I notice that when I feel disconnected from my kids (both are teens) I have the following internal dialogue: 1) they are teens and need to separate and have their own space, let them go…; 2) those selfish jerks, I put a roof over their heads and this is what I get in return! If they cared about me they would…; 3) I must be pretty boring to talk to, I can’t blame ’em for having short, superficial conversations.
Upon further reflection I noticed a common theme to these three thought patterns. They are all useless, if not detrimental, to my building a stronger connection with these two beautiful people!
After my blinding glimpse of the obvious, I moved to a more productive thought: I don’t really know how to talk with these guys and if I am going to meet my need for connection then I am the one who should do something about it.
I have since done two things to turn my disconnection into connection.
First, I set a goal to have a meaningful, fully-present connection with them every day that lasts at least 5 minutes and one every week that lasts at least 20 minutes. I am not talking about just time together or even conversation, I am talking one-on-one time during which I feel emotionally connected.
Second, I created a process to guide my connection time. My process is simple and it can be summed up in one word: Curiosity. I get curious about their day. I pretend I have followed them around with a video camera and filmed them – this makes me think of what they are doing all day.
Then I ask questions related to the four areas of their life that matter most right know: friends, academics, relationship with self, and the need for support. My questions are:
1) what new thing happened today with one of your friends?
2) what was your biggest frustration or success with your school work?
3) what are you most proud of or disappointed about with regard to yourself?
4) what kind of support would help you today?
I realize now that talking to teens is a skill that I have to develop. I also realize I need to engage in a similar process with my wife. Without the intention to connect we talk logistics or (I’m sure you don’t have this with your partner) I expect her to initiate the meaningful conversation because she should always know when I’m unhappy or feeling disconnected. Right?
When I follow my process with my kids I have found I don’t have to ask more than one of the four questions to get to some real connection going. After my teen responds to one question I stay curious and go deeper, seeking to understand what is meaningful to him or her and what they are hungry for in their life.
I have found that I need to make the conversations happen. I didn’t ask my son to go out to breakfast this weekend, I told him we were going out for breakfast. We had a wonderful time.
Most people say their kids are the most important part of their life. I’d love to hear the challenges and successes you experience in connecting with your kids.