For a while now, I have been feeling disconnected from my seven-year-old. I’m not very good at pretend play and we tend to butt heads on how to play different games. I’m tired a lot after work and have a small window of time in the evenings to make a connection and really develop it.
Among other things, I felt like the weight of a lacking connection was taking a toll on me. I was constantly worried about “losing touch” with her. One of my biggest fears is her growing up — meaning that we grow apart — but I want our connection to continue organically, that it come from mutual enjoyment and it isn’t one-sided (e.g., only doing things with her that I enjoy or vice versa). I was starting to think I needed to just bite the bullet and become better invested in pretend play or made-up games that I don’t understand.
On a particularly down-feeling night, I went to my safe haven: my bathtub.
It’s warm, it’s quiet-ish, I can read a book, and there’s a door. My daughter waltzed in shortly after I got in and asked if she could come in with me. As this is my sacred time, I usually don’t share my bath with her. My immediate reaction was the usual no. And then, as she shrugged and walked away, I had a sudden change of heart and yelled for her to come back. She didn’t even want to be in the bath water; she was just asking to sit in the bathroom with me. She said, “Can we just chit-chat?” Well, my heart. YES, of course, we can. I laid my book down so fast and thought: I almost shut down this opportunity.
As we sat and talked for a bit, she started coming up with one of her master plans, the ones that I nitpick down to make sure it’s not too taxing on me or doesn’t require too much clean-up. She asked to play dress-up with my clothes, so I told her she could go in and pick out a single outfit with shoes to put on. She came out with the biggest grin on her face in a dress swallowing her whole and heels many sizes too big.
A full girls’ night plan continued forming making me a bit antsy. She asked to lay out my clothes for when I got out of the bath and I hesitated. What if I wanted something comfier? What if I didn’t like it? But I paused and said, “Yes, pajamas only,” but she could pick them out. She laid out pajamas for us both — my favorite fuzzy pants — and the closest pair of hers that she could find to match, with our matching t-shirts from my work and our slippers. She didn’t stop there and dove full-in for all my favorite things: she got some of our Mickey ears to wear with our pajamas outfits because she knows how much we both love going to Disney together. She pulled the outfit together with a necklace she got me and one that I got her, and she was happy.
Next, she asked to do face masks in our comfy outfits and again, I hesitated. Why do I keep doing that!? But I dug out some sheet masks that were a little too chilly for my taste and plopped down on the bed. While I got the masks out and ready for us, she queued up Disney+ and turned on my favorite princess movie, Beauty and the Beast. We curled up together with our masks and ears. We watched a movie while we cuddled and then fell asleep in Mommy’s bed. We were both happy and together, connecting in a way that works for both of us.
The whole plan was hers. Each thing we did only required my thoughtful attention and agreement — she wanted to handle the rest. A little more yes and a little less no.
If I had just listened, how much sooner could I have eased my weary mind? How many times had I said “no” to sharing my sacred bathtub time in order to avoid not having control of the situation? If I had just taken a step back and listened, heard what she was really trying to ask me like I did that night, maybe I could have closed the gap of distance a little quicker. Maybe “Can I come in with you?” is just the only way that she can communicate, “I miss you” or “I want to hang out with you.” Maybe picking out my clothes is something she knows I need to do, so why can’t she do it for me so that she can be near me?
If I had just listened, I might have heard her reaching out for connection too, and then we could work together to find it. A new context to the popular phrase, “Quick to listen, slow to speak” pushes me to be more thoughtful with my responses instead of a quick no when it doesn’t immediately align with what I think is best. I developed new questions to ask myself in order to find a new normal for connection as she grows: If I don’t say no to this, what will happen? If I say yes, what are the ramifications and what can I do to make them manageable? Maybe I will say no, but first I will listen. What is she trying to say? Am I willing to cut through the noise in my world and hear what is important?