I read something from Dr. James Dobson a while back, it hit me hard. Can't find the exact book to quote it from. Basically, he talked about giving our kids certain freedoms. The one he was focused on was the freedom of interruption. Honestly, don't remember more than the basic idea, but it was enough. He said one sure way to let someone know they are loved, is by your willingness to stop whatever you are doing and give them your attention. I was never like that before. Revelation. We multitask so much these days. We can watch tv, email, text, eat and sometimes even drive at the same time. (Don't) I guess our natural inclination is to just throw the kids in there with everything else, just another task. Wow.
So, since getting hit with that, I started trying it. Whenever my wife or kids approach me with a question or comment or whatever, I stop and turn to them. Most of the time. Still slip, but it's becoming habit. The change has been pretty dramatic. My wife talks to me more, and I enjoy listening to her talk. Big change from someone who could hardly look at me for almost three years. My kids seem to be more of a part of my life. They didn't change, I did. Over time, it will become a natural response, but it still seems like a challenge. Old habits die hard. Most of me still tries to add them to the multitasking. So there's one, the freedom to interrupt.
Another one is the freedom to question. My kids still struggle with this because I trained them against it. For a long time, I reacted instead of responding to questions. Didn't even hear the question. Tried that psychic mind reading technique where I figure out what they "really" want. Living defensively makes it hard to have good relationships. I tell my kids that they have the absolute right to ask questions if they don't understand something. I gave them the freedom to challenge me if I make a decision or demand that they don't understand. (Note here. If I tell them to clean their room, they don't get to challenge that. They know why.) I don't want little drones that can't think for themselves or think like lemmings. I want my kids to be able to figure out things and have the life they want, not one they were told to have. They need that freedom. It's not easy watching them make those decisions some times, but it better than watching the life drain out of them in a life they hate. Don't freak out when your kids ask questions or have different opinions. Let them ask, have a conversation, hear what they think. It's a different world. I will let you know when I am good at this one.
Freedom from doubt. Tricky one. My kids were spanked. Not violently, used a plastic spatula or wooden spoon. Tell them what they did, tell them what is going to happen, quick pop on the butt, cool down, talk about it, hug, over. There were really just two things that required a smack on the butt. Hurting someone on purpose and lying. We told them that it is very important we are able to trust you. We have to be able to take your word over everyone else. We still do. It's really hard sometimes, especially when you know that they are human and still try to get away with stuff. Harder when you know their friends are taking advantage of honest kids. I trust my kids. They know I trust them. Yes, there are still times when stuff goes wrong. But, overall, I think it has been a good policy.
One of my kids had an abusive teacher. She yelled and threatened the kids. She threw things at kids. She called them stupid. She singled her out and embarrassed my girl in class. My daughter said it had been going on all year and she hated it. One day in class, she had enough, got up and walked out. This teacher yelled at her to sit down, but she kept going and got the principal. Somehow, our daughter ended up in a situation where we had to get involved and challenge her or accept what she claimed. We took her word and told the principal she didn't lie and we stood behind her. The principal sorted it out, talked to other kids, verified the stories and fired the teacher. We took the word of a seven year old over an adult. We still trust our kids like that. Takes time and mistakes are made, but it's worth it.
That's the main three I am working on. Freedom, right, whatever you want to call it. Things they are able to do without "dad the ogre" attacking them. The right to interrupt me, the right to question me and the right to be trusted. They will test all of them. They will interrupt you to the point of madness to see if you really do it. They will ask insane questions and challenge everything for a while to see if you are serious. They will attempt to get away with things and frustrate you intentionally to find out if they really matter. Stick it out. It's all part of loving them.