Editor's Note: In an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, guest blogs once a month with advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can "savor the moment" and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart on Goodyblog and on Parents Perspective.
January is an optimistic time of year. Although it's dark and cold outside, the dawn of each New Year brings with it the promise of doing things differently and better than we have in the past. Of course, reality sets in shortly after the New Year and some of our most resolute vows fall by the wayside. I'd like to suggest just one resolution this New Year—but you have to promise me that you'll keep it as if your entire parenting experience depends on it. It does.
This year, resolve that when you're with your kids, you'll really be with them. Here's what I mean. Besides the often overwhelming choreography and daily mini-crises with our kids, our non-parenting to-do lists are also on our minds all the time–work worries, the dishes in the sink, the lawn that needs mowing, taxes waiting to be filed, bills to be paid, grocery shopping, home repairs. We have responsibilities to our spouses and friends, commitments we've made for community and volunteer activities or for helping out at the kids' school. Some of us are also juggling responsibilities to our own parents or other family members. As a result, even though we spend hours each day with our kids, our minds are often elsewhere. It's no wonder that each January 1, we can't believe that another year of our kids' childhoods has streaked by.
By resolving to be truly with your kids whenever you're with them, you'll slow things down a little, and enjoy parenting a whole lot more. Here are 3 tips:
- Meditate on your kids. Think back to the magical time in the delivery room after they've handed your newborn baby to you for the first time. You held her close, counted her fingers and toes, brushed the wispy hair from the soft spot on her head, debated who she looked like. You were so into your baby! When's the last time you noticed your child as deeply and meaningfully as you did in the delivery room? This New Year, "meditate" on your child three times each day, for 2 minutes each time, just the way you did in the delivery room. Pick three random moments each day when you're with your child to focus on whatever she is doing–playing, eating, throwing a tantrum–and feel wonder in the miracle you created! This is your baby, now growing up a little each day. By committing a total of only 6 minutes a day to this meditation practice, you will feel more with your child than you have in a long time, perhaps since the delivery room.
- Listen lovingly. Our kids are always talking to us. Jabbering, chattering, babbling, and blathering. About anything and everything. It's easy to tune out – to be there physically, even looking at your child while he's talking to you–but not hear a word he's saying. Your mind is on the...yes, the dishes in the sink, the lawn that needs mowing, the taxes waiting to be filed, bills to be paid, etc. etc. Kids often say wonderfully pithy and insightful things. Even more often, though, our kids are much less profound. Their speeches to us may seem like random streams of thought. But they're talking to us because they want our attention and they want our feedback. Even though what they're saying may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of our day, that's because we're hearing it through our adult ears. To our kids, what they're telling us is front page news. When your kids are talking to you during this New Year, listen lovingly. It may take just a little more energy to lock in on your kids' words, but it will be worth it. You'll know, and they'll know, that you are with them whenever they're talking to you. Believe me, as your kids become adolescents, you'll long for the days when they were little chatterboxes and blabbermouths.
- Channel your kids. Forgive me if this suggestion sounds maudlin, but it's really worked for me. My dad died before our kids were born. As our kids were growing up, I realized more and more how much my dad was missing by not knowing them. So when our kids were little, and still today with our grown up kids at milestone moments, I have tried to "channel" their images to my dad, hoping I can somehow share my kids with him. I hope he's getting my "messages," but even if he's not, by focusing on my kids' big moments in such a deep way as to channel them to my dad, I find myself more conscious and aware of my kids. I'm more WITH my kids when I'm mentally "showing" them off. At meaningful times in your kids' lives, try "channeling" images of them to a loved one who's not with you. As you're doing it, you'll see your kids more clearly than if you were just watching for yourself.
May 2015 bring you and your family health and happiness!
The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years
Dr. Harley A. Rotbart is Professor and Vice Chairman Emeritus of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Children's Hospital Colorado. He is the author of four books for parents and families, including No Regrets Parenting and 940 Saturdays. He is also a Parents advisor and a contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Visit his blog at noregretsparenting.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter (@NoRegretsParent).
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