How to let your child know they are the centre of your universe in one hug.
Despite what the Hallmark cards suggest no child actually permanently occupies the centre of their parent’s universe 24/7. It’s just not possible.
We love our children to bits, they are undoubtedly at the centre of our hearts and our minds and a perpetual priority but, babies aside, no parent can devote their every waking moment to a single child. All parents have competing demands on their time, their energy and their focus. There are jobs parents need to do - paid and unpaid - to provide for their children.
There are relationships to maintain, physical and mental health to take care of, responsibilities to relatives, the never-ending debacle of washing, not to mention the demands of multiple kids. No one child can ever really be the permanent centre of a parent’s universe, because, as a parent, keeping a child’s world ticking means we have to keep ourselves ticking.
So let’s be clear: the idea that any parent can make a child the centre of their universe around the clock until the end of time is unrealistic, and not actually what our kids need. But there is a hitch. And it’s this. For our younger kids we really are the centre of their universe. The sun, the moon and the stars all rise and set with us.
This is why when our kids start to feel that all is not right in their world they seek us out - their safe base - in order to feel right again. We make their world feel right.
The challenge for parents, however, is that all can feel less than perfect in a younger child’s world A LOT. Like all day from sun-up to sundown. Attempting to make things right and meet their need to feel at the centre of our world, at the level and frequency they seem to need it, can feel like an impossible task.
One of the things I work with parents on is spotting their child’s ‘cues’ for connection. (And here’s a hot tip: a cue for connection can look very much like a child ‘seeking attention’ by acting out, pushing boundaries, driving you wild).
Once we can spot that as a cue for connection, and see it as our child coming to us to have their emotional cup filled, we can attempt to fill that cup up. We mostly fill our children’s emotional cups with connection. This is the physical display of love and delight. Noticing them, playing with them, hugging them or fist pumping them.
But there will be days when their cup is so empty a fist pump just isn’t going to cut the mustard.
When was the last time you stopped everything and hugged your child as if there was nothing else in the world you needed to do? No 'to do’ list. No washing to hang. No other kids to attend to. A hug as if you were never ever going to let them go?
What I've worked out is that, most of the time, as parents we are the ones who 'end' hugs. This makes sense because we often hug at daycare drop off or bedtime and these are all transition moments where we are trying to get from A-B. We bend down. We give a cuddle and then we scoot out. Which is all good and well if your child’s cup is filled.
But when a child is having a really bad day, and seeking connection in ways that are frustrating and undesirable, I have found that going in for a hug with no intention of letting go can be the most powerful, efficient, turbo-charged, way to 'fill their emotional cup'.
It's not about ignoring or abandoning boundaries, it’s just that sometimes the underlying need can be met in a minute with an all-in, fully committed, ‘i’m not-going-anywhere’ hug.
I often need to remind myself of this. That my boys sometimes need to feel so important to us that I don't feel any need to rush a hug .... sometimes they do need to feel like the centre of our universe: because that's how they view us.
And when I do, what I can tell you is that each of my four boys will mostly hang in this hug for an almost uncomfortable amount of time. I find it uncomfortable because I am not sure as busy adults we really ever hug for that long, and also – my ‘to do list’.
The discomfort in me tells me how often I’m ending hugs because of my ‘to do’ list. Because it’s drop off time or bedtime and there are a million things I need to do. But the discomfort of hanging in there always pays off because, let me tell you, the look on their beautiful face when they finally wriggle out is softer. Their body looks lighter: as if somehow a weight they had been carrying has been lifted.
I can’t help but wonder if the weight they sometimes carry, on those days where nothing is right, is the same weight so many of us carry - even as adults - wondering if we’re enough.
Imagine how content, how worthy, how enough we all might feel if in those moments of doubt we were hugged for long enough to feel like we were the centre of someone’s universe?
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