"I don't want them to be dependent on me, I just want them to be connected" . These words came out of my mouth last week as I was talking to my husband about our girls. As the words came out of my mouth this statement struck me in many ways and brought up a lot for me.
Every parent must face their child growing up. That toddler that needed you so much all the time will grow into that adolescent that is seeking independence. When we are in those moments of high need we can often fantasize about those moments when we are needed less. In those moments when we are needed less we may reminisce about the days where we were needed all the time.
I realized that our children growing up and needing us less is not really the challenge for us as parents. I feel the real challenge is maintaining connection.
How do we stay connected with our children as they grow up without fostering dependence?
How do we maintain that connection with our creating a need?
Sometimes this lack of connection can cause us as parents to create situations where our children are dependent on us. Other times your child may exhibit dependent behaviors simply to connect. This can be really apparent in the toddler years . I have seen parents spoon feeding their 3 and 4 year old children. This isn't because that child can't eat by themselves but rather the parent is used to feeling needed in this way. Children this age often ask for help with tasks that hey already know how to do. Why are they sometimes so insistent on doing things for themselves but then all of a sudden can no longer do it? The answer seems to be that it isn't about the task it is about connecting with the parent. They don't really need your help but rather your presence and attention.
So often we blend needs and connection, but they do not have to go hand in hand. When children are babies we build connection in part by responding to needs but we need to evolve as our children get older in order to allow them to grow into independent and capable adults.
So how do we begin to do this?
1) Allow your child to try things on their own. Obviously this needs to be within age appropriate parameters, but allow your child to do as much on their own as you can. This will allow your child to gain confidence, independence, and take responsibility for more things.
2) When your child asks you for help with something you know they can do they are most likely trying to connect. Often times I will sit next to my child and ask them to show me how they do the task that they need help with. Sometimes I will ask them how they think we should do it or what specifically they need my help with. All of these things pace the responsibility back on the child but gives the child your attention and connection.
3) Connect throughout the day. Find an in and enter their world whenever you can. Ask them questions. If they are watching TV ask them what they are watching, watch with them.
4) Engage in novel activities.They often say in couples therapy that it is helpful for the couple to continue to try new things together. The reason? It build connection. The same is true with your children. See that new movie, try a new food, travel, explore a new neighborhood, etc.
5) Create rituals and traditions. This is a great way to connect with your children and family in general. These traditions and rituals need to go beyond holidays. Maybe a family movie night , Sunday night family dinners, weekly family meetings, or night time talk time before bed. The options here are endless.
Once we focus on maintain a connection we can begin to let go of our need to feel needed. We will feel close and connected as a family despite changing schedules, needs, and levels of independence. Our children will have a home base that they are connected to which will allow them to explore the world more confidently, capable, and freely. If we continue to foster this connection it will last a lifetime.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach who offers one on one coaching services. Claudia is passionate about helping parents find joy and gain confidence in their parenting abilities. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.