Being present with your children

There are valid reasons we can't be present with our children

Parents believe that their children and family time are the most valuable facets of their life, gifting them true joy and happiness.

Yet in western culture, we are driven away from the bliss of spending time with our children in several aspects:

Physical

  1. The ridiculous amount of time we spend working and are away from our children physically, emotionally, cognitively.
  2. It’s not just about time spent working that takes us away from our children and family life. Time and money spent on commuting and even getting dressed for work incrementally weigh on us. In Your Money or Your Life,  authors argue that time and money spent on maintaining your career compound into the majority of your resources going into not working for a living, but rather working for a dying.

Societal and Structural

  1. Because mothers engage in the Second Shift after we get home from our day job or careers and also due to the emotional/relational responsibilities we take on (e.g. reaching out to grandparents, siblings, feeling pressure to be helpful), we are usually trying to drill down some kind of chore while we are at home and around the kids. This leads to low quality interaction with the kids and at times no interaction.
  2. Because parents are pressured to provide the best opportunities for their children, we have a tendency to overschedule them into activities that will enhance cognitive and social development. This leads to a lot of either driving to/from activities or placing them into situations that they may not be fully invested in. While you may be alleviating the pressure and/or guilt you feel in following through with the activities, you as a parent are not experiencing the joy of these activities, as you are removed from it and likely are understanding what happened in the activities in hindsight.

Mental

  1. Even when we are with our children, our  monkey mind and tendency to be distracted from either the work we do or the things we get caught up in, diminishes the quality of the time we spend with them.
  2. Raising and caring for children is hard. Sometimes you are just not capable emotionally to handle that tantrum, rebellion, disrespect. It is impossible to feel joy and connect in these moments.

All of these rob us from being present with our children. Spending quality time with our family is the one thing that we all pay lip service to being the most important aspect of our lives, but we can’t seem to follow through on the joy of being present with them because of these hard and very real barriers.

I used to search for all the age-appropriate activities I could do with the kids (I still do but have toned it down a bit). I also still consume a lot of parenting books (working on toning down).

While I was able to check off boxes and watch my daughter engage in different activities, I didn’t feel that immense amount of joy in being present with her. This is partly because of the barriers discussed above, but also because of the types of activities involved.

It is basic but was not obvious to me at all. There is the child’s interest and then there are your interests.

Common wisdom in parenting is that you need to overindex on the kids’ happiness in order to be more fulfilled in parenting. Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project found more joy when she worked on spending more time with her children in drawn out games even though it is not in her nature to enjoy those activities. Similarly she will go through the pain of assembling the birthday party because of the outcomes of the children’s happy faces and memories.

I understand it. Because like all mothers, I want the best for and with my children.

But what if there could be a way that I get benefit from the activity itself? We make friends with people who have shared interests. Everything is so natural and not forced when there is a common goal, value, hobby between you and the person you are spending time with.

Why can’t my child and I engage in a shared interest? That’s why I started to experiment with activities I enjoyed and observed if my daughter would take to them. Sometimes it didn’t work. But with enough experimenting, something did.

I bought an electronic keyboard so that I could make music and compose songs amateur style. My daughter is the main composer, banging the keys and singing off key. No formal piano lessons here. Just pure fun for music and learning enthusiasts.

A different take?

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