This post is a continuation of our post, The Secret of Strong Families. Today, David and I are sharing a few ways we have learned to delight in our kids. To be honest, this past week was a challenging week of parenting, and these are still the tools we used to regain joy in relating with our children, and building strong family relationships.
Jennifer says: Before we had children, I assumed that I would be a doting mother, full of affection and patience. Feel free to take a moment to stop laughing now. The baby stage is actually my most challenging stage for delighting in my kids. I would never have dreamt that before our kids, but I did not have the stereotypical instant bond with my babies. When I had our first baby, I had a hard recovery. I did not immediately fall in love with Liam – I was exhausted and he was a very heavy baby. Nursing was quite a challenge. David came down with the flu the night after Liam was born, and I had to totally rest in bed for a month. It was a challenging time, and I was not full of affection and patience. I grew to love Liam as I finally learned about his personality and stopped worrying about my schedules and tasks. He became my delight in that first year, and by his first birthday, I was finally okay with having more children. Even though Paul’s birth was really ideal and I recovered quickly, it still took me some time to “bond” with him. It was quicker with the girls, and I think I can share some tips on why it has become easier.
My first tip for delighting in your babies is to let go of your expectations. You may instantly fall in love with your babies – which is wonderful – or you may take a while to connect. That doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent or that you don’t have a strong protective instinct for your baby. Your emotions may be worn out for various reasons, or you may just be physically worn out. If you have had a difficult birth or a hard time nursing, your emotions could be exhausted. It helped me to give myself permission to be honest about my feelings and to accept that sometimes my emotions take a while to catch up to reality. In other words: It’s okay to be overwhelmed by motherhood. You will figure it out, and you will learn to love it in your own time.
Secondly, because I was required to stay in bed for a month after Liam’s birth, I stumbled across something else that helped me learn to delight in my babies. For me, the constant one-on-one contact with my baby helped me to focus completely on him, learning his expressions and getting comfortable with being his mom. We have kept the 4-6 weeks after baby devoted to me resting and spending time with each new baby. I stay in bed with the baby for the first week or so, then rest on the couch with the baby for the second week or so, and only do very light housework around the fourth week. This has been shown to be really good for a mother’s health, but the side benefit I wanted to mention here is that it helps me to get to know the newest creature in our family.
Third, I had to learn to rearrange my priorities. I had to let go of my schedule and remind myself that a relationship with my baby is more important than accomplishing tasks. Paul was the only baby we have had that actually slept through the night from the very beginning (I know, we were amazed and terribly grateful!). Even with that miracle, it was still challenging to follow through on all my precious plans every day. When I learned to set aside my all-important priorities, the inevitable interruptions were not as frustrating as it was when I was focused on checking off all my tasks and then got interrupted. That’s not to say that I didn’t do anything all day while they were babies, but I did have to learn to adjust my priorities and embrace flexibility, especially in the baby season.
As toddlers start to talk, it is much easier for me to delight. They say funny things and try to do things in silly ways, so it’s an easy time for me to begin really enjoying my kids. As they grow, letting go of expectations (for me and for them), giving lots of undivided attention, and putting them ahead of my to-do list are still my main ways to keep delighting in my kids. They are not always well-behaved and enjoyable to be around, but when I notice that I am avoiding spending time with my kids, I come back to those three things, and it usually helps me change my perspective as well as adjusting their attitudes.
For me, delighting in my kids has come very naturally. I really like being around my kids, especially babies. I love to hold them, cuddle, them, wear them in a carrier while I work. But just being naturally bent this way doesn’t mean that everything will magically work out. As with all relationships, love is a choice every bit as much as it is a feeling. It requires lots of intentionality to love well, even if “feeling” lovey-dovey comes natural. Here are a few ways that I try to consistently be intentional about delighting in my kids in order to build a strong family.
1. Share hobbies and interests: One way that I cultivate delighting in my kids is to bring them into what I am interested in. There are very few things that are not interesting, if you are properly inspired. One of my roles as a father/leader is to inspire those in my troop. There may be some hobbies you engage in with your kids that are very accessible to them like a video game or a board game that can be enjoyed by everyone. But since it’s likely that we adults might be interested in things beyond games and toys, if you find yourself passionate about a topic or hobby, then you will need to inspire your children in order to get them interested. Other interests we may develop as adults such as history, music, art, or gardening may not be something that a child naturally finds interest in. Become a storyteller. Tell them why it’s so great. If you love it, they will too. Oh, and don’t get offended or give up if they are not as enthusiastic as you wish they would be.
2. Express affection: It’s no secret that a lot of men have trouble expressing affection. If this comes natural to you, then you probably already do this, but the good news is that if it doesn’t come naturally, you can still choose to and it’s not as hard as you think. It can be as simple as a kiss, a hug, or an “I love you.” But one of the best ways to show affection to your child is with sincere encouragement which adds value, energy, life, and purpose to their otherwise insignificant endeavors. In doing this, I’m not only making them feel noticed and appreciated, but I’m also using a powerful tool to call forth aspects of their life that I hope are in their future. Some real spiritual people might call this prophesying. “Wow, what a wonderful artist you are, my darling, you draw such magical things.”
3. Give quantity time not just quality time: I’m sure you’ve heard advice about quality over quality, and while that advice is certainly true, when it comes to relationships and especially the development of a child’s heart and mind, quantity of time spent with their dad is equally important. This aint easy for most guys with the demands of work and chores. So you really have to adopt an attitude or expectation that whenever possible, my kids is just going to be with me, doing whatever I’m doing. And thereby absorbing my real, not theoretical, values and beliefs. This can be a difficult path for some. As any parent knows, kids are not convenient. They will make whatever you’re doing harder, and will get on your nerves from time to time. Just remember that this is about investing in the long-term relationship rather than your immediate convenience.
So, there are a few things we’ve observed in our family. What do you think? Do you have any tips to add? We would love to hear about them!