One of the questions I get asked most often from parents in my practice is “How can I stay involved in my children’s lives when we are both so busy?”. It seems to be a difficult issue these days with many parents feeling frustrated and confused about what is expected when raising a child. We have access to so much information and so many opinions that we’re not sure who is right.
First, I like to try to remind these parents that life is much busier for everyone than it was in our generation. Most households have both parents working which leaves little time left each day to just sit with your children. We’ve all heard the statistic about families who eat dinner together have a reduced risk of teen pregnancy, underage drinking, engaging in disordered eating and are more likely to eat healthier foods but who has the time to make those dinners? There’s also the anxiety of not involving children in extracurricular activities because experts also say that those make for a well-rounded, well adapted child. Oh, and the vacations. It has now become a right for each child to have a vacation experience each year, sometimes multiple vacations. And we aren’t talking just to Grandma’s. Oh no, there must be exquisite pictures to post to justify to the world that we are providing our children with the childhood experience they deserve.
On the other hand, I am beginning to see this movement of mother’s speaking out against micromanaging their children’s time and suggesting that we not give in to the pressures of entertaining them every minute. They begin their articles with, “When I was a kid, my mother drank Tab and locked us out of the house…”. I get it. I was one of those kids but this is the 21st century. We have extensive and immediate access to media and therefore, our awareness of all the bad things happening in the world. We hear about kidnappings and child molestations hours after the crime has been committed. We are constantly barraged by news of rapes, murders, abductions, child slavery and crimes against children that are so disgusting, we can only bear to read the headlines. How likely then is it for us to allow our child to have the same childhood experience we had? Are we really willing to let our children wander unsupervised through the neighborhood looking for a pick-up game of stick ball in a cul-de-sac? How will we feel after we’ve instructed our children to drink out of a garden hose (cause OUR mothers wouldn’t let us in the house when we were kids) only to find out that a study has shown that rubber turns to arsenic when left in the beating sun for too long? (This isn’t an actual study but you get my drift).
Where is the happy medium? That’s what we all want to know. Here is my answer: Find at least an hour every day to just “be” with your child. Schedule it in if you must but find the time every day. Driving to soccer practice and engaging in conversation with your child counts as some of that time. Instead of zoning out and thinking about the grocery list, find a topic to discuss with your child. Tell them about your day and ask about theirs or problem solve an issue you are having at work. When the weekend comes, make sure there is time to just lie around and be available for your kids when and if they want to talk or better yet, read a book together, watch a movie, jump on the trampoline, read the community section in the newspaper together, brush the dog. The more mundane the task, the better. Anxious parents will feel a need to control the time but I strongly encourage you to let it unfold and see where the time takes you. Speaking of anxiety, it has now become one of the most diagnosed mental disorders in our country- see any connection?
Let’s begin using moderation in our parenting. Will kids be well-rounded after years of piano lessons and little leagues? Maybe, but nothing is more important in a developing child than feeling safe, understood and loved. And those three things are free.