The Modern Challenge: Distractions and the Need for Connection
In this world of distractions, we as parents must make an extraordinary cultivate connection and work to mitigate this move towards fragmentation and disconnection in our kids. Never in history has there been a time when the supply of distraction and escape has been more intense and unavoidable.
Never before has it been more important to show our children that there is a place for them in this world. All our children really want is to feel connected to something, a sense of belonging to the people around them and their community. Like all humans, they need connection through playing, listening, talking, and being present.
At a young age, this state is natural for them, so let their cues guide you into the present. Then, as they get older and the distractions are abundant, our job becomes to mirror this connection and this sense of belonging.
Parental Presence and Self-Reflection
It’s our job to meet them with the love they are seeking, to be present with them, and to live a life that guides them on the right path. Observing them, we know what they need because we felt it too growing up.
We must first look at our own behavior and discern what actions we make to either stay present or disconnect. What makes us feel a sense of belonging, or how do we – ourselves – feel nourished? How do we feel about our place in the world? It is a challenge – especially now.
Notice our actions in moments of distress or moments of joy. What do we do when we wake up in the morning? What do we do for fun?
Unfortunately, for most of us, our days are filled with fragmentation, unfinished sentences, and incomplete thoughts. Entertainment and media are examples of modern fragmentation that has made our brains so unfocused that it is basically impossible for so many of us to know when or not we are present.
How do you feel when you’ve had a good giggle with your child vs. the way you feel after losing yourself on Instagram? When feeling connected, we feel a sense of calm and presence, and when we feel disconnected, we feel raw, irritated, and tired. It’s important to note that feeling connected is a feeling, not a thought. It’s a sense of feeling a part of like you belong. Consciously we must find ways to find this in our everyday lives. It takes work, but when children see this modeled, they will learn by example. When you feel a sense of internal comfort, your children will feel it too.
The Search for Connection: Personal Journeys and Observations
The reality is, if they don’t feel you are present with them, they will at some point start to search for that feeling of connection in other ways. It’s especially important to watch for this in the preteen and teen years. They will seek other ways to fill their need for connection, and in the age of social media, it’s not hard to look in the wrong places.
For many years, I ran around (literally) trying to find something that would make me feel like I belonged or that there was some sense of connection. As a child, I had the barn and the horses that provided that sense of nurturing. But as I got older, I started searching for other things to make the feeling of emptiness inside me disappear. For me, and the only thing that seemed to make sense was various forms of overconsumption. It began with sugar and shopping, then it became alcohol and drugs, and after I became sober, it continued with constant activity.
Meditation changed the way I perceived connection
Once I was married and became a mom, I was always in constant motion. Always a plan, always somewhere to go. No stillness, no quiet, no inner sense of comfort. By starting meditation and other healing work, gradually, things began to shift. I discovered that it was in the stillness and the presence that I felt that deep sense of connection. It was in that space that the world made sense to me. No one else gave that feeling to me, the feeling that I had been searching for was already here, but I just hadn’t looked inside myself.
The love you give your child is returned tenfold, and it is in that deep mutual devotion I found another layer to the puzzle of connection. When my children were very young, I knew they lived only in the moment, and to be present with them, I had to let go of distractions and ruminations and live in that moment with them. For me, this urge became vital.
By being completely present, I feel connected to all beings.
A newfound sense of connection makes us feel safe and held
The connection that I now have with my children makes my spirit feel nourished and nurtured in a way that I had never been before. Between my children and me, there is a lot of stillness, non-judgment, and love. We acknowledge one another. Seeing them helps me not only feel connected to them but to their father as well. Where I once felt fear of not having a place in the world, I now feel safe and held because of my family.
Our children need to feel loved, and they need to feel like they belong. Being in the same house and being physically close is not enough. Showing our children how it feels to be a part of something, they can form an identity around that feeling. Their sense of connection will be much more authentic, as they will feel nurtured from within and won’t need to seek so much outside of themselves. By being present, loving, and engaged can make all the difference.
Take the time to communicate and explain things to your kids: anything from weather to severe diseases. Make them feel included in the goings-on of adult life. When they feel included, they feel connected to you. I often try to explain important things in my life like love and forgiveness, but I also take the time to explain more minor things like why it’s good to drink lots of water! I don’t expect them to understand any of it right away fully, but I see that it makes them feel valued.
The importance of a core family unit
I’ll never forget this excellent example of a “connected family” I witnessed while on vacation in Florida. There was a family of 5 children staying in the same hotel as us. Many hotel guests, including us, were mesmerized to see the lovely harmony created in this family. While eating meals, both the mother and father were continually interacting with their kids. The older kids conversed with one another, and the oldest helped the parents feed the youngest. It was a beautiful synergy to watch: two parents staying completely present with their kids, and as a result, the kids being present with one another. I never once saw an iPad, a phone, or any piece of technology being used by either the parents or children during any of their meals.
In sharp contrast, another family staying at the hotel had two young children, approximately ages 1 and 4. One night, we were having dinner next to this family, and the youngest was whining loudly. Seated next to the baby, the mother had her phone out and was scrolling, not interacting with anyone. She occasionally shushed the baby or tried to feed him but was then instantly back to scrolling. The grandparents, clearly affected by the baby’s crying, stayed busy trying to interact with the older child, who was talking loudly, clearly trying to get somebody’s attention. The father was working hard to get his wife’s attention and occasionally attempted to calm the baby. Yet, not once did either parent pick the baby up or engage with him for an extended period of time. The scene was such a stark contrast from the family of 5, who exuded a sense of calm and harmony. This mother was like a zombie, glued to her phone. Meanwhile, the whole restaurant was affected by it.
Communication, Inclusion, and the Innate Need for Connection
Be cognizant, and watch for openings and opportunities to connect with your kids. Where can I find moments to be more in sync with them? Most of us can feel the difference between harmony and tension. Being open and listening with as little judgment or trying to fix things as possible is a great way to open the channel for connected communication.
They feel the difference between when they are being heard or when being interrupted or judged. Judgment will shut down the connection right away. Sometimes my daughter will be telling me a story about her day over dinner, and I’ll interrupt with something like, “Don’t smack your lips while eating!” She’ll look at me, crestfallen, and then no longer feel safe to continue her story. “I’ll tell you later mom.”
She was trying to be heard, and I interrupted with something trivial. By not fully listening to her, she shut down. Children are sensitive beings, just as we all are. Work to keep your conversations flexible, open, and fluid with your children. Value their opinions and listen to them. This will make them feel safe to connect more with you.
Your children want to be connected to you!
Your children want to be connected to you, and they will follow you if you make an effort to be a positive role model for connection. This can show up in so many ways. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as showing up as a present, engaged, and conscious team player. If you do, they will meet you in that space.
Connection is part of our innate design as humans.
It’s in our DNA. Commit to staying focused and present around your children. When they see you do this, they will develop an inner sense of calm and grounding. It’s our job as parents to guide them to that center. I learned from my teacher Abdi that it is in silence and stillness that we connect to each other’s souls. If we can get quieter and stay more present with each other, we can achieve a sense of connection beyond our wildest imaginings.