Last year while sifting through Mother's Day cards, struggling to find something remotely accurate and not overly-cheesy for the mothers in my life, I couldn't help but wonder: Am I living up to these standards as a mom? All the cards shared similar niceties.
"You've always supported me, loved me unconditionally, encouraged me, understood, and accepted me."
"You've been the best role model. Basically, you are the model mom, and I am who I am because of you."
No pressure there!
I wondered, what card would my kids pick for me? How much truth would be in it? I'm not aiming to be the perfect mom, but in that moment, I was keenly aware that I could do better. Like my growing kids, I had growing to do, too.
I don't care about brunch, receiving gifts, even spending time together on the Sunday designated to celebrate motherhood. No, I just want an overall, deeper connection with my kids. Every day.
My kids (ranging in ages from 8 - 20) have mostly created homemade cards with more pictures than words, sparing me the generalized lip service of the prewritten, store-bought kind I was currently stressing over. Once my older two children hit their teens, the cards looked more like a sign you'd wave at a sporting event, cheering me on.
"Only a few more years to go mom and we're outta here! You can do it! Power through!"
Let's face it, their Amazon carts are kept full, and they want their favorites stocked in the pantry, so the bribe encouragement is a win-win.
During that moment standing in the card aisle, what really mattered hit me. I want my kids to feel comfortable coming to me when they have something to celebrate, to vent, to grieve, or contemplate. I want to offer a safe place they can unload without fear of criticism or judgment. I also knew I wanted to be a calmer, less frenzied mom. I want to sit and talk more and really listen about what is going on in their lives, how they process the world and how it makes them feel. Most of all, I want to love and support them in a way they know they matter.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, I turned around to leave and a display of journals caught my eye. That feeling swept through me—mothers' intuition? I snagged four journals. On the inside, I wrote a letter telling each of them that this was a place only for the two of us ... what is written here, stays here. Nothing will ever be used against you. I encouraged them to write all those things that can be hard to say face to face. Be honest. How can I be a better mom? How can I support you? What do I do that you hate? Is there something you would like for me to apologize for? What am I getting right?
Consider these 14 things to develop deeper connections with your children:
1. CREATE A SAFE AND NONJUDGMENTAL SPACE
Connection is built when kids know they can trust us with their feelings, words, pain and dreams.
2. CHARACTER COUNTS
I care more about who you are than any of your achievements. I know I feel more connected to people who accept me for who I am. Are we letting our kids know that we love them for their character and not their achievements?
Talking about funny things that have happened in the past. Reminiscing over vacations or looking at old photos and videos forms deep connections over shared experiences.
Whether in person, through a journal, over the phone or text, it all counts. Show them they are important by giving them your full attention—eyes and ears. Connection happens when we feel heard and seen.
Pay attention to their words, tone and nonverbal body language. Reflect what they are saying. Kids want to be understood and validated.
6. MANAGE YOUR FIXER
I admit, I used to be a chronic fixer! We naturally want to fix things for our kids because we love them (we don't want to see them suffer) but it can break connection and shut down the conversation in a second. Allow natural consequences. Or try something like, "Geez, that's a bummer ... what can you do about it?" "What advice would you give your friend? Are you willing to follow that advice?" or "Do you want my help or no?" Help them build problem-solving skills at the same time you're building a stronger relationship.
7. ENCOURAGE AGE-APPROPRIATE INDEPENDENCE
Hovering over and clearing the path for our kids is not helpful. It's harmful because they don't learn essential life skills like conflict resolution, learning from mistakes, or asking for what they need or want. Our job isn't to resolve and rescue or kids and build a lifetime dependence on us. That creates an unhealthy connection.
8. BE AVAILABLE
This could be a simple text with a funny gif, a random high five or hug, a sticky note on the mirror, or a pass to spend one-on-one time together. As kids age, they naturally want to spend more time away from parents and be alone or with friends. Keep the connection strong by letting them know you will always be there.
9. RESPECT THEIR BOUNDARIES
Respect their space, energy, time and attention, just as you want others to respect yours. Forcing our kids to spend time with us or having to know everything going on in their world as they age can be invasive and doesn't build stronger connections—it pushes kids away.
Acknowledge kids for their great ideas, solutions and imagination. Point out what they are doing right to inspire more of it. Connections take place when they are given the freedom to be their own person and have their own thoughts and opinions.
11. NO SHAMING
Constantly pointing out what they did (or didn't) do or could have done differently produces shame and can be paralyzing.
12. BE CURIOUS
Ask about their friends. Who's playing what sport? Who's dating who? Share your favorite TikTok's with me. If you had to eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? What are you excited about? What are you dreading?
Let them off the hook. Set an example of what it looks like to not hold a grudge and bring up past offenses.
14. SUPPORT IMPERFECTIONS
Setting unattainable standards for our kids sets them up for constant failure. We are flawed parents. Accept each other's faults and show them what it's like to give grace.
Jamie Berris is a writer, life & relationship coach. She lives in Michigan with her husband and four children. She believes the key to living a successful life begins with developing a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves. Visit her website at jamieberris.com.