When I was pregnant with my first child, one of my close friends came to see me. Her son was 18 months at the time, and she explained how full her head felt. We were discussing baby brain, and she told me about how she felt it didn’t really shift. This was due to the sheer amount of stuff that she needed to do every day in caring for him, doing her job, and everything else that seems to come with a home and a husband. She explained that there was a constant mental tug of war; she really wanted to spend quality time with her son, but her brain always had other ideas. I’ll admit I didn’t really get it at the time. I thought, really, how hard can it be to connect with your children?
Fast forward six months and I started to understand. I have always been able to apply myself and focus on the task at hand. However, motherhood is a totally different ball game. On one level there is so much to think about and consider. This is coupled with a long list of things to do every day that doesn’t involve the fun activities like playing with our children. On a different level the love we feel for our children, and our need to do the best we can for them brings another layer of mental load.
In her article ‘The Guilty Secret of Distracted Parenting’, Perri Class writes: ‘Our children need attention and interaction, conversation and story-telling, reading aloud, discussions of what they see and do, silly games and family jokes, and all the other back and forth that goes with family life’.
For me this is the absolute best bit of parenting, but it can often get hijacked.
When I’m feeling overloaded, I’ll admit I’m not 100% present in a game of superheroes. My mind wanders to the washing mountain downstairs, what I need to cook for dinner, an email that is about two months late, a dental check-up for the kids, something my husband needs, the wasp that is STILL stuck in our bedroom, some orders that need processing, a suspicious brown mark on the floor….
….and before I know it my mind has completely wandered off… and Iron Man and Bat Girl know it. They are now four and two, and they know when my brain has gone on a hike elsewhere.
I decided to try and do at least one activity every day (or more if I am not at work) where I make sure I am completely present. I hide my phone and forget about work and the washing mountain. I make sure I am 100% there with them. The activities aren’t always long, they don’t need much if any preparation and I am noticing a difference. I wanted to share some of them with you below.
10 Easy Ways to Connect With Your Children
- Read a bedtime story
Bedtime isn’t always the calmest time in our household, but we read two stories every night. Reading aloud to our children is really important so it is something I made part of our routine really early on. However, I found it the hardest time to 100% focus. I’m tired, they’re tired, and my mind is racing ahead to the work I need to do once they are in bed. I reminded myself that reading stories before bed takes 20 minutes, and if I’m focussed on the story and the children it is so much more enjoyable for us all.
- Build a den
Still the best fun ever, even as an adult. Using furniture and blankets or whatever you have to hand, (safely!) build your den. There are some amazing ideas here.
- Get messy!
Messy play is brilliant for kids but I’ll admit in the past there have been times where it has been hampered by me trying to limit mess. I have created some areas at home where we can go wild and easily clean up (in the kitchen, garden and bathroom). Here are a few great ideas.
- Create a family ritual
Family rituals are important, and they can be anything special to your family. For example, making pancakes on a Sunday, special code words or fun games. We go for lunch together every Saturday.
- Get outside
We live in the UK, and the weather isn’t always great. However even when it is raining, even a small amount of time spend outside makes a big difference. Fun outside doesn’t mean a big excursion, it can just be time in your local park or garden.
- Make a map
My four-year-old is always curious about where I am going when I work outside of the house. I have started drawing little maps or showing him on a bigger map. We also have a map of the world that we have personalised, and we mark on where family and friends are flying if they go away.
- Superhero chore team
Sometimes chores just have to be done, and it is good to involve our children. We have found a fun way to get them done together. Everyone takes a superhero cape and takes a different job. Dusting is far more fun in a Batman cape, believe me!
- Toy hospital or mechanics station
One of our favourite imaginary play games is creating a hospital or mechanics station for injured toys. Both children love caring for their toys and giving me specific jobs to do such as bandaging teddy or fixing a wheel.
- Get creative!
I have made different spaces around the house for messy, creative play. These include a big chalkboard in the kitchen, painting and drawing space that can be tidied away for eating and a mud kitchen outside.
- Cook or create something fun to eat
I have great memories of helping my mum make cakes, but I think the success of more complicated recipes depends on the age of your children. Keeping things simple works best for us, and we love this DIY pizza idea.
We have more games ideas over in the Lil’ollo freebies club, come over and join us!
Alex is a designer, writer, entrepreneur, problem solver and mother to two multilingual children. She is passionate about using design to improve people’s lives and has worked on projects around the world. Alex is a champion for languages and creative arts in early education and the creator of Lil’ollo.