Enjoying the Moment With Our Kids: The Practical Piece
One morning, as I was dropping my kids off at school, I reached over to my son to give him a high-five. “Have a great day,” I said as he quickly tapped my hand.
Sometimes, when my kids give me a high-five, I try to catch their hand in mine. If I succeed, I win our silent game. However, if they manage to pull away – they win. On this morning, he tapped my hand goodbye, and before my brain even registered that it was there, his hand was gone. (It was early morning carpool – clearly my reflexes were not fully awake!)
I stopped to consider this moment and realized that it was a perfect metaphor for raising children. By the time we wake up and realize we want to enjoy our time with them, it’s too late – they are already grown and out of the house. Even before they leave home, it seems that all too quickly the the stage passes when their eyes light up and they race to the front door when Mom or Dad gets home. Before you have time to blink, they’re “too cool” for a hug.
Considering this, I recall the following quote I once read:
First I was dying to finish high school and start college.
And then I was dying to finish college and start working.
And then I was dying for my children to grow up enough to go to school, so I could return to work.
And then I was dying to retire.
And now I am dying…and suddenly I realize I forgot to live.[i]
We cannot stop the clock, or keep our children from getting older. With the chaos and busyness of each day, we lose sight of our children growing up before our eyes. The days are long, but the years are short.
We all know we should value our short-lived time with our children, but moving from “I should do that” to actually doing it is a different story.
How, then, can we take advantage of the time we do have with our children? We all know we should spend less time on the phone in front of them, and that we shouldn’t lose our cool too often. We also know that we should take time to appreciate our life with them…but how?
The following elements are the practical tools which have helped me to stay most present and enjoy those precious moments with my children: cutting back, mindfulness, and self-care.
- Cutting Back
I often found that even though I didn’t like it, I was racing through my children’s needs just to be able to focus on what else needed to get done. My external job was the bread and butter, and my children were – well, just another task that I needed to get through.
I looked at my daily list of items to accomplish and realized that I had too much on my plate. Most of us do. The problem that surfaces from this way of living is that not only do we end up viewing our children as another “burden,” but they also start to see themselves as a burden – creating an obstacle to their self-confidence.
My mother-in-law shared this incredible advice last year: “If you wish to instill confidence into children, then they have to feel that you love being around them.” In order to do that, I needed to revamp my schedule. I took an honest look at all that I was trying to accomplish, and I sliced it down to size. Cutting back to the bare necessities helped me refocus my day so that I wasn’t constantly running around and adding unnecessary stress on my family members.
If it is an impossibility to actually cut back, another option is to delegate the tasks that must get done to others.
As a kallah teacher, I often find myself in the position of giving advice to my students.
One of the best pieces of advice that I like to share for the day of the wedding is to stop, look around, and breathe it in. As the bride is walking down the aisle, right before she begins to approach the chuppah, she should take it all in. The event will fly by, and all she’ll be left with are the memories from an album.
The same applies with childrearing. I nursed all of my children for at least one year, and although it was a total of thousands of nursing sessions, all I can remember from nursing my firstborn was meeting up with a friend at a restaurant and needing to excuse myself to nurse in the bathroom. It was hot; I wasn’t comfortable nursing publicly, and it felt torturous. That’s it – I have not other single specific memory of nursing him. I promised myself that I would follow my own advice with my future children to breathe in the precious moments and try to remember at least one serene nursing session.
This can be extended beyond just nursing. Try to remember small moments that seem insignificant, and practice mindfulness regularly.
I started telling my kids, “Do you know what? I love doing this with you right now.”
One evening, I was reading to my daughter and son in bed. My daughter snuggled up to my right, my son on the left, and as I was cuddling with my kids I was telling them how much I loved being there with them. In that moment of peace, my heart was bursting with inner joy, and I shared that with them.
Make sure to tell them regularly, “Having kids is the best thing in the world!” That helps them know that they are not a burden, but an asset to your life. This creates confidence within them.
A friend of mine has a child with special needs. She is constantly racing from various doctors’ appointments and therapies to special extracurricular activities for this very active child. In her words, “He sucks the life out of me, to the point that I don’t even enjoy my other, less needy kids.” She mentioned that the hardest part of her day is when all three kids get home from school. Suddenly, she faces the challenge of most mothers – several kids who simultaneously all have homework and bedtime needs. The only difference for her is that to top it off, she also has a child who requires so much more focus. It takes gargantuan strength just to help him buckle down and focus.
After months of continuous, daily hard work, she began to feel burnt out. She told me, “The other night, I had an epiphany. It was a typical evening of bathing, homework, and the bedtime rush. I realized right then and there that every night was going to be like this, every single one. For the long haul. It’s not going to get any easier any time soon. I said to myself, ‘wow I’d better pace myself here, because I’m not gonna get through parenthood sane unless I change something.’ I realized that I have to give more to myself throughout the day so I can in turn give wholeheartedly to my children once they are home.”
The same idea applies for parents of kids who don’t have special needs. Every child needs a parent who is present. Whether you are working all day or you stay at home, everyone needs time for him or herself.
My aunt wisely told me when I became a new mother, “Take time off one day a week for yourself.” At the time, I thought it was a complete impossibility, but the truth is, taking time every week for yourself is a necessity, as it can help refresh your parenting mental state.
If we do not care for ourselves, stress increases. Stress causes inflammation in the body, which causes white blood cells to rush towards that inflammation. In essence, the body interprets stress as an infection. The problem becomes worse when white blood cells leave their regular “station” to aid in that inflammation, and it leaves us vulnerable to infection. Hence, the cycle becomes vicious.[ii]
One evening after I had finished putting the kids to bed, the house was clean and everything felt serene (for once). I was enjoying those few moments of quiet, and in walked my husband. He was happy to be home after a long day, but had a mile-long list of work-related tasks he still needed to accomplish. Immediately, my energy changed – I could feel fight-or-flight symptoms gathering strength in my body as my adrenalin surged. That is when I realized that our personal stresses do not just affect us, but also the people around us. How often had I passed this feeling off on my kids?
Even if we are not outwardly expressing our hectic lives in an unhealthy way towards our family, they can still pick up on our energy, and it changes theirs. We owe it to them to be aware of this. Not just so we can enjoy parenthood more, but also so that they can reap the benefits of a stress-free morning before facing their own challenges at school.
Walk away when things get tense. Go to the bathroom, and stay there for a minute to breathe.
If leaving your children physically is not a possibility because of their age and/or safety, even closing your eyes where you are for a few moments and deep breathing can help tremendously.
If I give myself a few minutes before the children get home to organize my thoughts and relax, the entire evening runs more smoothly. The way I see it, the only way we will enjoy our children is if we give enough to ourselves so that we aren’t resentful of our role as parents. For each person, that looks different.
I spoke to my friend again a few months later and asked her where her revelation had taken her since we had last discussed it. With a look of acceptance and serenity on her face, she said, “I’ve been taking care of myself, and delegating some menial tasks to others. I noticed that once I started consciously taking better care of myself, I was actually appreciating the time I had with my kids. It just started happening naturally, and I feel better because of it.”
Enjoying our children is a natural outgrowth of positive self-care. When it comes to attending to the epic task of childrearing, we want to put our best foot forward. Cutting back on our to-do lists, purposeful mindfulness around our children, and a concerted effort toward self-care can help us do just that.
With these things in place, when our children give us a high-five, we’ll be quick enough to catch their hands in ours, and hold them briefly before that moment fades into a distant memory.
[i] Anonymous quote published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, 4th Edition
[ii] Taken from The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan; pages 177-180.