The launch of the Acts of Bravery website is ONE WEEK AWAY! I hope you’ve enjoyed the last few weeks’ sneak peeks into the resources I’m developing designed to inspire+empower+motivate you on your brave journey to fully realize your dreams. If you missed it. Check out all the details here.
A portion of Acts of Bravery is BraveResources, divided into four sections—BraveYou, BraveRelationships, BraveParenting, BraveCareer.
When that squirmy, squawking, oh-so-adorable infant is first placed in our arms the dreaming begins. Who will this little soul become? Will she grow up to discover the cure for cancer? Will he solve world peace?
Dreaming is one thing, but the low-down dirty, how-to parent these world changers is quite another. We long to guide these day-old infants into thriving adulthood and keep our individual identities at the same time. But, major oversight! The pediatrician forgot to stash the baby owner’s manual in with all the other freebies when we left the hospital.
Two almost-grown kids later and I still don’t have all the answers, but I do have some killer insights into how to raise kids to become fully them. For my husband and I, parenting success boils down to a single focus—maintain a heart connection. Not just with our kids, but with ourselves, too. The heart connection is a game-changer and I can’t wait to share all our victories and fumbles as we winged it through the last twenty years.
This week’s blog fits right into BraveParenting’s core of that heart connection. I’m giving you an insider’s view on some of the key principles my husband I used to raise the best two kids in the world (well in my opinion).
And next week? I launch Acts of Bravery and I’ll introduce BraveCareer, the final preview for BraveResources!
When my husband and I got hitched at twenty we were ready to take on the world. At that delightful age, life’s possibilities spread pregnant across the horizon. We had all we needed—our friends, our dreams, our college degrees (almost), and each other. Then, ten months later we got pregnant and at twenty-one I became a mother. Gasp.
Armed with zero knowledge of infants or children, we dove into parenting like we owned the place. We weren’t those people who devoured parenting books, either. Who needs those? Bor-ing. Our style tended towards the bohemian. Our kids went everywhere with us and we adjusted as needed.
Almost twenty years later, we biffed it on the parent front more times than I can count, but ultimately, we raised two intellectually and emotionally smart kids, who still want to hang out with us and glean our wisdom on major and minor life decisions. To me, that’s a win.
How did we do it? Looking back, the single thread running through all our decisions as parents was to nurture our heart connection with our kids. I’ll go as far as declaring maintaining a heart connection is the single most important element of parenting on the planet.
What is a heart connection?
The simple definition:
Seeing your little world-changers as unique individuals and connecting with them in a deeply personal way that centers on nurturing a relationship not on correcting behavior.
My kids know deep in their DNA that I love them, that I care more about maintaining a relationship with them than I care about their failures and mistakes. I think of it as a delicate string binding our hearts together. I want to nurture that string, nurture their heart, and ensure that no matter what they bring to me they know nothing will sever that string.
This doesn’t mean being BFFs with your thirteen-year-old. We’re still parents after all. What does it mean? The following five principles answer this question.
#1: Connect on their level.
You know those things your spouse is super good at? The ones that make you look like a complete moron no matter how hard you try to do them? Yeah. That was how I felt whenever Tim got on the floor and played with our young kids.
I’ve never been a baby person. Or really a kid person. But give me teenagers and I excel. My main problem with younger kids was that I didn’t know how to connect with them. I love intellectual conversation. But those are hard to have with a three-year-old.
By watching Tim I learned an invaluable lesson. He figured out what the kids were passionate about in that moment and met them there. It didn’t matter whether the child in front of him was two or seventeen, Tim’s main purpose was to figure out what lit them up inside and he’d join them.
Collecting rocks? He got a paper bag.
Playing dress up? He wore the tiara.
Mechanical engineering? He mentored the robotics team.
The lesson I learned? Connecting with kids had zero to do with me or my comfort zone and everything to do with releasing my agenda and joining them in their activity to simply enjoy them in the moment.
Simple way to get started?
- Observe. What does your child naturally do?
- Ask questions. Go deeper into what they like/dislike, their expertise in the activity, be interested.
- Join. Play to enjoy, not to teach.
#2: Learning their love languages.
Most people I’ve chatted with have some degree of experience with the 5 Love Languages. If not, no problem, go brush up here. The concept is simple. We all experience love through each of the 5 Love Languages—physical touch, acts of service, quality time, receiving gifts, and words of affirmation—though most of us have a primary and secondary way of feeling loved.
I’m quality time and words of affirmation. Basically, connect with me in deep conversation over coffee and tell me how wonderful I am, and I’ll live in the afterglow for a few days.
My husband’s is primarily physical touch. Scratch his back for an hour and his love tank fills up. But if I tried to show Tim love by constantly giving him compliments and getting him to bare his soul, I’d feel loved, but he’d end up emotionally bankrupt.
Same is true for our kids. To maintain a heart connection with them, we need to figure out their best method of feeling love and add to their love bank daily.
#3: Helping them become the best possible version of themselves.
This is a toughie sometimes. When our kids are born we have big ideas for who we think they’ll be. But usually these visions don’t pan out. Our kids are born individuals, and as a parent it is our job to teach them how to become the best version of them they can be instead of molding them into who we think they should be.
This is no easy task because it means releasing our vision of what our family will look like and taking the lead from our kids.
For me, this was giving up being a sports mom. Sports were such a huge part of my life growing up, and my husbands, I never considered my kids wouldn’t become star players of their high school teams.
But they didn’t.
My son loves making things. He started young. Creating weapons out of paper, graduating to 3D printing, and becoming president of the robotics team. My daughter’s passion is performing arts and singing. She’s stolen the spotlight ever since she could garble together made-up baby words.
My kids excel in their chosen fields, but what if I had forced them into sports? Would they have been as passionate? As free?
I don’t think so.
Whenever I want to insert my will upon my kids, I ask myself a question: How would it feel if my parents forced me to be something I wasn’t or do something I didn’t like?
I know we all can answer this similarly. It would feel terrible.
#4: Get to the heart of misbehavior.
I’m going to make a blanket statement here, but I believe it to be 100% true.
All kids are good kids.
No baby is born with a hard, rebellious heart. Kids learn that behavior, and most of the time it’s self-protection.
Let me share a secret. When kids misbehave, usually there’s a reason.
About 100% of the time when my kids make a bad decision or react poorly or out-right disobey, if I start digging for the “why” beneath the behavior, I’ll find gold—hidden hurt, embarrassment, valid thought processes that went awry. Only then can the teaching moment begin. So, instead of reacting in anger, I’ve learned to take a breath (or the entire evening) to calm down, then we sit down together to discuss the “why”.
Getting to the “why” does two key things.
- It defuses the escalating emotion, stopping full-blown arguments in their tracks and transforming them into heart-to-heart conversations.
- It makes your kids feel heard and loved, which makes you approachable because they see you as on their team, not against them.
Choosing to see your child’s heart, refusing to react in anger or judgement, and asking questions instead of making assumptions, builds strong relationships that won’t easily be broken.
#5: Open and honest communication
Everyone needs to be heard, no matter their age. Whether it’s a two-year-old frustrated a block won’t fit in the triangle hole or a sixteen-year-old who just had their first kiss, we want to share our hearts without judgement.
But the flip is true, too. No matter the age, we want to be in reciprocal relationships. Who wants to be part of a relationship where the other person isn’t open or honest about themselves?
As human beings, we all have spidy-senses—that innate ability to sense BS. Our children are not exceptions to this rule. In fact, it’s part of their primal survival instincts to know when their parent is hiding something. So, don’t think you can fool them.
Why does this matter?
If you want to know your kids and ensure they’re open with you as teenagers, you must let yourself be known, not just as their authority figure, but as a compassionate individual who cares more about their personhood and less about their exterior behavior.
Once you’ve created this environment, open and honest communication can thrive. I’m not telling you to bare your soul to your five-year-old daughter, but I am telling you to share some of your relationship failures and successes with your thirteen-year-old (only as much as her maturity can handle, of course).
When your daughter comes home heartbroken because of that mean girl at school, if you’re vulnerable enough to share your own past heartache, it makes you human, it makes you safe. But make sure to give her the space to vent and cry and react badly first. After all of that’s out, you can start addressing ideas for how to handle such a situation in the future.
See how that maintains the relationship—the heart connection—versus just spouting advice and expecting her to act on it?
Wrap it up, Rachelle!
Phew! I just dumped a ton of information on you and those were just the summaries. The heart connection is so vital to parenting though. Maybe soon, I’ll dive further in and write a blog series on each principle or maybe eventually create an ecourse!
Bonus secret: These principles can be used in all your relationships!
Question for the comments:
Which one of the five principles to maintain a heart connection with your kids (or if you’re not a parent, a significant relationship) do you struggle with the most? Which one do you excel at?
Stay tuned next week for a sneak peek at BraveCareer and the launch of Acts of Bravery website! I can’t wait to share it with you and see what you think.