Connecting with my kids

2009 December 1
by Evan Lenz

Evenings are challenging for me. I recently committed to turning off the computer between dinner and bedtime. And now I have people holding me accountable to keeping that commitment. I’ve been so caught up in the world of work (and of setting up this blog for that matter) that I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not in front of the computer.

I noticed something last night. (It’s probably been obvious to everyone but me.) Even when I’m spending time that’s devoted to hanging out with the kids, I habitually avoid them. Some ways of avoiding them include doing certain kinds of things with them: like watching movies, or even reading to them. You may ask: how is reading to them avoiding them? Well, for me, reading out loud is an intrinsically enjoyable and challenging activity, and it allows me to “kill two birds with one stone” when I do it in front of my children. The point is that my aim is to do something that I like doing and that the kids will go along with. While it is wonderful to see them fully engaged in listening to a story, it’s also true that I often read to them as a way of not engaging them.

In particular, I avoid playing with them. I do like board games (well, certain ones anyway). But unstructured role-playing games are exhausting to me. They’re not engaging, for whatever reason. (One reason is probably that I just haven’t exercised those “muscles” in a long time, and my imagination is atrophying.) And my oldest son has been giving me this feedback lately. “You never play games with us!” Now I’m starting to see what he’s talking about.

I probably sound like a horrible father by now. Truthfully, I am a bit horrified at the realization that I so habitually avoid engaging my kids, even while spending lots of time with them. But I’m thankful that this insight is coming while I still have a chance to do something about it. Last night, convicted of my selfishness, I worked hard at engaging the kids on their level. This time that meant being a monster who eats kids and carries them on its shoulders while looking for more “meat” to eat. All around the house. Over and over again until bed time. (I slept well last night.) As a result, I felt more connected to the kids. And last night while I was tucking him in, my 3-year-old (who hardly ever says such things) told me with a beaming smile, “I love you, Daddy” and gave me a big, fat hug. That made it all worth it.

I’ve now resolved to find more ways to lose my selfishness and connect with my kids in ways that are uniquely meaningful to them, not just me.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. December 2, 2009

    Oh, you must read Playful Parenting by L Cohen. It’s all about connecting through play and finding ways to make it fun for the parents, too. One of my favorite books!

    • Evan permalink*
      December 2, 2009

      Bethany, thanks so much for the book recommendation. (I put it on hold at the library.) I like this quote from the preview on Amazon (p. 3): “We complain about children’s short attention spans, but how long can we sit and play marbles or Barbie or Monopoly or fantasy games before we get bored and distracted, or pulled away by the feeling that getting work done or cooking dinner is more important?”

      Also, on p. 7: “My daughter’s preschool teacher told me that preschoolers laugh an average of three hundred times a day. What would happen if we all did that?”

  2. December 2, 2009

    Nice Evan. Good for you and good for your kids! You will never regret this…

  3. Eurika permalink
    December 2, 2009

    This rings so true. The computer is where I too am often found in the evening. I have never really enjoyed board games, card games or the kinds of role-playing games many childen enjoy. I do enjoy reading out loud and the discussion that usually happens during and after the reading but now that my 3 are teens, reading aloud no longer happens. I guess the main way I connect to my children is through conversation. You’ve made me think a little more deeply about this.
    Thank you.

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