One day as I sat attempting to regroup from the day's activities, my daughter wanted to talk. Exhausted from a long day's work and in need of some serious breathing space, I requested an extended moment of silence.
She would have none of it, telling me in no uncertain terms that she wanted to spend time with me. My attempts to explain how I was tired from all I had done that day to make life work for us all -- handle my business' needs, pay bills, schedule doctor's appointments, housekeeping, and assisting with their educational needs to mention a few, were met with an invisible wall of indifferent understanding. Oh sure, she got the point of what I was saying, but she remained unmoved.
"You don't get it!" she said. "You just don't get it."
I looked at her quizzically, straining to get what I wasn't getting. She went on to explain that she has watched me run around getting this done and making that happen for the family and while she appreciates it all, nothing is a substitute for spending quality time with her and her siblings. She said pointedly:
"It's like a husband who pays all the bills and buys his wife everything, but never spends time with her!"
Boy, did that hit home! Yet the dog-tired part of me was mildly outraged. "Quality time?" I wondered in amazement. "Where am I supposed to find that gift when I barely have time for myself, my business, attending to the various needs of four children, my grown up dreams, short and long term goals, friends, and now, here she stands before me at 20 years old, still demanding time?"
The other part of me understood completely: "Of course she wants your time. Parenting is like any successful relationship, it takes time, energy and most of all presence!"
I realized that I am often in the same room with my children, but I am not as often fully present to our interactions. I will talk to them and at the same time be busy multitasking, working on the computer, talking on the phone or just thinking about what's next on my agenda. My daughter was pointing out that in my distracted state, I am unable to fully tune in and connect with her.
The irony of it all is that, contrary to many articles I read about raising children in an era of the iPhone, xbox and unlimited texting, I don't have children that spend all day playing video games, texting and yapping on the phone. They have a great sense of balance, where they enjoy each other and their friends as well as their gadgets.
The commercialization of religious holidays and special days we set aside to honor our mothers and fathers, have informed us on how and when to express our love. The same is true with goals for our children. To work to get your children accepted to the right schools, the best camps, sports teams, and organizations; to give them access to latest entertainment, computer or smartphone, in order to better learn and play, have all somehow been translated into forms of conveying love, care and proper parental responsibilities.
Admittedly I have embraced some of these values. I have also worked to balance my interactions with, and on behalf of my children, knowing that the demonstration of love has intangibles that cannot be monetized and sold through an advertising campaign. I have worked to ensure they have an understanding of spirituality, a love of themselves and to cultivate within them the qualities of compassion, integrity, and good will. Still, I had somehow gotten caught up in the spiral of focusing on the "important" things at the expense of what was most valuable. I was out of balance.
My greatest gift to my children this holiday season will be to practice being fully present when I am with them. I have made a commitment to increase the quality of my time spent "hanging out" with these amazing people, whom I love dearly. I will wrap myself in a bow and regularly give them my undivided attention, to see into the heart of them, to listen intently to their goals and dreams, to carefully consider their thoughtful sentiments and passionate opinions, and most of all to revel in their infectious joy and humor.
When all is said and done, it will be the time we spent together laughing, talking and sharing ourselves that is remembered far longer than what gift I bought or bill I paid. Happy holidays!
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