If there is one thing I know for sure about kids, it is that each one is unique. I have three adolescent children—a son and two daughters—from the same gene pool, but they are distinctly different from each other in a multitude of ways. Their personalities, needs, communication styles, and interests are so individualized that there is very little overlap. It’s astounding. I have learned that the ways they give and receive love are different, the ways that they enjoy being celebrated varies, what discipline works for one doesn’t for another, and what motivates each of them is unique. Needless to say, there is no one-size-fits all approach in parenting!
I’m also struck by how their needs and daily rhythms shift over time. The quantity and quality of parent/child time changes throughout their life cycle. This may be obvious, but it is important that we, as parents, are adaptable to these alterations. As my kids are now older and more independent; my time with them is different than it used to be. It is deeper and richer than when they were young, but I have less quantity of time, as they are busy and doing more on their own.
Regardless of age or stage, personality or interests, kids need (and want) connection with their parents! We must be attentive and flexible—ready to meet them where they are and seize the opportunities as they arise. We must lean into God, asking Him to give us the grace, wisdom, peace, love, and patience needed to parent them as individuals as they grow and develop.
The wise passage found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 poetically guides us to consider that there are seasons and purposes in each—different times bring about different opportunities. This rings true in parenting. Our role and way of journeying with our kids shifts along the way.
To everything there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to break down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to count as lost,
a time to keep and a time to discard,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
Consider these guideposts to help you maximize time with your kids (keeping in mind the current age, stage, and personality of your child(ren):
1. Take advantage of moments along the way to connect. Life is made up of millions of moments. It is not in the big, well-planned special events that most of our relationships are forged—it’s in the day-to-day intentional moments together. So be mindful of this as you move about your daily life and take advantage of the normal moments.
- In the car: Listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks together. Or turn down the music and check in. Sometimes it’s less intense than being face to face asking probing questions and seeking to have a heart to heart.
- When doing a task: When you’re walking the dog or need to run errands, invite them to come along. When you are cooking or baking, invite them to help you or simply sit in the kitchen and chat while you cook. Then use those times to talk! Any task can become a connection point. Our family has laundry folding “parties” where we drag all the baskets of clean clothes into a room to sort and fold while we hang out together.
These mundane moments can become rituals for connection in your home.
2. Be a student of them. Find out what matters to them, and try intentional listening to draw them out. Practice suspending judgements or immediately imposing your opinions when they share. My favorite response when wanting to get beyond the surface with someone in conversation is simply to say, “Tell me more.” It communicates that you are tracking with them and are there for more. If we want to build relationships with our kids, we have to learn what they love; seek to understand how they think and feel; and understand what makes them feel joy, fear, pain, and anger. We need to listen, watch, and learn. Daily pray to God for wisdom and discernment, asking Him to make clear to you how to care for them and what their needs are.
3. Meet them where they are. Sporty, artsy, booky; introverted or extroverted; laid back or high strung—consider these things (and more). Tune into their personality, stage of life, hobbies, and interests. Be inspired by their uniqueness and take an interest in these things. Remain aware of your personal similarities and differences so that you don’t develop blind spots regarding your biases and preferences that might stand in the way of your connection with them. Knowing these things about yourself can help you to embrace where they are, even if you don’t relate to their ways.
4. Shift as they age. I remember when my kids were little, we had a weekly ritual of packing a picnic, loading up our books, and heading out for story time at the library. This ritual provided some great opportunities for bonding and quality time. Those days are long gone, but we have pivoted. Our family enjoys cooking together and sharing great food. We love to find a show that we can watch together as a family, waiting on each other to view the next episode when our schedules allow. We share dessert or snacks while we watch and then discuss our reactions to the episode afterwards. Some of my kids are into the after-show-analysis more than others, and that’s okay too. It’s still good for them (even if there are occasional eye rolls).
5. Be intentional with screens when with your kids. Create and maintain boundaries about phones and other screens when having time together.
- Encourage no-phone zones during times that are potential bonding moments! In the car, limit screen use to tasks that are for the good of the whole car (like looking up directions or selecting music or a podcast for everyone).
- Keep phones away from the dinner table. You could even have a basket dedicated to holding the phones until you leave the table.
- When you are with your child at the park, dentist office waiting room, grocery store line, or any place where time is idle, model good boundaries with your phone. Be intentional about using that time for connection instead, making eye contact and talking to them. You can ask their opinions or tell jokes—whatever fills the time with something more meaningful than the endless scroll.
Our lives are full, and time moves quickly (though days sometimes drag on, the years seem to fly by). Seek to intentionally move towards your kids in the everyday mundane, meeting them where they are, in each season.
Julie Hunt is an Associate Professor of Social Work and Director of Field Education at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is wife to Dave Hunt, a worship director and wood worker, and mother to a college aged son and two teenaged daughters. She also enjoys walking, baking, reading, food blogging, thrifting, and enjoying time with friends.