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The other day my son came home from school and I ignored him.
Or that’s what it might have looked like. But really, I was connecting on his terms.

Read more Expanded Views on Parenting.

It kills me a little bit. When my kids come home, I want to check in: “How was your day? I’m glad you’re home. Who’d you hang with at lunch today? How’d the test go?” I want a hug, maybe even a snuggle.

And they need to chill.

Thus the apparent ignoring. To be honest, I do welcome my kids home—and then I leave them to their own devices for a little while. And yes, it is often a device. They want to relax and be on their phone a little, so I give them that space.

It wasn’t always this way.

I used to bug them with questions, insist on being with them. They’d been gone all day. I was happy to see them. Weren’t they happy to see me? Wasn’t it my job to reconnect?

When they were little, they often did need to reconnect. We’d have a snack together. We’d snuggle and read a story or play Legos while they told me about their day—the parts that mattered to them. Who was mean to who or how they didn’t get the class job they wanted or that they wished they had had a cupcake for snack.

I don’t always get many details these days, but I’ve learned that if I push I get less. If I let my kids address their own needs first, it’s easier to connect. As they’ve grown their needs have changed, so we worked together to create a practice that works for both of us.

One day while they were buried in their phones, I was sitting next to them asking questions and getting long pauses, eye rolls and grunts – I walked away hurt and angry. A little bit later, they came looking for me mood changed, ready to engage.

I could have been sarcastic, “Oh, now you want to talk to me” or angry “I don’t feel like talking with you now” or shaming and punishing “You spend way too much time on that phone. I’m going to take it away.” But I didn’t. I took a deep breath so I could control myself from reacting based on my own hurt feelings, and I tapped into my kids needs – their need for space when they first get home. I thought about how when I walk in the door after a busy day, I don’t always want to answer questions. I want a chance to unwind and do my own thing even for a few minutes.

“So you guys need a little time to chill on your phones first thing when you get home, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“You know, when you get home, I’m happy to see you because you’ve been gone all day, and I want to talk with you and see how your day went. What if we have a little chill time when you first get home, and then I get to ask how you’re doing?”

“Sure, mom. Can we something to eat?”

And there we were – me warming up pretzels for them and them sharing something about their day—after they had their phone time. It’s what works for us. It might not work for you.

To find out what works for you, you need to know what you really need. In my case, it might have looked like I needed my kids to get off their phones, but what I really needed was to reconnect with them. It might have looked like they needed to text with friends they had been with all day, but really they needed to chill out for a little bit. Get curious about what you need in a given situation. Get curious about what your kids need.

Then ask yourself—and your kids—what would work. How can you connect while meeting your needs and theirs?

How about you? How do you deal with balancing your kids’ need for autonomy when you feel the need to connect?

Curious about how to create a closer connection with your kids? Or to be less reactive? Or to stop the power struggles? Schedule a FREE exploratory session with me here.

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