What you need to know:
Boundaries are good for defining responsibilities and expectations and calling to order and correcting any deviations from the acceptable standard. Every good relationship has boundaries, so must the parent-child relationship
Joan’s parents separated when she was young and because they were not yet permanently settled, they took her to live with her paternal grandparents. When she was about 25 years, she rejoined her father, but briefly because shortly after she found a man and got married immediately.
“My parents do not know me, personally,” she told me recently as if she was recounting a bad movie, “and I do not know them either,” she quickly adds, but I notice she is lost in contemplation.
“I cannot change anything about my past, but I will never be absent in my children’s life,” she adds. Joan’s case might be extreme, but they are a commonplace lately. Our busy lives or indifference have made many a parent lose touch with their children, even when they live with them in the same house. Children can be depressed or struggling with an issue and their parent will not have a clue on what is going on.
Children learn about life and relationships from their parents. A parent is responsible for nurturing a relationship with their children. Some parents take it for granted that this relationship will work itself out, but this cannot be far from the truth. It takes effort and intentionality.
A good parent-child relationship is characterised by unconditional love, respect, responsibility, supportiveness, boundaries, communication, consistency and Integrity.
So how does a parent nurture a solid relationship with their child to reflect these characteristics? Here are some tips.
You need to be present to engage. Create the time and be available. What you value, you will create time for. If a relationship with your children is important to you, you will create time for them. It is a matter of priority. This is hard for most parents, but it can be done.
Carve out time for you and your children to take part in activities such as family day out, picnics, birthdays, trips and family meeting. The goal is to spend quality time with your children. You can take this a notch higher by creating special days or times (call them rituals) for each child, if you have more than one child say date nights where you take each child out or just hang out together and just talk.
Some parents can be present but not involved. They have probably carried office work home and are busy on laptops working to beat deadlines. Some get busy watching football or are busy on social media chatting with everybody else except their children. What are some of the things you can do when you are present?
Do domestic chores or homework with them, engage your children in a conversation, have a one-on-one session and listen to their thoughts. Pick interest in the things they like, listen in to what is said and what is not, notice body languages, ask questions and observe subtle details.
Even the best relationship will fail if there is no consistent communication. Intentionally communicate verbally and non-verbally. Call or talk to your children, hug them and keep eye contact whenever you talk to them. Listen, emphasise and affirm them. This is vital for their neurobiological and emotional development.
Communication should also be fortified by integrity and trust. A parent who is willing to stake their name to do the right thing will win admiration from his children and this will endear them to him or/her.
It is tempting to want to cast your children the perfect parent picture, but you touch people’s hearts better when you share your weaknesses than your strengths. If people can see themselves through your blunders, then you have communicated. And if you want your children to open up to you, it is only fair that you open yourself to them too. Share your struggles and stories when you were their age, of course, age-appropriate content. This will make you approachable and relatable.
Loosen up and play with your child. Enjoy each other’s company. Any game as long as it gets you and them having fun while at it. This fosters emotional bonding, improves their social, relational and language skills and gives you quality time to express your appreciation for them as individuals.
In African culture, eating together means shared community. The dinner table is one place that can enhance parent-child relationships. I know we have been taught not to talk while we eat, but sometimes, it is the only time and place we can engage with our children, other times are busy. So use this time to know how your child has been fairing and the challenges they are facing.
Some people call them family altars. Establish one, where your family’s challenges are shared and prayed for together as a family. This creates family bonding. Fathers often leave the task of family prayers to mothers, not knowing they are missing out on helping their children cultivate a relationship with God, which is their primary responsibility. Praying as a family is one way through which parents can pick cues from their children about what is happening in their lives.