I really hit my stride as a mom when my kids were in elementary school. It felt relatively easy to find and cherish “fleck of gold” moments with my kids every day as I’d read to them, teach them exciting new things or take them on fun little excursions. When they became teenagers, I found that I had to make bigger efforts and step outside my comfort zone to create and enjoy golden moments with my kids.
Here are a three things I’ve found that work:
1. Tuck in time is more important than ever.
While the bedtime routine of helping kids brush their teeth, get their PJ’s on, say their prayers and reading a book together gradually went away as my kids got older, I’ve found that some golden moments can still happen at bedtime. Once the kids seem to have settled into their beds at night, I have made it a practice to go into their rooms, give them a kiss on their forehead and tell them one thing I noticed that they did great that day or something I appreciate about them. This little practice makes me feel so much love for my kids and helps them to feel like I really see the good in them. Sometimes these quick tuck in times lead to a quick talk about something that’s been on their mind but most often, it’s just a 10-30 second interchange that leaves both of us feeling warm and happy towards each other. I walk out of their rooms feeling that lovely golden feeling you get when you did something right as a parent.
A few examples of things I’ve said to my kids at tuck in – “I love how you worked so hard on that assignment this evening. I know it was tough and frustrating and took way longer than you thought it seems like you felt great about getting it done and I’m so proud of you.” “I’m sorry I got angry with you today. I was overtired and worried about some other things but I still shouldn’t have gotten angry. I love how you didn’t yell back even though I’m sure you wanted to.” “I loved seeing you run in that race today. I love how you put your whole heart into your races.”
2. Respect and get excited about their abilities and interests – “If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.”
It’s great to go to their performances, games and meets and help them pursue interests and you can have some golden moments when you see them put their heart into something and do their best. But as we go even deeper on supporting their interests and passions by looking them as our teacher and guide in certain areas, the golden moments are even better.
Here are a couple examples:
My oldest son is a self-taught expert in just about anything technology-related and I’ve often gone to him to help me with computer issues and questions. He’s now in college, studying computer science. Recently, I decided to replace my aging laptop and gave him a call. He asked me about my needs and what I like in a computer then did some research and came back to me with some great options, explaining the pros and cons of each. I loved having someone help me navigate the 1000’s of possibilities and it seemed like he really appreciated the chance to be truly helpful to me in a way that matches his abilities and interests so well. When my new computer came, he was so excited for me and helped me get everything set up just right. This simple little process brought us closer.
I’m a total whimp when it comes to doing anything where I don’t feel in control of what’s going to happen to my body but my kids’ absolutely love doing things that scare me to death. They love mountain biking and skiing and climbing up cliffs and jumping off waterfalls. I drive them up to the trailheads or ski slopes and watch them take off or finish. I go on hikes with them and try not to freak out as they climb and jump, taking photos and cheering them on instead. They appreciate this support but what really creates golden moments is when I push myself to actually try something that is really important to them.
A couple months ago, we were down in Southern Utah on a hiking and biking trip and I dropped them off at the trailhead then hiked on my own nearby while they careened down crazy trails. But towards the end of the trip, they did a somewhat easy trail and wanted me to try it. I really didn’t want to but when you have teenagers and they actually sincerely want you to do something with them, it’s important to comply whenever possible! So I got on a bike and headed off behind my 17-year-old daughter who promised to stick by me. I was terrible. I kept getting off my bike whenever I got to even a little rock or dip. But Eliza stayed by me and was so patient with me. She pointed out some simple techniques I could try and helped me see that I could push myself a little and trust the bike more because it could easily go over a lot of stuff that looked scary to me. By the end of the ride, I was going over rocks and roots with Eliza riding along behind me, cheering for me. It was such a golden moment to have that role reversal where my daugther could play the teacher and coach role and I could gain the kind of understanding and appreciation of my kids mad biking skills that you can only gain by actually trying to do something yourself. My sons were so excited to hear from their sister that I’d actually stayed on that bike through some pretty scary stuff and I told the kids how my admiration for their biking abilities had just gone through the roof!
3. Talk less, hug more and let them feel their feelings.
You’ve heard about how important 6 second hugs are. Older kids often aren’t really into hugs. But when we just wrap them into a hug, they usually go with it and sometimes you have to insist. My kids get a hug or we do a little family huddle on the way out the door each morning. They get a kiss each night.
Physical barriers and emotional barriers can go hand in hand and as kids grow up, the regular physical connection with our kids that is so much a part of parenting young children naturally declines. But it shouldn’t go away! Some kids are prickly and stiffen with a hug. It’s important to respect that some teenagers aren’t comfortable with a lot of physical affection. But I believe that every kid needs at least a hug a day wheither they like it or not! And the more consistent I am with hugs, the more they accept and even seem to like it.
It’s a lot easier to talk to a kid about something serious when you have your arm around them on your hand on their knee. That physical connection makes the emotional connection easier. And becuase it’s a little awkward to hug or put your hand on your teenager for too long, it can help us to be more brief in what we have to say to our kids. Shorter is almost always better when it comes to talking to our kids about sensitive topics.
Here are a couple recent examples of how more hugs and less words can work when teens are worked up about something:
After my 15-year-old twins had gotten to a really big fight about something, one of them ran up to his room and slammed the door and let out a scream or two. It’s a wonder he hadn’t broken the door frame and some of his behavior had been really inappropriate. But I held myself back from storming in there and left him alone for a while. When I walked into the room 15 minutes later, he angrily said “I don’t want to talk to you!” I had prepared myself to be durable and said, “I know and that’s OK. I just want to give you a hug.” He didn’t know what to say to that but let me sit by him and put my arm around him. I just said that I loved him and that I was happy to listen to anything he wanted to say. I let him tell me all about how awful his brother was and didn’t say anything for a long time. When he was done, I said “I’m sure everything feels terrible right now and that’s OK. You’re wise to take some time away from everyone. You stay in here as long as you need to. I just want you to know that I care and that I love you so much. Do you care if I say little prayer with you?” He shrugged and I said a short prayer for peace and healing and left.
He came out a half hour later, hugged his brother, and they talked a few things out.
One night a few weeks ago, my daughter stormed up to her room after we’d talked about how we all needed to to quarantine for Covid given that her brother had just tested positive, declaring that his carelessness was going to ruin her senior year. I gave her a little time to herself, said a little prayer, then ventured into her room before heading to bed. I could feel the tension in the air as I went into her room, she clearly didn’t want me there. But I told her I’d only be a minute and that I just needed to give her a hug – something she’s not really a fan of – but that I would really appreciate it if she’d let me hug her. She stiffly accepted my hug and gradually softened in my arms and let herself cry as I told her that the situation was really sad and unfair and that it was OK to be mad and sad. I told her I was proud of how she knows when to exit a situation and take time to herself and that I’d do anything I could to help make a bad situation as good as we could make it.