Make Participating in Play a Priority

Love…is not a passive but a participatory emotion. – Marianne Williamson

Yesterday I had an hour alone with my toddler and she wanted to play with play-dough at the kitchen table. I got everything out for her, and sat for a moment watching her make ‘cupcakes’. She seemed quite content so I got up and started washing some dishes. She asked me to come back and play with her. I washed a few more dishes then sat down again, sort of half-heartedly smushing play-dough. As I sat, my mind kept wandering off in so many directions. I thought about all the other things I needed to get done. I rolled out some play-dough then got up again and wiped the counter. Then I sat down again and looked at Facebook on my phone. This dance repeated itself, filling the hour. In that time, I probably only gave my daughter my full attention for a combined total of 10 minutes.

Here I am trying to be all intentional about finding moments to connect with my kids, and I feel like I blew this opportunity. If I had just given her a solid 20 minutes of my time, focused only on our game and on her, then I probably could have told her, “Mommy has some other things to do now while you play”. I would have then spent the next half hour being way more productive on my ‘to-do list’. I think we both would have enjoyed that hour more if I’d been able to really participate in play for at least half of it. Instead, I was there with her in body, but not in spirit… Love is not passive. Participate in life. Participate in love. Live and learn.


Nurturing the Parent-Child Bond

Parent coaches emphasize the importance of bonding with your child throughout every stage in life. A healthy bond reaps so many rewards for both parent and child, with emotional health and well-being at the top of the list. Many parents seeking the help of a coach do so because the parent-child bond is fragile or damaged in some way. I have not given much thought to the subject of bonding since my kids were babies. When they were born, concerns about bonding mainly focused on sleeping arrangements and breast-feeding. While reading one of the books for my course, “Parenting Well in a Media Age: Keeping our Kids Human” by Gloria DeGaetano, I came across this fascinating bit of information on attachment:

Brain researchers are now uncovering the fact that in a bonded, emotional loving relationship a phenomena exists called “limbic resonance”. This is a special attunement between two or more people which brings comfort and shared meaning. Their limbic brains, or emotional centers, harmonize. Limbic resonance, for instance, takes place when two lovers cuddle. It’s not about sex; it’s about being in each other’s arms and breathing in sync with each other. Before long there is a relaxation response and both bodies begin to regulate in accord with each other. As the emotional centers of both brains resonate, each person experiences a meaningful relatedness.

What parent hasn’t felt this very thing while cradling their baby to sleep? I experience this sensation while snuggling my toddler, or having my preschooler sit on my lap for a story. It is exactly these moments which strenghen our connection. So bonding is not something that you establish in infancy and then it’s done. It evolves and changes as the child grows. Parents routinely have to nurture that bond.

I wonder what activities and experiences deepen the bond between me and my kids? Reflecting on this question, I came up with:

1. Physical touch – hugging, cuddling, kissing, napping together, back rubs, etc.

2. Cooking and baking together

3. Reading to them

4. Dancing and singing together

5. Entering their world of imaginative play

6. Walking in nature together

7. Working together on a creative project

8. Listening to their stories

9. Answering all of their questions with thoughtfulness

10. Telling each other jokes, laughing, and being silly together

I made this list to help myself get in touch with my feelings of love for my children. Yes, I can loose sight of it. Obviously, I love my kids. But what I’m getting at is this – how often do we experience that love on a visceral level? A limbic-level? Perhaps I need to do a better job of prioritizing the above ten items…

I’ll experiment with being more intentional about creating opportunities for bonding in the coming days and see how it goes.


Home Is Where The Party Is

Of all modern notions, the worst is this: that domesticity is dull. Inside the home, they say, is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety. But the truth is that the home is the only place of liberty, the only spot on earth where a person can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. The home is not the one tame place in a world of adventure; it is the one wild place in a world of set rules and set tasks.

English writer G.K. Chesterton.

I stumbled upon this quote while reading Rob Brezsny’s ‘Free Will Astrology’ column for the Seattle weekly magazine The Stranger. For those of you who don’t know, Brezsny’s horoscopes are the most fascinating capsules of obscure information and cultural references out there. I always read it, if only to pick up some new factoid which will sound very impressive at my next party.

Anyway, this quote struck a nerve with me. What Chesterton is saying about the perception of family life is still true today (though dude was writing this in the early 1900s). And lately I’ve just been wanting to rebel against this notion. The home is not dull; at least it doesn’t have to be. Sure, there is routine and a whole lotta responsibilities in my life. But there is also spontaneity, surprise, unpredictability, and a whole lotta fun. What I see ‘out there’ from my perch within the home is so much drudgery – where is the adventure and fun in a life full of work? How does working 60+ hours a week for someone else energize and invigorate life? What many people don’t seem to get – parents among them – is that families are living, breathing beings. They are always growing and changing, and the members within them get to grow and change as well. Gloria DeGaetano, founder of the Parent Coaching Institute calls this the Living System perspective. Life with children can become adventurous – as opposed to arduous – when we shift our parenting focus from controlling growth, to cultivating it.