Whether by way of blessing or curse, life is full of stress. Stress is an unavoidable force, lulling us into a frenzied-haze of delirium, caffeine-binges and expecting the worse, but hoping for the best. This summer, I was stressed-out. Life was good, but I couldn’t escape from feeling completely overwhelmed by my personal and professional responsibilities.
The worst part about being overwhelmed as a parent is looking at your packed day-planner, overflowing inbox, empty fridge, piled laundry and sink full of dishes while wondering how on earth you are going to get it all done and still find time to eat, shower and sleep.
Then, as you start to take a deep breath while making a mental plan of action, you feel a gentle tug at your shirttail. Looking down, your eyes meet with a longing look from your child’s, as they ask, “Mama, when are you going to play with me?”
When my children ask this question, it typically elicits my deer-in-the-headlights look. Then my mind screams, “Play! Who has time to play?” I tend to make excuses, “I can’t play right now. Mommy, has lots of dishes to do.” I then delineate the rest of my to-do list in a sweet voice as if to say, “Tempting, but not quite enough”.
What I am really trying to communicate to my children, when they ask for my attention and I am already stressed-out, is tantamount to the sentiment of the classic break-up line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But, is this the truth?
When we are honest, we might admit that spending time with our children isn’t always relaxing, refreshing or even enjoyable. It doesn’t always directly serve our needs and so our action of avoiding our children is based upon the assumption that children beget exhaustion, instead of alleviate it.
Consider with me, what if spending time with children met our needs instead of theirs? Imagine that your child was able to pour you a glass of wine and tell you to put your feet up while they gave you a massage and listed all your best qualities. Would you pass up that opportunity when you feel the tug on your shirttail? I wouldn’t!
Perhaps the future singularity will produce cleverly designed children that cater to adult’s needs and longings, but our current parenting reality is that our children do not exist to meet our emotional, intellectual or physical needs. Instead, we exist to meet theirs.
Perhaps your home is the same as mine. When my children see me lay down, they interpret that anomaly as an open invitation to stage an all out assault on my desperate need for rest, peace and refreshment. They seem to miss the exhaustion on my face and see my breaking from work as their chance to have my full attention.
Instead of catching my breath, how about a third round of go-fish which involves unabashed cheating. That doesn’t sound good? Then, perhaps immersing myself into a paradigm where I am, inevitably, starring in the same washed-out role of the villainous monster set upon attack and certain defeat by my gallant children.
When the days are long and patience is short, I politely want to find a way to say, “Thanks, but no thanks” or “It’s not you, it’s me.” I’d rather load this dishwasher in silence than have to have someone haphazardly step on my lap and scream into my ear a tone-deaf rendition of “Let It Go.”
What am I supposed to do when exhaustion overwhelms me and I have yet to spend quality time with my children that day? They don’t seem to buy the “It’s not you, it’s me” routine, so shall I just tell them the truth. “Actually, mommy is so tired and you are going to make it worse so please go occupy yourself for awhile.” Ouch!
Wait, is that really the truth? When we start believing that our children are the heart of the problem- that they cause our exhaustion, deplete our resources and stress us out- we are the ones being duped. The truth is, even if we don’t always feel the sentiment’s validity, that it is not them, it is us.
Our job is to meet our children’s needs and when we fail to offer ourselves, daily, to our children, we are missing an important part of parenting, nay, the most important part of parenting. While our work puts food on the table, clean clothes in their dresser and facilitates endless activities to enrich their minds, we often overlook our children’s need for us.
Us refers to our total attention, our eye contact and our love. Children are rarely satisfied by the half glance we give when they scream, “Dad/Mom look at me!” Our full attention includes our bending to their height, our eyes looking directly into theirs, our faces ready to respond and our arms open wide to offer our unconditional love and support.
For this article, I am going to offer support for my claims with anecdotal evidence, which I typically loathed and avoid. I shared with you that my summer was stressful and overwhelming. These feelings typically bring out my least favorite version of myself. You might know her- Frazzled Mommy? But, in the chaos and not showering for days on end would come precious moments when I let all the stress melt away. I resisted my urge to do and instead I just sat down to be with my kids. I told my children that I was going to offer them my full attention, sometimes even for just five minutes.
At dinnertime, our family takes turns sharing a high and low moment from the day. My children’s responses are usually thoughtless repetitions of nonsense, but every once and awhile they offer an insightful, genuine answer. Every day in which I took time to offer my full attention to my kids, even if briefly, they recounted that moment as the highlight of their day. Regardless of other exciting adventures and activities like trips to the zoo, museum, pool or friend’s home, my undivided attention was always the very best moment.
I offer you this anecdotal evidence because it, above results from any research study, is powerful enough to entice even me to cease doing when everything within me screams, “You have work to complete!”
It may be true that we believe that time with our children is enervating and monotonous, but the heart of the matter is that it is not them, it is us. Our children are exactly who they are suppose to be, egocentricity and all, and we are the ones who need the reality check. I can’t think of any evidence more convincing to support this claim than hearing from my child that time with me is as good as it gets.