Have you ever lost a child in a crowd? With eleven kids we often get the question, “Have you ever left a child anywhere?” “Who? … Us? … Of course not… ok maybe… ok, yes.” We remember the time we left Jordan (child number four) when we were all out shopping. By the time we realized it and went back to the store she was last with us, we found her in the employees lounge sitting on the counter eating chips and sipping pop. The truth is, she was worried… a little. She knew we’d come back eventually. But we were out of our minds the minute we realized she wasn’t with either of us. Those stories make us think of physical attachments. We never tried the whole kid leash idea, although it would have been better than leaving our daughter at the Old Navy store. It did cause us to establish new methods, like the buddy system, for staying physically connected with our kids.
But what about attachments that are more important and certainly more difficult to quantify or to see? If you’ve had kids for almost any length of time, then our guess is you’ve given at least some thought to how well your children are attaching to you emotionally. When they’re babies, it’s easier because we dictate everything they do (other than bodily functions). If we want to hold them, then we pick them up. As they grow up, more and more, they choose how and when they connect with us. What parent hasn’t experienced a time of almost begging their child to come and give them a kiss goodbye? Unlike the physical attachment dilemma, solving the challenge of emotional and family attachment can be much more complicated.
We want to suggest three key principles when it comes to forming an attachment with our children. Before we do, we want to give credit where credit is due. These are taken from a wonderful interview we did with our friend Dr. David Stoops. If you’d like to hear that interview you can simply follow this LINK. But according to Dr. Stoops, forming attachments with our kids is among the most important things we can do as parents. And these three things are the keys to doing so.
- Be Available – In our current culture of electronics this one has gotten more and more difficult. The devices that were supposed to buy us extra time, now can easily keep us from ever being truly available to our kids. It even has a name, Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). In other words, always paying attention to a number of different sources of incoming information, and never really being fully available to any one of them… like our children.
- Be Responsive – Obviously tied to number 1, after all you can’t be responsive if you aren’t even available. But as your children ask questions or ask for input, make sure you are actually responding to them. As I listened to Dr. Stoops share these principles I was immediately convicted with this one. I almost break into a cold sweat thinking of the number of times I’ve mumbled something as a response, “mmmhm… sure… that’s nice..” If we want deep connection with our kids we need to be truly responsive.
- Communicate your acceptance of who they are – This can be so hard as parents. We live in a success driven culture. It’s easy to parent are children from one achievement to the next. Good job on that paper, how did you do on the math test? Way to go in the game last night, how many points did you score? We talk about achievement (which is important) so much we ignore effort and feelings. When your kid does well on a paper, what about saying something like, “How did that feel to work so hard and get rewarded like that?” I (David) think of the times I missed on this with my athletes (kids). After a good game, instead of telling them how proud I am of the work they put in to get ready, I’m critiquing the pass that got intercepted. The last thing we want is for our children to think our love and acceptance of who they are lies in their achievements. Just like God loves us unconditionally, we want to communicate to our kids that mom and dad love you because of you!
We hope you’ve come up with strategies so you don’t ever deal with losing a kid at the shopping mall. One day we’ll tell you about losing Tavita at the Washington Fair! But even more so, we pray you’ll be successful at creating a deep and genuine connection with your children… because that one lasts for a lifetime!