Today should be a very sad day for me. My mum passed away 5 years ago and as terrible as this is to say, I don’t miss her as much as most daughters would miss their mum. She was a brilliant woman, very busy, always fighting for a cause and people still talk about her and the impact she had on their lives. However, as a daughter I was yearning for something else. Growing up I would try to talk and share how I felt and the regular response was shutdown. You either prayed about it or just got on with things.
Fast forward to today, I realised for the first time what was missing. We never had a strong mother daughter bond. I acknowledge that she did the best she could with what she knew. She knew how to help others, she knew how to make a difference, she just didn’t know how to have an intimate connection. This is something I want to make damn sure doesn’t happen with my kids. I want them to be able to come to me about anything and feel they have a soft place to land. Most of all I want a connection that will set my kids up with for life and when they think of me it will be of someone who took the time to help them navigate through all that life threw at them.
Easier said than done?
Absolutely! Being close to another human takes work. However, the stats say that 90% of people on their deathbed say that their biggest regret is that they didn’t get closer to the people in their lives. And almost all parents whose children are grown say they wish they had spent more time with their kids. It takes a lot of effort to fully attend to another human being, but when we are really present with our child, we often find that it energizes us and makes us feel more alive, as being fully present with anyone does.
The challenge is, how do you build a strong bond with your child, when you were never shown how? I’m very aware that my natural instinct with my daughter is to pull aware and busy myself with other things. However, because I’m not aware of what’s going on, when I see my daughter trying to connect, I force myself to stay there with her. And to be honest – I don’t find this easy.
5 ways to build a strong bond, when you weren’t shown how
Turn towards your child
If you’re anything like me your natural instinct will be to turn away and busy yourself with something else. It might feel uncomfortable at first but stay there, in the discomfort of it all. Just start by becoming aware of when you turn away.
Start with trust
Secure attachment with a child means tending to their needs, so they feel secure with that parent or caregiver. Trust is built from an early age, but it’s never too late to start! Over time, we earn our children’s trust by following through on our promises and being open and truthful. Most of all a child needs to know that when it counts, you have their back.
Trust also means that when your child tries to connect, that you give them a soft place to land.
This is about training your mind to stay exactly where your son or daughter is and entering that world with them. You can start with activities together, like playing cards, cooking, reading, hanging out in nature. It can often be easier to spend time together when you’re both doing something, as long as it’s together. Then following this you might be able to talk, using open ended questions.
• How did you handle that?
• What does that mean do you think?
• Tell me more about that?
• What worried you about that?
• What was your favourite part?
The aim is to connect for at least 5 minutes a day, without distractions.
Something you might find useful when finding the words to connect is our Box of Calm Down
If you haven’t been shown how to be emotionally intimate, chances are you wouldn’t have received much affection either. I’m not talking about hugs and kisses right through the day (although that would be great!) It’s more about the small connection moments. Reaching out and touching their arm, scruffing up your son’s hair, giving a cuddle at drop off and pickup at school. By the way, having a great goodbye and hello is so important to setting your child up well for future relationships. They need to know that when you see them after school, that they were missed and that they matter. They need to know that when you say goodbye, that you’re proud of them and that they matter. This can be done in words or in the small connection moments.
Encourage, Encourage, Encourage.
Another thing that probably doesn’t come naturally for people who haven’t grown up with a strong bond, is encouraging and complimenting your kids. Your child needs to see himself or herself as a good person, capable of good things.
If most of what comes out of your mouth is correction or criticism, they won’t feel good about themselves, and they won’t feel like you’re their ally. Kids need to know they have an adult who thinks the world of them. I’ve started with little things with my daughter, like when I catch myself thinking how sweet she is, I tell her. Sounds like a no brainer to many, however, if you grew up without a strong bond like me, you’ll know how challenging this is to do this on a regular basis.
The 5 steps above are basic guidelines to creating a strong bond if you weren’t shown how. However, for many it might be a lot to take in, especially as a lot of what I’m talking about is pretty confronting. I think then key is to look at the bond you currently hold with your son or daughter. Is it strong or a challenge?
If it is a challenge, its probably a good time to look at the patterns from your past that may be repeating themselves. And if a negative pattern is what’s stopping you from holding that amazing bond, maybe it’s time to try something new. Please let me know if you can relate to this and if you have anything you’d like to share.