“The connections we make in the course of a life–maybe that’s what heaven is.” – Mr. Rogers
I have been a stay at home dad for a baby. I have a 20+ year resume of youth work. I have taken kids out of the country on service projects. I have worked in various levels of the educational system and filled countless hours of out of school programming. Yet none of this prepared me for quarantining with 2 preteens. Let’s just say these past several weeks have been interesting. This has definitely been an experience that will make it on the curriculum vitae to show my flexibility, perseverance, and overall will to survive.
But say what you want about the stay at home orders, in the past 13 years of having children, I have never had such a fantastic opportunity to create connections, heavenly connections, with my kids. And while there have been trying times, there have definitely been moments, random spontaneous moments, that have allowed us to build a relationship that can weather those difficult experiences both now and in the future. The Simple Interactions framework of looking at healthy developmental relationships refers to connection as being “in-tune” with a child or youth. And while I can definitely say that there have been countless moments where we were so far out of tune that no auto-tune machine in the world could fix what we were producing, the moments of in-tuneness have been amazing.
Like when my youngest and I bonded around the old Wii that had been collecting dust as we teamed up to take on a little Mario Kart. We laughed, we cried, we yelled, and we formed a new found dislike for Baby Mario and his shady driving tactics. It had been the first time in quite a while that I had played a co-op game with them and I quickly realized what I had been missing. We celebrated our victories with dramatic high fives and high-pitched screams (mostly from me). We shared our disappointment with probing questions or helpful suggestions around strategy. And when one of us was lagging behind, we rooted for each other with the passion of a thousand Star powerups! It was fantastic and the hours (yes, hours) we have put into that game have been transformative.
“Life is better with teammates.”
Kids are constantly seeking to learn about themselves and find moments of independence. As they grow older, this yearning grows stronger and their need to accomplish things on their own, in their own way, becomes one of their driving forces. Which means that “your way” is not only undesirable but will often be rebelled against (yeah Middle School!). This is not all bad and, as your own parents might have reminded you, we all took this same journey as well. But the constant striving for new found independence can also bring feelings of isolation if we don’t find ways to help kids realize that we are still on the same team. And the more we can help our kids realize that we can be successful together, the more they will see us as partners in the larger process of learning about life. We do this so the moment when they experience a great victory in their life, they will want to share the sweet taste of success with you. And when they hit that painful low, they know exactly who to turn to for help, suggestions, or just a supportive shoulder to lean on. Life is a journey, an experience, an epic Mario Kart race. But whatever metaphor you choose, to use, life is better with teammates.
So, my suggestion for you as parents both now and in the future is to build those connections. Find that co-op activity or game that you can take on with your child. Maybe it is a video game, a board game (check out Sequence or Forbidden Island), a backyard 2v2 pickup game, a geo-caching adventure, or something completely unexpected and new. But whatever it is, be on the same team and share in both the struggles of defeat and the joys of success as you build those heavenly connections.
Ben Rheinheimer, Self-Efficacy Curator at ULEAD