Play. Connect. Love.
February is the month of love. This time of year, people go to great lengths to show how much they love each other. There are grand gestures and extravagant gifts, but I’m here to reinforce the idea that showing love is actually very simple.
The key ingredient to any loving relationship is presence. Being fully present fosters true connection, and true connection is the catalyst for love.
There is no doubt that every parent loves his or her child. Parents love that little nugget in a way that was unimaginable before parenthood. And honestly, despite what all the books, blogs, grandparents, and Instagram Influencers may say, your #1 job when you birth a child is…to love them. Love them unconditionally and without measure.
Connection trumps everything else in parenting. ~ Dr. Laura Markham
Without a doubt, new parents feel love for their child, but it is also common to struggle with feeling a connection. Sometimes when a mom or dad is dealing with Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), they will struggle with feeling a connection with their baby. It can be daunting to even try to create that connection when the expectations are so high on what parenthood “should” look like. Did you know that even a 5-minute moment of gazing in the mirror at each other can be enough for your baby to feel connected and loved?
I am here to reassure you that all of these feelings are normal. You are not alone in feeling this way.
Infancy is foreign to most new parents, and as children get older, parents feel unsure about how to connect with a toddler or preschooler. You may feel guilty that it feels like work, or that you don’t know what to do. You may have anxiety over lacking parental instinct or feel so exhausted at trying to accomplish “all the things” that connection may feel like just another chore.
I am also here to reassure you that being present and connected to your child can be made easier through a very simple habit of play. Nothing speaks louder to a child than play. Play is a child’s love language. It is the way they interact with the world, it is the way they learn new ideas, and it is the way they build confidence. Play can also be the way a new parent gains all of these things too!
The body heals with play. The mind heals with laughter. The spirit heals with joy. – Proverb
Dr. Laura Markham* (a parenting hero of mine) recommends a daily “Special Time” between parent and child for a set duration…5, 10, 15 minutes. You determine what you can complete successfully, and commit to making it a daily practice. Just 5 minutes per day?! Did you know it could be that easy? Her research shows that this simple ritual builds connection better than any other.
You may be thinking, what do I do during that time? Here are some easy suggestions. But always follow the lead and the temperament of your child. And as they get older, give them the option to pick what they would like to do.
Goal: Eye contact and loving touch.
Read board books together.
Dance together to your favorite song.
Engage in puppet play.
Gaze at each other in a mirror.
Goal: Let the child be in control.
Do block time – you build, they destroy.
Create bath as play – pouring, dumping, filling.
Take a wander; let them lead.
Have a stuffed animal picnic.
Do some rough-housing (without tickling).
Goal: Enter their world.
Build a fort.
Let them pick their favorite pretend dimension (pirates, royalty, animals, etc.) and go there.
Simple art time – process over product using simple tools: bingo bottle, stickers, crayons.
Draw with sidewalk chalk – take turns outlining each other.
Create a scavenger walk – come up with five things to find in the neighborhood (roly poly, brown leaf, rock, etc.).
Do some rough-housing (without tickling).
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It’s serious heavy-lifting work. Long hours. High stakes. No training provided. Before you know it, the exhaustion, uncertainty, and Groundhog Day effect can become all-consuming. And in a blink, you can feel totally cut off from the real world…isolated and lonely. I have mothered three babies, and I have felt that way every single time.
Rest and play are as vital to our health as nutrition and exercise. –Brené Brown
So do not forget to schedule time for some self love too! And now that you know the recipe…a simple short habit of connection (be present with someone you love) and/or play (do something for the sheer joy of it), it should be a lot easier to accomplish.
*For more from Dr. Laura Markham, visit www.ahaparenting.com