I give him hugs and kisses and lots of good night hugs. I say, “I love you kiddo” and start to shut the door behind me.
From the darkness of his room I hear, “Well, I don’t love you, Mommy.”
Chills trickle up my spine and my heart fills with guilt. His words play like a record player in my head “Well, I don’t love you, Mommy.”
I knew this would happen one day, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon and not like this. We weren’t fighting, he wasn’t tantruming. He said it in such a matter of a fact way, that I knew he meant it.
My three-year-old didn’t love me.
I’m a Children’s Therapist, so I know to read between the lines a bit. I take a second and reassure myself. Of course he loves me, he’s just not happy with me right now and he doesn’t have the words to tell me exactly how he’s feeling, so he says it in the only way he knows how. “I don’t love you.” I know this, but his words still sting.
Walking back into his room, I think back through the past days and weeks together. I’ve been stressed, overwhelmed, and busy.
I was feeling the Mom Funk creep back in and I wasn’t enjoying my time with my kids anymore. I wasn’t being the playful Mama that they remember and deserve. I was shorted fuzed. I wasn’t yelling…yet…but I could feel the anger building in my heart.
We weren’t connecting and our relationship was rocky.
I sat on the edge of his bed, took my boy in my arms and said, “It’s okay if you’re mad at me, but no matter what happens, I’ll always love you.” I kissed him on the cheek, laid him down, and walked out of the room.
With heavy footsteps, I headed straight for the freezer. It was time to connect with my good friends, Ben and Jerry. This MomLife is hard.
Sitting on the couch eating right out of the carton, I decided that it’s time to shake off The Funk and start really connecting with my children again.
I’m lucky enough to have Rebecca Eanes, parenting expert and author, share 44 ways to connect with children. I have used this list to help me connect with my children on a deeper level and I hope it can help you too.
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Here are Rebecca’s thoughts:
Building and maintaining a strong connection with our children takes focus and work, but the benefits are worth the effort.
When children are securely connected with us, they have higher self-esteem, behave better, are more cooperative, and are happier overall. I know we live in a busy world and sometimes it’s difficult to carve out an hour for playtime when dinner needs to be made, dishes are piled high, the inbox is full of messages that need responses, work calls are coming in, and the laundry is everywhere! Connecting doesn’t have to take a lot of time.
There are many small things we can do throughout the day and night to strengthen the bonds we have with our children.
44 Ways to Say “I Love You”
- Give a cheerful morning greeting. Rather than start with a “Hey, hurry up!” try a special morning greeting for each child, like “rise and shine my sunshine” or “good morning doodle bear, I’m happy to see you this morning!” This slight change in greeting can shift the tone for the whole morning.
- Make it a point to show affection before breakfast. A hug, a rub on the head, a kiss on the cheek– take just a couple of seconds to be affectionate with your child because little moments add up to lots of love.
- Do something a little special at breakfast, like a note beside their cereal bowl or fruit shaped in a smiley face on top of their oatmeal.
- Notice something good about them before breakfast and say it out loud. “Your outfit looks nice today” or “Thanks for making your bed this morning. That was helpful.”
- Make up a secret handshake or hand symbol that’s just for the two of you.
- Say a blessing over them before they head out the door.
- Never let them leave without a hug.
- Put a note in their lunchbox that says “I’m so glad you’re mine!”
- If your child has a cell phone, send a text to say “I’m thinking of you and smiling!”
- Do one of their chores for them.
- Bring them a snack or drink without them asking.
- Make a comment on what they’re working on when you pass by. “Oh, are you about to beat that level?” or “How’s the homework coming? You’re being so diligent!”
- Always greet them with a smile, not a question first. “Hi sweetie, I’m happy you’re home!
- Make their bed for them and leave a note on it. “Made lovingly by mom.”
- Block out 10 minutes of time and say “I’m stopping what I’m doing and giving you 10 minutes of my full attention because I love you! What do you want to do for 10 minutes?”
- Blow up balloons and cover their floor with it “just because.”
- Offer to rub their back, feet, or shoulders for a few minutes.
- Choose a topic of conversation at dinner, such as new movies, vacation plans, or best books to avoid awkward silence and shrugs after “how was your day?”
- Turn some music up loud and dance in the kitchen for 10 minutes while the food is cooking.
- Begin an afternoon or after-school tea time. Get darling little teacups with saucers and sit down together for a few moments of civilized engagement. Don’t like tea? Put water in the teacup. They’ll probably still think it’s fun!
- It’s affirmation time again! Notice something good about your child and speak it out before dinner is over.
- Do a chore alongside your child. Remember how the dwarves did the dishes in The Hobbit? They were singing and laughing and just having a good time doing it. Try that, but don’t toss the dishes around like they did unless you’re very, very good!
- Do a quick, fun science experiment together. Mentos and Coca Cola or vinegar with baking soda are cheap, easy, and fun.
- Re-work the homework hour with soft classical music and fresh cookies from the oven. They’ll appreciate the effort and change in atmosphere.
- Read a chapter aloud from a classic novel.
- Invite them into your world to learn something new about you. Tell them about a book you’re reading or invite them to do yoga with you.
- Take a walk together after dinner.
- Play a round of Uno or a card game of your choice. One round doesn’t usually take too long, but it gives everyone time to gather and unwind.
- Leave love notes everywhere. Bathroom mirror, bedroom dresser, pillow top, under their shoes.
- If you have little kids, play on the floor with them for 10-15 minutes uninterrupted. If your kids are older, build a Lego creation or join them in their interest for few minutes.
- Ask questions that are more specific than “how was your day?” Try “What’s one thing you learned today?” or “Tell me something nice that happened to you today.”
- Grab a flashlight and go under covers together to tell stories.
- Make bath time with little ones a special time by adding bath crayons, lots of bubbles, or new bath toys, and play with them for a short while instead of hurrying through the routine.
- Spend 5 minutes daring each other not to laugh as you each make silly faces, tell jokes, and make silly noises.
- Say yes to an invitation to play that you’d usually turn down.
- Play the favorites game by asking “What’s your favorite ___” back and forth quickly until you run out of ideas. You’ll probably learn something new about each other.
- Tell them stories from your childhood.
- Talk to them about their family heritage. If you don’t know much about your ancestry, explore it together.
- Hold them in your lap and rock them like their still babies, even if their limbs are sprawled out all over the place!
- Arm wrestle each other.
- Give a piggy back ride to bed or a horsey back ride to the tub.
- Spend “special time” with each child at bedtime. Sit on the end of their bed or lie down beside them and just listen to what they have to say. If they say nothing, just hold them.
- Tuck them in with a special prayer or blessing every night.
- Always kiss them goodnight.
I’ve been working hard to infuse more play and connection into my everyday life with my kids. Using tips like these, I’m happier and my kids are happier too.
Hopefully, I won’t hear “I don’t love you, Mommy” for a long-long time.
More for you:
- 50 Calm Down Tips for Parents
- The Secret to Being A Happy Mom
- How Busy Moms Can Have A Happy Mornings
Rebecca Eanes is the creator of www.positive-parents.org and author of The Newbie’s Guide to Positive Parenting. In her new book, Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, Rebecca shares her hard-won insights on giving up the conventional parenting paradigm to reconnect heart to heart with her children. Because parenting is about so much more than discipline, Rebecca hits on important topics less spoken about, making this more than a parenting book. It’s a book about building lasting family bonds and reclaiming joy in parenting. Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide releases on June 7th. Pre-order now and receive access to an exclusive online book club. Click here to learn more about the book and the pre-order offer.