My family and I were recently enjoying some old videos from our early days, back when our children were toddling around and their parents were still figuring out what on earth they were doing. (Update: They’re still trying to figure that out.)
What struck me as we watched was how much I missed of the moments that were caught on-screen—my daughter’s face as she was surprised by something, my son’s attempts to get our attention about something else, their expressions, and what they were focused on.
I was there and so was my husband. We were all joyfully together. And yet, there were elements of those simple moments in time that I had missed as I was tidying up, or helping someone with something, or doing other parent-ish things, and that the camera picked up. It made me think about how many moments I might have missed along the way.
From the time we become parents, we begin to receive this piece of advice in various ways: Enjoy their childhood while you can, even though the day-to-day can be challenging, for it goes by so fast.
“The days are long but the years are short,” as they say.
While not the easiest thing to hear sometimes, especially when your infant is up crying all night or your teenager is speaking to you in a way you that makes you question your ability to parent at all—the truth of the sentiment becomes clearer as you advance through your parenthood journey.
While it’s impossible to notice everything, it’s also increasingly possible to miss far too much, as our attention falls prey to distractions and hustle culture. What we don’t want is to look back with regret for having worked too much or, worse, having being distracted by our phones, and thus missing opportunities to truly be there for our children in all the ways they need us.
A goal I think no parent would regret is to improve the quality of attention you give your children. Here are some ideas about how to do that.
Make Time for Yourself
Perhaps a counterintuitive first step, but one way to not be thoroughly distracted when interacting with your children is to allow yourself time to tackle the things that distract you. Waking up before anyone else in your home is a great way to do just that.
Whether you want time to read, quietly enjoy a cup of coffee, take a long shower, or get work done, schedule time for yourself to free your mind later.
Step Away from Your Phone
These addictive devices are hard for most people to ignore. Think of the message you’re sending to your kids when, in their presence, you’re giving all of your attention to a tiny, glowing rectangle. If you were a fly on the wall watching the scene unfold, you’d feel sorry.
Make a rule to ignore your phone in your children’s presence. Plug it in far away from arm’s reach and know that you’ll check it when they go to bed or some other time. You don’t want this, of all things, to get in the way of being the best parent you can be.
Make time to move your body for increased energy and reduced stress. A great way to get this done is to play an active game with your children. They will love it!
Meditation, over time, can help you to calm your mind and slow down, providing much more room for you to be present in any given moment. Give it a try.
Perhaps you’re overcommitted in areas of your life that are a lower priority than your family is. Perhaps you have too much stuff in your home that is taking time to maintain. Perhaps you’re overcome with negative emotions or stress about one thing or another.
In either case, it will take work, but simplifying your life makes room for the essential.
When’s the last time you looked upon your children with curiosity? These little individuals, with their unique character traits, temperaments, and personalities have as much to teach you as you have to teach them.
Don’t lose sight of what a miraculous thing this journey is and these people are. Look upon them with wide-eyed wonder, appreciate them for who they are, and you’ll find it difficult to miss the precious moments of their childhood.