Parenting means weaving together so many different skills.
You keep your child warm, well fed, and safe. You care for their physical health, their emotional well-being, and their spiritual center.
You’re their cook, their chauffeur, their landlord, and their friend. You juggle housekeeping, paying the bills, and repairing the car.
Somewhere in there you try to teach a thing or two and have a little fun. Maybe you even safe-guard some personal time and private interests of your own.
You have so many priorities. How do you figure out what is most important and what you can let slide?
It turns out there’s one thing that’s more important than everything else.
It’s the quality of your relationship together.
This quality is called your connection.
Parenting with connection means choosing to prioritize the health of your relationship over other concerns. It means not parenting through fear, coercion, or control. Instead, it means choosing love, compassion, and cooperation.
There are lots of different ways to connect with your child. Right now we’re going to focus on one part of connection called your core connection. This is the most basic, foundational part of connecting with your child.
The strongest feelings you share with your child make up your core connection.
Your core connection is the mutual emotional space that you share together.
It is the constant sense you have about one another no matter what is going on.
Your core connection with your child is the most important part of your parenting.
Because this core connection is the foundation of your relationship. When the foundation is solid, everything else becomes a little easier.
Those other things that you value - safety, health, education, morality - whatever they are! They all become a little easier to share with your child when you have a strong connection to start from.
Your core connection is your compass. Your anchor. Your light in the darkness.
That’s why connection has to come first.
Connection is the thread that allows for unconditional acceptance of your child. Your connection lets you truly see them, understand them, and “get” where they are right now.
Connection lets you share good times and bad times as a team. You can share both positive emotions and negative emotions without damaging your relationship.
Connection allows you to share with your child the messages that are important to you. And you can hear from your child the messages important to them.
Yes, sometimes you’ll be mad at each other. Sometimes you will each think the other is messing up. Sometimes you will not understand each other.
But if your core connection is strong, you will always feel strong together.
You can see that this kind of connection cannot come through threats, punishment, and parenting with anger and control. It requires seeing yourself as an ally to your child - someone who is on their side, working together with them.
Sometimes you may find yourself doubting yourself. Or doubting your child. You feel separate. Maybe confused. Unsteady in your relationship and uncertain if things are okay between you.
If you can’t find the positive feelings of connection, you know you have lost your way. If you find that you’ve been reaching for punitive parenting methods more often, you know you need to find your way back to a more connected way of relating.
Check in with your child about this, too. Do they doubt the connection between you? If so, you’ll need to set aside other priorities to focus on building your core connection. If they have fear or uncertainty about you, you’re both in trouble.
Disconnection comes from many angles. It can come from not taking the time to nurture your relationship. It can come from trying to be the kind of parent someone else says you should be. It can come from prioritizing things you “have to” or “should” do instead of the things that make your heart sing. It can come from dishonesty and disrespect.
You’ll want to do whatever you can to get your relationship back on track.
If you’re just getting started with connected parenting, you may wonder where to begin.
Here are two key parts of beginning to heal your connection.
First, focus on your child.
Are you spending enough one-on-one time together? Are you showing an interest in their interests?
Pay attention to your child. Your connection grows from the time and attention you are able to give them.
Additional Reading: The 15 Seconds That Will Change Your Child's Life
Second, choose a connected relationship over other options.
When something has gone wrong - you have a disagreement or you need to correct or limit their behavior - you’ll decide your reaction.
Ask yourself, "Does my action help or hurt our relationship?"
Choosing coercive, fear-based parenting methods will always hurt your relationship. They will never build your connection.
You can still choose to impose limits or disagree with your child’s choices while not damaging your relationship. When you stay in tune with your child and set limits with empathy you can stay connected through the process.
Asking yourself that question first - “Does this help or hurt our relationship?” - helps keep you on the right track.
If you had to pick one single word to describe your parenting relationship, what would it be?
If your children were to describe your relationship in one word, what do you think it would be?
For a real moment of truth – ask them.
Choosing only one word allows you to really focus. You don’t get lost in a jumble of expectations.
The word you choose is a good indicator of the health of your core connection.
If the word you think of is something like stressful or rushed or resentful, you know you have work to do.
If you had to pick one word to describe what you WANT from your parenting relationship, what would it be? What do you wish you were like when you relate to your kids? How do you wish you felt as you went through your day with them? What word describes what you hoped parenting would be like?
Ask your kids what one word they’d like to see describe your relationship.
Try to let go of your fear and frustration about not being exactly the parent you want to be. No one is!
Your wishful word is not an endpoint. It will never be something that you arrive at and then never look back.
Like your core connection, this word is a mood, a feeling, a sensation.
Use this word as an idea, an inspiration, a guiding light.
Spend some time meditating or writing to explore these ideas.
Think about the space between your current word and your wishful word. What do you need to get from here to there?
For many years, your child’s connection with you will be the most important thing in their lives. Make your core connection the most important thing in your parenting, too.
Children need a strong core connection with you in order to feel secure, to feel a sense of belonging, and to feel capable of facing the world.
Try taking a mental inventory right now. What does your relationship feel like? What sits at the core of your connection with your child?
When you are unsure if you’re doing the right thing, check on your core connection. What feelings underlie the entire encounter? How does this moment make you feel about your relationship?
At any time during any day you can ask yourself, “How do I feel about my relationship with my child?” If the answer to that question is a feeling that lifts you up, nurtures you, and caretakes your soul, you have found a connection.
If the answer makes you feel uncertain, resentful, or defensive, you’ve found a disconnection.
Remember that connection is always possible, even if you feel disconnected right now. You can always stop, take a big breath, and start over right here, in this very moment.
PS: If you need help starting at square one with parenting with connection, check out this self-paced workbook that gives you every single step.
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