Finding extra time to connect with my child

Relationships can be hard work to maintain, and this week I knew I needed to work on one of mine. The toddler, 18 days ago, became a big sister. I know it’s been 18 days because I’m counting the scratches on her cot walls.

She’s coping very well with the seismic change that shook her tiny universe. She shows her new brother off to her friends, styles his hair (with fish finger grease), plays him music (loudly, as he tries to sleep) and helps change his nappy (dripping water from saturated cotton wool balls over his face).

She’s very happy with her new sibling 90% of the time, but the other 10% is trickier, and often involves toddler dive bombing.

Finding the balance 

I’m acutely aware of how my shifting focus, low energy levels and occupied lap must be affecting our little girl. Virtually all ‘positive parenting’ approaches place huge emphasis on building and maintaining a strong connection with your child. My connection with the baby is certainly strong. He’s happily propping up the 24-hour milk bar and, other than a toddler armed to the teeth with stickers and hair clips, he has little to worry about.

I know that, soon enough, these two small people will co-exist in my heart quite peacefully; but right now the tugs on my heart strings are coming from different directions, and I know I haven’t quite got the balance right.

Effective connection times 

I recently re-read one of my favourite parenting books: ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids’ by Dr. Laura Markham of Aha Parenting (there is also a UK version of the book, although I quite enjoy the exotic American lingo).

Markham recommends:

daily ‘special time’ with each child (10-20 minutes at a set time, in which the parent and child take it in turns to choose the activity)

connecting before and after separations (childcare, naps etc.) or disconnections (cooking dinner, doing admin, shopping etc.).

And this is great advice. But I didn’t want to announce ‘special time’ and then have to renege when the baby’s nappy exploded.

I began focusing on the separation/disconnection times: being the one to go to her as she first wakes, trying to put the baby down during key toddler transition times and abandoning cooking altogether in favour of defrosting (I’m enjoying the full freezer, following the mindful cooking phase).

Connecting and problem solving 

This all helped, but the needs of the baby and sheer exhaustion prevented any consistency. Added to this, my planned moments of connection often turned into fire fighting.

Whilst the toddler takes real delight in cuddling and talking to the baby, sometimes she prefers to throw shoes at his head. And it tends to be during those instants when we used to snuggle up together, like first thing in the morning or after her nap, when she’s most upset by this small imposter and tells us both to ‘go away’.

We get to the snuggles eventually, but it takes a bit of time and talking to get there.

The 5-1 ratio 

A study quoted in ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids’ recommends ‘five positive interactions for every negative one’ as the secret to a happy marriage (Markham, Laura. Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids. New York: Penguin. 2012). Markham suggests that this guideline could be effective for every relationship.

Between the toddler’s frustrations and the occasions when my, usually calm, voice acquires a sharper edge, our 5-1 ratio could use a little boost. And, if I’m brutally honest, I know that at times I have retreated towards the uncomplicated warmth of the baby. My weary, emotional mind is as reassured by those adoring little eyes as it is shaken by the raw emotions of the toddler.

Recognising connection opportunities 

I realised that, during busy family phases when routines are hard to maintain, every moment together is a chance to build connection. I just needed to be open to opportunities, and responsive to my daughter’s cues and invitations to connect, even if these occur at inconvenient times.

This brought to mind another quote:

‘You don’t have to do anything special to build a relationship with your child. The good – and bad – news is that every interaction creates the relationship.’

(Markham, Laura. Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids. New York: Penguin. 2012)

I begin to make my morning coffee a little earlier and a lot stronger, and endeavour to make my communication and interaction with the toddler as mindful as possible, giving her my full attention whenever I can.

This mindful approach helps because:

– I’m more attuned to her mood, and more likely to recognise and respond to the emotions behind her words or actions.

– I remember how much I love hanging out with her; enjoying her funny expressions and off-piste ways of thinking. I realise that, so far, my time with both children has been spent in ‘high alert’ mode i.e. waiting for something to go wrong. I decide to chill out a bit and try and enjoy it. At least until something does go wrong.

– She laps up my attention. Being truly listened to is a gift, and whilst I can’t be there exclusively for her anymore, I can try to be truly ‘there’ when I am there (bear with me; I haven’t had much sleep).

Building connection throughout the day 

Once I’ve tuned back into my daughter, I begin to spot more chances for a squeeze, a tickle or an impromptu game. When she comes to check on me in the shower (a daily ritual), instead of humouring her with a ‘hello’ and wondering if I’ll ever be able to wash or pee in private again, I make some smiley faces on the shower door and launch into a few verses of ‘If you’re happy and you know it’. Sleep deprivation does strange things to a person, but the toddler thought it was all brilliant fun.

When we walk to the play centre I make a point of stopping and pointing things out to her along the way, and a game out of trying to catch our shadows. I involve her more in housework and baby-related tasks, so we feel like more of a team.

We still have fractious moments, a lot of fractious moments, but we’re both benefiting from a little extra connection, in whatever haphazard form it takes. And although it all takes a little more effort, I feel lighter and brighter as a result.

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Read more about Parenting Calm here.

Read more about mindfulness here.

And check out the excellent resources from Aha Parenting and Dr. Laura Markham here.

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
  • Topfivemum
    May 7, 2016

    Ahhh how timely this is for me! I have an 18m old daughter and 7 day old son and I’m struggling to find the right balance between the two. Thank you for sharing your experience and I think I’m going to have to get my hands on those books you mentioned!

    • Liz Lowe
      May 7, 2016

      Oh wow…congratulations! Yes, we are definitely in the same boat. I hope your new arrival settles in quickly – we’re finding it gets easier for our toddler every day. I hope your daughter is enjoying her new role as big sis!

    May 9, 2016

    Thank you Liz for an important piece. Trying as it may seem at times, spending quality time with children is my top priority. My wife and I are firm believers that the investment in time today will result in children who are mindful, productive and positive influencers in the world tomorrow. Its all about building a strong, trusted community.

    • Liz Lowe
      May 12, 2016

      Thank you for the lovely comment. You are absolutely right (and your kids are very lucky)!

  • Ellamental Mama
    May 22, 2016

    This is a beautiful post, I can imagine it must be a really hard time as you get pulled in so many directions. Sounds like you’re doing a wonderful job of balancing all the demands though. Well done! #KCACOLS

    • Liz Lowe
      May 23, 2016

      Thank you so much!

  • Lori
    May 22, 2016

    This is a great post. I had my second child when my son was 2 1/2 and I am constantly trying to find a balance. I do not want either one of them to feel excluded or as if I am only paying attention to one. I have learned to do many things with them together or if I have to mainly focus on one for a moment then once I am done I include the other.

    • Liz Lowe
      May 23, 2016

      That’s good advice, thanks Lori – I guess being aware of it is the main thing. Thanks for the comment!

  • Lori
    May 22, 2016

    Sorry I meant to add that I was visiting from seeing your post on #KCACOLS.

  • Fi - Beauty Baby and Me
    May 22, 2016

    This is a lovely post and one I bet many parents will find very helpful. It must be hard finding the balance between the two little ones but you have obviously got some good advice and it sounds like you’re making the experience very positive. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday x

    • Liz Lowe
      May 23, 2016

      Thanks Fi – and thanks for hosting!

  • Emma
    May 25, 2016

    I think it is easy for life to just get in the way a lot of the time. ive really been trying to not stress the small things. and by small things I mean all the things I used to think were the big things…a tidy house ALL the time, leaving the house in the morning ALWAYS on time etc etc. Most mornings now, I do a bit of tidying, pop my feet up and have a snuggle with little man while we watch Thomas before we leave. he loves it, I get snuggles and a little nap before the day starts 😉 #KCACOLS

    • Liz Lowe
      May 25, 2016

      I think you’ve got it sussed! Cuddles are definitely worth skipping the chores for. Thanks for the comment!

  • A Moment With Franca
    May 28, 2016

    Oh what I lovely post. I think you are right and I like your last quote too : ‘You don’t have to do anything special to build a relationship with your child. The good – and bad – news is that every interaction creates the relationship.’ It is spot on. Just the little things you do to try to get more time with your eldest kid is important. My eldest daughter loves any mother-daughter time just the two of us so even just having the time to go and get her from school without her little sister is precious for her. She loves every single minute of that. I’m trying to do this more. Thanks so much for sharing this at #KCACOLS. Hope to see yo again tomorrow, 🙂 xx

    • Liz Lowe
      May 29, 2016

      Thanks Franca – it’s great hearing tips from others with older kids too!

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