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.