On Mothers’ Day earlier this year I heard Colin Buchanan, singer/songwriter and one-time Play School presenter, pay tribute to his mum. He described a carefree childhood in which all his needs were met, and said that it was only when he became an adult and parent himself that it dawned on him just how much his mum had been doing and how hard and constantly she had worked to give him the happy, healthy and secure childhood he’d enjoyed. He likened being a kid to being on a holiday cruise, in which food automatically appears at regular intervals, as do clean clothes every day, and a warm bed each night. Entertainment too, and activities were organised for him, so he remained oblivious to the fact that there was a very busy Engineer, his mum, powering the cruise, making it all happen, and putting heaps of energy into maintaining the voyage.
Kids are supposed to enjoy childhood. I’m glad Colin recognised the efforts expended for his sake. But I wonder whether many C21st mums and dads would be entirely happy with that model? Do I really want to be Captain, Engineer, Cook, Launderer, Cleaner and Entertainment Officer rolled into one, and is it even possible? It would take the skill of a Cirque de Soleil juggler to keep all those balls in the air. And where is the enjoyment for the parent?
I prefer the analogy of the Wheel of Parenting, where the spokes are all those functions and facets of what you do, but where there is a central role that keeps it all going. The Hub is the single most important job you have – to develop a loving, connected relationship with your kid. All your other roles are secondary, but they radiate out from this Hub of Connection, and depend upon it, really. It won’t matter if some of the spokes get damaged, or go missing – the Wheel will still roll.
Kath Kvols, writer of the Redirecting Children’s Behaviour parenting course suggested a daily mechanism to keep the Hub in good order. With a nod to Dorothy L Briggs’ idea of Genuine Encounter she has coined the anagram GEM, Genunie Encounter Moment. GEMs are short interactions of authentic connection – precious indeed, because they almost magically infuse a parent/child relationship with joy and wonder and solidarity.
Some parents already use this mechanism without having been taught, and find that the resulting closeness makes everything easier as a parent.
But let me tell you how it works. Your child rushes up to you wanting you to respond to something he’s just gotten excited about. Normally you are on auto-pilot, smile briefly, say “That’s great!” and get on with what you’re doing. A GEM is a bit different. This is what you do:
- You get on your child’s physical level by crouching down, or sitting together or lifting him up to your lap. Take his hand, or stroke his arm or back gently.
- You make good eye-contact with your child, and soften your face into a friendly, loving gaze.
- You listen intently to whatever he is saying. Push out of your mind your internal “To Do” list, adult agenda or preoccupying anxieties and tune yourself into what is going on for your little one. What is the expression on his face? Amazement? Wonder? Okay, imagine what that feels like, and let yourself share it a little.
- Now that you are interested, and can see how important it is to your child, express your shared enthusiasm, or ask a couple of interested questions. But you don’t want to put on your teaching hat too quickly and take over the conversation with a lot of information. It’s your child’s moment – and you are there to enjoy it with him.
- Enjoy the glow of mutual love and connection!
Yes, it takes some more energy initially, but this is a FAST way of making your child feel loved, valued and secure. GEMs help your kids feel affirmed and noticed, so their need to get your attention in negative ways decreases. Your energy levels will rise as you enjoy your child and remember what it’s all about. By focusing on your child and meeting their emotional needs for connection you are actually taking care of yourself at the same time. It takes only a few minutes to have a GEM, yet the positive effects last for ages.
Best of all, GEMs help create the kind of connected relationship we parents want with our kids. It ennobles your role as a parent. You are not just an Engineer, constantly busy fulfilling a relentlessly repeating set of tasks. You are a person developing an ongoing relationship with another unique person – your child. No-one else can connect with your little one in a more significant way than you.
So, several GEMs a day keeps the parenting blues away, and keeps the Wheel of Parenting rolling on track. Oh, and they work just as beautifully with partners too!