Let me set the scene: My daughter was three and had wrapped herself around my leg. She was crying because I couldn’t play stuffed animals with her while I was frantically trying to get dinner on the table. The baby was in a sling on my back, content to chew on my hair. Between chopping and freeing clumps of hair from the baby’s gooey grip, I was trying to patiently explain that she could go and play without me. But she wailed on.
I remember calling my cousin who has older kids and asking: “But will she ever want to play on her own??” Anyone who has spent extended time with a three-year-old will recognize this moment of desperation. Three-year-olds are delightful, remarkable, engaging and also–non-stop. This makes them so fun and yet so exhausting to be around. I was ready for her to be a little more independent.
I think about that as I look at this same daughter who is now eight and extremely independent. She hasn’t begged me to have tea party with her for years, and of course, as you might expect, I miss those exhausting days. Correction, I miss being my daughter’s favorite thing to play with. I miss that little-body-wrapped-around-my-leg bond.
It’s harder to “bond” with a grade schooler. Our recreational lives don’t exactly match up. She likes to play Barbies. I like to write. She likes to jump on the trampoline. I like to play volleyball. So, it seems like we intersect most at instructional time–like chore time, practice time, the before-school rush. These interactions don’t quite build the relationship I want.
But when I think about traditional “bonding time” or “girl time” it seems to all too often fall into gender stereotypes. Girls like shopping! And painting nails! (And boys like baseball games!) I want to this bonding time to do more than entertain us. I want to show my daughter that women (and men) are more than stereotypes. I want more than that for our relationship.
So how do I do it?
Recently in our Power of Moms’ learning circle, we discussed this article by Lisa Bloom. You may have read it. It’s about how our go-to conversation with little girls is about how they look, not who they are or what they think. She suggested, very simply, to open with “Whatcha reading these days?”
It got me thinking about my conversations with my daughter. How often do I ask her what she’s learning in school instead of “did you do your homework?” How often do I ask her what’s important to her instead of “are your clothes picked up”? Maybe it’s as simple as Lisa Bloom suggested. How often do I sit and talk with her about what she’s reading?
So, we stumbled upon the perfect bonding material–reading. I introduced my daughter to Anne of Green Gables. She loved it and I loved watching her “dog ear” the same pages that I used to read on long Saturday afternoons. After she read it, we rented the movie adaption from the local library and every night after her brothers were asleep, I brought the laptop into her bed and we snuggled and watched fifteen minutes. We sighed at the way Gilbert is dreamy and annoying. We laughed at Anne’s spunk and imagination. We cringed as we saw her getting herself in trouble, again. That was a good bonding activity.
We then moved on to the laugh-out-loud-funny Because of Winn-Dixie. And boy, did that book spark some “what’s important to you” conversations. It’s thought-provoking and a little sad and the characters really come alive. And while we read, I got to wrap my arm around her, which felt very, very good.
**Looking for a way to reconnect with your independent little grade schooler? Try reading! If you want to learn some tips and tricks for making reading-time more meaningful with your grade schooler, check out the Power of Moms’ Sharing the Joy of Reading Kit.
QUESTION: What are some other ways you can bond with your children? Maybe having a weekly cooking night where everyone helps or an ice cream date or trip to the planetarium or museum?
CHALLENGE: Discover what your children’s interests are. Discover what your interests are, and find a way to combine them to form a stronger relationship.
Image by Microsoft Office Clip Art with graphics by Julie Finlayson.