As soon as our kids begin to talk, we hear a lot of “I want”. They want a certain toy or some kind of electronic, or they want to go somewhere, or they want something special to eat or drink. We hear it all the time and often it can be draining. On birthdays and at Christmas, we get a whole list of wants.
What is it though that our kids really want from us? Is it that special gadget or toy? Is it that big chocolate bar? In the moment, they may think that’s what they want. They’re no different than the rest of us. Many of us believe the bigger house or the luxury car or the big boat is going to give us the happiness we’re looking for.
What kids really want from us are the non-tangibles. They want to know we’re there for them to listen, to understand, to comfort and console. They want us to listen with our ears, our eyes and our heart. Children feel loved when they know they’re heard. They want to know when they talk to us, we’re interested in what they’re saying and will not always jump in to offer advice. Sometimes, advice may be what they’re seeking but often it’s just validation and understanding. Many times, the best thing we can say is: “I understand how you feel” or “That was probably confusing for you” or “I remember feeling that way when I was your age” or “Tell me more.”
Our kids want us to accept them for who they are with their unique strengths and abilities, temperament and personality. They want to know our love for them is not conditional on having good grades, or being the best player on the team, or being as outgoing as some of their friends. If you have a child who would much rather read a book than play on the soccer team, she wants to be accepted for who she is. Or you may have a child who is the exact opposite. She too wants to be loved and accepted for who she is. It is not our job to mold our kids into something they’re not.
Our kids want to be able to live their dreams, not ours, and they want us to support those dreams. When we try and steer them in a direction that is not aligned with who they are, they don’t feel loved and accepted. What they want to say to us is: “Let me be me!” We have to let go of expectations they will go in a certain direction or take up hobbies that support our interests. When we insist they pursue something that is our own goal, rather than theirs, we deny them of the opportunity to shine their own light.
Our kids also want our time. The truth is, no amount of “stuff” can replace time spent doing things together, talking together, and just being together. When we spend time with them, the message we send is: “Being with you is important to me”. When days are filled with busyness, rushing from appointment to appointment or lesson to lesson, there is no breathing space left. There is no time to just enjoy the presence of each other.
We often talk about spending “quality time” with our kids. What is quality time? I remember coaching a mom once many years ago who was so relieved when I told her that just cuddling on the coach with her 5 year old watching cartoons with him is perfect. It can be anything that conveys the message: “I’m here for you and I love being with you.”
No amount of money, electronics, or trips can replace a hostile, chaotic home life. Our kids want to know that home is always a safe and loving place to be. They don’t feel safe living in a home where yelling and fighting is the norm. They look for ways to escape the chaos and will often go into survival mode. They want us to provide them with a home environment where they feel loved, safe and secure.
If you ever find yourself feeling badly that you can’t provide all the things your kids are asking for, take time to contemplate what it is they really want. We want them to be able to reflect back on their childhood with the knowledge that we were available when they needed us, we accepted them for the person they were, we listened with our heart as well as our ears , we provided a safe and peaceful home environment, we spent time with them and we allowed them to follow their own dreams.