Ever have one of those weeks where all your parenting “skills” that you hold high in your mind, receive a nice little reality check?
I’m raising my hand.
My husband and I have three daughters and we have spent the past fifteen years working to keep their hearts and build strong relationships with them.
But sometimes it’s a struggle. Sometimes it’s a reality check. And sometimes it’s a humbling experience that reminds us we don’t have it all together and we are still learning.
We’ve felt pretty lucky so far that we haven’t had the usual horror stories about raising teenagers that we so often hear about. (We’re very aware we aren’t out of the woods yet.) But if we are honest, the teen years have been our favorite so far.
Every year we seem to grow closer and closer to our girls, and we look forward to their futures and seeing how they will play out. We ENJOY being around them and they seem to enjoy being with us, too.
Our family doesn’t have it all together, but we are trying every day to do our best. I think most parents can say that. But if you ask me what I think is the most important parenting advice I’ve learned, it would be to win your child’s heart and do your best to keep it.
That way, when you feel your parenting skills being tested, it won’t be so hard to navigate the waters because you will have had lots of practice learning your child’s heart and together, you can get through anything.
What does it mean to keep your child’s heart?
There is a difference between winning a child’s heart and keeping a child’s heart.
Any stranger off the street can win over a child with gifts, candy, or the like. But it takes much more than that to keep their heart.
My mom was a camp chaperone for years while my sisters and I were old enough to attend. During which, my tough redhead of a mom earned the title: Sergeant Hammond. She really didn’t put up with much.
But when it came down to it, the teens preferred my mom. Because while the “nice” counselors were napping or hanging out in the air conditioning, my mom was out in the sun joining the teens on the field, cheering them on, and helping them win their games.
Those teens knew which counselors loved them, and which were just placating. And no matter how much the teens initially balked at mom’s no-nonsense ways, they were the best of friends by the last day of camp.
How do you keep a child’s heart?
This will look different for each child. But the concepts are the same.
However, instead of listing some things we have done, I asked our girls what made them feel loved and connected to us over the years. I think their viewpoints are enlightening:
- We spend one-on-one time with them, such as dates, taking a walk to just talk, or letting them tag along on an errand.
- Writing personal letters to them they can read over and over again.
- They love family game nights where we buy snacks and favorite drinks.
- We bought our oldest a purity ring that made her feel very special.
- Taking family vacations. They especially enjoy having mom and dad without the interruptions of work.
- When we have to punish the girls, we take the time to listen to them.
- If they have an opinion, we take it into consideration.
- We have a weekly pizza and movie night where we get together with a new movie and snacks.
- When Daddy takes them on work-related outings.
- We don’t yell at them when they do wrong, and we try to get both sides of the story.
- When they have nightmares, we let them cuddle in bed even when there’s not a lot of room.
- They feel loved knowing how hard we work for our family.
- We do things for them, even when it might be inconvenient.
- Holidays are always special, even when there isn’t a lot of money.
- They feel loved because we make church important.
- We always give them hugs.
- We have inside jokes and share memes on our family group chat.
- Paying attention to what their favorite things are.
- Being able to tell when they need to talk or that something is wrong or they just need a hug.
- Even when life is crazy busy, we try to give them stability in other areas.
- Giving them responsibility without making them do everything; we take part in chores, too.
- Rearranging our schedules to spend time with them.
- We help them work out sisterly squabbles.
- When we take part in the things they enjoy.
- We nudge them from their comfort zones without forcing them to do something they aren’t comfortable with.
I think a common thread amongst our daughters is the fact we make them feel loved, important, and value their presence.
(Again, this is their words. Personally, I think they give us far too much credit. They really are great kids and make parenting easy.)
What are some mistakes that can turn your child’s heart from you?
The basic answer would be to do the opposite of whatever it is you do to reach your child’s heart.
But I like straight-forward answers, so I’ll list a few of my own mistakes I have made that have created wedges in my relationships with my daughters.
1. Don’t listen to your child
I am ashamed to say there have been too many times I have misread a situation regarding one or more of our daughters, and in my “all-knowing” state of mind passed down a judgment they did not deserve.
This has been a very hard lesson to learn, but when I swallow my pride and give my child the benefit of the doubt, I am making them feel as if they matter. And they do. But saying it and proving it are two different things.
I also find that when it comes to wrong-doing if my daughter has a chance to give her side of the story, she is much more willing to listen to my correction and accept her punishment graciously.
2. Don’t pay attention when your child talks to you
In this day and age, it is increasingly hard to focus. Getting distracted is a way of life for most people, especially parents. And we probably don’t even realize we are doing it.
It took a real eye-opener for me to realize I was treating my children as if whatever I was looking at on my phone was much more important to me than they are.
And that realization crushed me.
I know that sometimes we need distractions and a way to get our minds off things. But those distractions can be very hard to control.
I have purposefully had to work on this. Now when someone talks to me, I work on putting my phone down and making eye-contact. It isn’t easy; I fail far too often, but when I succeed, it’s amazing the connection that follows.
And I want others to feel important to me, most especially my children.
3. Don’t talk to them
No, I don’t mean to ignore them completely. I mean, don’t TALK to them. About struggles, about growing up, about life. The fastest way to lose a child’s heart is to make them learn everything from their peers or worse, negative adult influences.
There are some terrible people out there who want to shape and mold our youth’s hearts. It’s called Grooming. And they will steal our children’s hearts so fast, making it near impossible to win them back.
I was one of those teenagers who trusted someone I shouldn’t. And I still struggle with rewiring my thinking two decades later.
Thankfully, because of my own experiences, I can help protect my daughters from the same situations. My husband and I work hard to talk with them regularly so they feel comfortable coming to us should a negative situation come up.
That kind of openness takes a lot of work and even more upkeep. Knowing your child well enough to sense when something is up is vital to keeping their heart.
One thing we have told our girls over and over is that no topic is off limits. (There might be some subjects we deem too old for them, but we always make sure they know we will discuss it, just at a later date.)
But rarely do we come across topics that have to wait. We figure that if they are curious about it, they will find their answers somehow. We would rather those answers come from us.
Because of this, we have had some rather deep conversations, but they are good for us. It bonds our family and the girls feel comfortable coming to us. It just makes for some interesting dinner conversations. 🙂
4. Don’t take an interest
Our kids will not like all the things we like. Just as we don’t like all the things they do.
But if we don’t find some kind of common ground, we will struggle with keeping their hearts.
This has been something my husband has had to work extra on, being the only guy in the house. But he does a fine job finding things with which to connect with each daughter.
With our oldest, it’s woodworking or yard work. Our middle child loves to go to the gun range or anything work-related. Our youngest loves to talk and shop, so Steve will take her on errands just so she can chat his ear off and help him pick out items at the store.
It’s the simple things, but they are truly effective at keeping our daughter’s hearts.
5. Ignore their Social Media
Our children’s hearts will be won. But whether it’s by us, their parents, or every other influence in the world, is the question.
And winning their heart is only the first step. Keeping it is the long-term goal.
We cannot keep up with all the flashy things of this world vying for our kid’s attention, but we can and should limit how much they are exposed to and of what kind.
I already alluded to bad influences, but even just distracting ones can hamper a parent’s attempt at connecting. If we as adults struggle to pay attention to our kids when we have a phone in hand, why would we expect our children to be better than us in this department?
As parents, we need to set some guidelines to help them navigate these waters. Talk with them about why it’s important to limit time on your phone and use that as an opportunity to talk about ways you as a family can spend more time together.
What if I’ve failed at keeping my child’s heart?
The wonderful thing about children is they are excellent forgivers. I know this from experience.
I can’t tell you how many times I have blown it through the years. How many times there was an icy wall between me and one of my daughters, and it was my fault.
All it takes is some humility to apologize for blowing it and some determination to make it right again. If our children see us trying, they will appreciate the effort. But if all we give are empty promises, over and again, they will learn not to trust us and they will keep that wall up.
Let me let you in on a little tip that I learned over a few years’ time. When we as moms laugh more and hug often, those two things can soften any heart over time.
I really struggled with this the first half of my parenting journey. I was always tired and stressed to the max most days; it took a lot out of me just to make it to bedtime.
But I realized no one was enjoying our way of life. I didn’t want our girls growing up with sad memories of a mom who never smiled. From that revelation on, I worked hard to change things.
The two things I focused on doing more was laughing with my girls (I’m more of a serious type person) and hugging them until they let go first.
What resulted was something truly beautiful. We laugh all the time now and we are very affectionate. As a family unit, we have become something I’ve always wanted, something that feels warm, safe and wonderful.
But I truly believe I’d still be my miserable self if I hadn’t started working on those two minor things. It’s crazy how a little tweak can make such a difference!
All that to say, it’s never too late if you genuinely want to win your child’s heart. It just takes some hard work and lots and lots of love. But it’s worth it. So very worth it!
About the author
Kimberly McGraw is the founder of Life Worth the Living, a blog focused on helping mothers live their best life. Her desire is to help moms find purpose in who they are as a person, not just as a mom. Life Worth the Living has been featured in Making Sense of Cents, Outwit Trade and Believe and Create.