Loving in the moments
The reality of the pandemic has you at home again playing the part of educator. You are navigating your seven to eight year old through the mystery of multiplication. Frustration ensues and you find yourself in the thick of the “I can’t do this!”, “Yes, you can!” battle.
Take heart. You are smack in the middle of quality time. What?
Tolstoy says that “There is no past and no future; no one has ever entered those two imaginary kingdoms. There is only the present.” In this present moment with your child, she has your undivided attention. No phone. No Netflix. No Zoom calls competing with her for all of you. Even in the midst of the tenseness, she senses you (in her own child-like way) as being fully aware and available to her.
This is quality time. You don’t have to go looking for it. It’s right in front of you.
What Quality Time Does Not Have to Be
When we take a long view of our week, we may be shocked to realize that between daycare or school, work, and each family member’s activities, we interact with our kids for an extremely limited time each day. If we’ve had a busier than normal week or even with the activity and constraints of everyday life, we may feel that we need to schedule quality time with our kids. A special outing to the zoo. A “dad and me” afternoon at the nearest trampoline park.
Between a child’s birth and them going off to college, we will spend roughly 940 weekends with them. As our kids get older, some of that weekend time is bound to be spent away from home in the company of friends or involvement in other activities. We may feel this sense of urgency to redeem the time. And in a big way.
Yet, set apart time with our kids is often planned to ease our parental guilt about what we view as a lack of time spent with them. When we check this activity off of our to-do list we allow ourselves a psychological sigh of relief. But, let’s not fall into this trap. Playing this game is like feeding a ravenous monster with an insatiable appetite. There will never be enough.
Re-Imagining Quality Time
The key is to be intentional and to make magic out of the mundane.
We all have to eat dinner, right? Why not turn it into something memorable?
Dr. Hayley A. Robart, author of No Regrets Parenting: Turning Long Days and Short Years Into Cherished Moments With Your Kids, suggests that we establish Taco Tuesdays or Spaghetti Saturdays.
We choose a night of the week and give it a theme. Even though it can be a challenge, we invite our kids into the kitchen and turn them into budding chefs.
As kids toss the salad or stir the salsa, they just might open up about what happened during the week in online school or about the new friend they’ve recently met. Tuesday/Saturday nights become something that they can look forward to all week. You get to hear their stories and perhaps even a few of their worries in the uneventful moments of making a meal. The extra added benefit? They will be learning the life skill of cooking that will serve them far into the future.
What about all of those “lost” moments in the car? Ryan Holiday, best-selling author of Conspiracy and Ego is the Enemy, encourages us to see our time chauffeuring our children not as an obligation, but rather as a gift. What we have wanted, uninterrupted together time with them, happens on the way to swim practice. We are all stuck in this confined space for this specified time. Holiday especially relishes the moments when the kids are in the car with their friends. As the adult you recede into the background and tune in to what is really going on in your child’s life.
What do your children like to do for fun? If you don’t know, find out what that is. If you do know, join them in their favorite activities. You don’t have to create or plan anything for you to do together, just follow their lead.
The next time they are playing Fortnite, slide next to them and ask them to explain it to you. Read the same book they are reading for school or for pleasure and have your own private book club. Make believe you are a talking grandfather clock and your child a talking candlestick as you reenact scenes from Beauty and the Beast. As you engage with them, be fully there.
Intentional Today, Forging a Strong Foundation for the Future
How many of us parent our kids the way we were parented? Perhaps not in every way, but at least somewhat. When we love in the “minor” moments of our children’s lives deeply and consistently, we are showing them how they, too, can best show up in their own children’s lives. We will create a through line of presence in their lives. They will see this way of being together as the norm and want to do the same for their children.
So. No more stressing about spending quality time with our kids. Counselors, therapists and educators, you can help to remind your clients of all of the everyday ways they can engage with their children to build a solid relationship. Instead we might ask ourselves a few questions. What do we want to create with our children? How do we want them to know us in our relationship?
And most of all, how can we live out the answers to these questions in the “in-between moments” of our lives?