Parenting by Southwest Airlines

The Best Parenting Advice I ever got was from Southwest Airlines Magazine. On a trip down to Durham, I read a one-page piece in SW Airlines Magazine that gave this simple advice: endeavor to have 7 connection points with each of your children at any given time. The connection could be anything that the two of you can do together, talk about, or simply mutually appreciate. You may like the same reality TV show, or obsess over the same professional sports team, or admire the same actress, or read the same book. But less obvious connections count too: both having smelly feet, or avoiding cheddar cheese, or being into penguins.

There’s a brilliance to this. I remember hearing another counselor recount advising a father to just sit near his son when he’s doing whatever he’s doing. I was reminded of the SW magazine article; just find something you can have in common, even if you have to work at it. The SW tip has fueled many hours of television I never would have watched and inspired my commitment to read Young Adult Literature for a year. The SW tip made me brush up on throwing a football and gave me more patience for a certain annoying orange (see Youtube). The SW tip helped me value going to movies I never would have been inclined to see and eat very greasy burgers when I preferred sushi. So what if my interest isn’t a natural inclination if my interest in connecting with my kids is genuine?

Having the challenge of 7 connection points has been good for me. When I have trouble counting 7, I feel pushed to watch my kids more closely, looking for another opportunity to jump in. In this process I notice more. I’m more attuned to what bugs them, when they are intrigued, or when I’m just not getting them. It draws me back to the basics. What can we do/appreciate together and what has gotten in the way of my doing that? Sometimes I have to admit I’ve lost sight of being intentional about forging the connection points.

My college roommate, Susie, is a great inspiration in this area. She and her daughter love goofing off and dancing, so they decided to learn the Thriller dance. Then they decided to host a Thriller event in their town (this was the year Michael Jackson died and groups of folks all over the world performed Thriller at the same time). This led to lots of miniature projects to organize the thing, which turned out to be a total blast and ended in photos in the paper and memories that will last a lifetime! It didn’t start with a community-wide event, it started with mutual goofiness and a love of amateur dancing. Very rarely, a connection will grow into something memorable. Overall, the impact is much more subtle. Your kids may not remember that you played dominoes for 178 hours, but those are 178 hours that your kid had your attention and you showed interest in their interest. You can’t measure that impact.

What connection points do you share with your kids? Or kids, with your parents? What gets in the way of pressing for 7?

If you like this idea, you’ll really be challenged by  my RESOURCE OF THE MONTH, It’s a book called Hold On To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers.

9 comments


  • Rob Zeigler

    Great post. This is particularly relevant to my current years with 2 actual teens and the other two kids one year pre or post the teen range. My two boys have gotten me into playing some smart phone games in which we are all partners in our own “guild”. One game was so well designed, I actually invested in the company stock. Go figure. Last night, at the encouragement of my wise wife, I invited my teen daughter out for dinner. I did a real paper inviation. Took 2 min with Microsoft Templates. She chose the restaurant and dessert location. We’ve been struggling a good bit lately over boys and what not. The time out proved to be really fun and a catalyst for some relaxed conversation on otherwise challenging topics. When I thanked her for coming, she was surpised that I was unsure if she would accept my invitation. Clearly a sign that I need to do this more, in spite of the “voice” which says she really doesn’t want to be with me. Thank you for the wise counsel.

    April 5, 2012
  • Laura

    LOVE this post–and I don’t even have kids! One of the guest speakers for our spiritual-direction training program told us that if he sits in the same space with his teenage daughter doing separate things for at least four hours, then a meaningful conversation will open up. That’s a long time to wait for a meaningful conversation! But he’s figured out what helps her feel safe and ready, and he’ll do it. Love the penguins and smelly feet examples. 🙂

    April 5, 2012
  • Heidi

    I agree completely! When my first son was 1 year old, a wise mom told me, “You just need to keep them talking, even when they are teens. You have to be available. They will most often want to talk when you are too tired or too busy. Listen anyway. When the get bigger, lay in the bed toe to head (so not to embarrass them), turn out the lights, and wait for what they will tell you!” It works great with my 16 year old. I’m not sure either of us would have made it through his freshman year of high school without these late night conversations! Now I not only hear of the problems of the week, but his dreams for the future.

    April 5, 2012
  • Janice

    Keep bringing on the wisdom, readers! I remember my own hours sitting at the foot of my mom’s bed talking and talking and talking and….

    April 5, 2012
  • Kimberley

    Thanks Janice! Your insights brought tears of comfort and challenge to this mom of three young ones!
    Perhaps a little more WII Mario Cart and fingernail painting is in my near future!

    April 5, 2012
  • Una Lucey-Lee

    Janice, this reminds me of a friend of mine who had a standing date to McDonalds with his daughter. He told me that over time, because of the safety of the tradition, they ended up having their most meaningful conversations at a booth in McDonalds. If they needed to talk, they would head to the restaurant. I’ve thought of this a lot in my mentoring role with students. Somehow what you typed made me think of this. I hope this doesn’t seem too non-sequitur. oxox

    April 5, 2012
  • Renee Newman

    I love this :). Great challenge for me. Do 2 year olds even have 7 points of interest in their lives? It seems like there is one OBSESSION at a time right now.

    April 6, 2012
  • I sure needed to read this blog!

    April 6, 2012
  • Mark Phifer-Houseman

    Janice,
    just saw this old post cleaning out my in box. with 4 kids I have to sit down and think about it for each of them! I realize that in their late teens and early twenties we need to keep forging these connections. While they are more independent and need their own spheres, Gayll and I are still the most significant wisdom figures in their lives.
    Peace,
    Mark

    February 16, 2013

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