It’s a classic story. Nearly every parent says, “Jeez, the time goes by so fast,” or some version thereof. We lament how quickly our little ones grow up. We attempt to latch on to our own bits of their infancy and babyhood, and preserve them for the sake of later nostalgic enjoyment. And so often, we argue with and struggle against time, while also frittering away, or rushing through the moments that we do have. Especially with our children.
Don’t get me wrong. I won’t be turning you in to the local parent police. In fact, I’m not even pointing fingers, here, because I am as guilty of both as the next parent. I whine about not getting enough time with my girls, but then I put them off for something arguably trivial while they wait patiently (or not) for me, or I rush through helping them so I can get back to whatever I was working on before. I get impatient. I want them to hurry. But they don’t.
And just like any parent, I could use a healthy dose of “Whooooaa Nellie…” Just like any parent, I could do with a secret symbol to give myself when I see that I am missing an opportunity to be undistractedly present with my fantastic children. I, too, could use a tattoo on my inner wrist which says: “PAUSE. EMPATHIZE. REPEAT.” I, too, could use a reminder, from time to time, that slowing down is powerful good mojo for my kids, for me, and for all my interactions with the world.
We parents systematically take on too much. Sure, we have great work ethics, and powerful drives to get ahead, succeed, and pay off our student loans. We are just as capable as non-parents of achieving, creating, and producing. But I think we all tend to obsess over what we can get done and what needs doing, and take on more than is reasonable during any particular timeframe, especially when we are also caring for our children. And, in part, because we have not been taught to honour and esteem our achievements as parents, we tend to take on other pursuits in order to feel a more obvious and therefore more comfortable level of success and achievement.
If we could just talk to ourselves 20 years from now, I bet most of them would warn us about failing to enjoy our time, and missing opportunities to share in the fleeting childhoods of our kids — not about failing to achieve more, or “do” more with our lives. I bet most of our future selves would extoll the extreme priority of family to career, and the unsurpassed value of the tender moments spent with our young children. The trouble is only that we can’t talk to our selves from 20 years later — we’d be convinced then. As it stands now, we haplessly fritter away precious moments with our kids in search of something(s) that history (and even our own future history, likely) says we will come to value less than those moments in retrospect.
We aren’t jerks. We aren’t totally insensitive to our kids’ needs or our own. We’re just naive. And we continue to suffer from our under-nourished self-images. So we risk missing a lot of what will more than likely later be thought of as our best times.
Unless we don’t. Because we can, and may, take the opportunity to put on the breaks. We can, and may, slow down, fashion shorter to-do lists, and leave ourselves more time for the few things each day that are really important to us. We also have the option to let go of the things that press on our thoughts and day-planners long enough each day to be present for and absorb some of the moments available for being with our children.
We can take it further, as well. We might even practice the fine art of affording more than enough time to accomplish tasks and meet appointments. We might even have enough forethought to arrange it so that we hardly ever have to rush our children out the door, or on to the next activity. We might even pause in moments of emotional struggle — and let time assist us in caring for our children’s feelings and our own. We can stay a moment longer in empathy, before pressing forward to create solutions to issues that arise. We can move slower. We can wait patiently. We can even enjoy doing nothing but being with our kids from time to time.
If I had to make a list of the ripest moments and methods for slowing down it would include the following (in no particular order):
- Leaving — Anytime we leave somewhere, we ought to think ahead about the fact that such a transition is more costly for our kids than for us. Even though we have to do most of the physical work, they have the more cognitively and emotionally laborious job. We can make things easier for everyone by informing kids ahead of time about impending departures — a preliminary discussion, a ten minute notice, and a two minute notice help significantly. It’s even better if we have left enough time to still be “on time”, even if the children are dragging their feet.
- Bedtime — Similar to the above, and any time there is a transition involved, bedtime is an ideal occasion to slow down. So when we embark on the bedtime rituals circuit, we can make sure to begin well in advance, give plenty of notice about the impending change of venue/activity, and proceed with care, allowing our children to move at a pace that feels good to them. And if we notice that they need longer, then we can adjust for that in the future.
- Introductions — Again, in a somewhat similar vein as the two previous suggestions, whenever we are introducing our children to something (or someone) new, it’s a good time to “breathe some space into the pace”. Let them be shy. Let them be tentative. Let them move into the experience as slowly as is necessary/preferable to them, and support their speed by not rushing them. And if we deem it necessary and are up for the challenge ourselves, we can even cover for them (while preserving their dignity, of course).
- Duress — Whenever there is emotional turmoil, we would do well to remember the pace and power of genuine empathy. It’s tricky, because empathizing with our kids and partners during moments of conflict and upset may seem to take longer in the moment. We have to go through the process of pausing and breathing and getting curious about the feelings involved and making space for them. However, as Natalie and I have discovered from our own experiments, the empathetic route is often faster, more comprehensive, and longer lasting than the seemingly more direct route of pushing feelings aside in order to address the specific mechanics of the issue. The only way to achieve a genuine empathic moment, though, is to slow down enough to create it. Often, if we can slow down enough, the “issue” that was so vehemently pressing for a quick solution just moments before, will pass us by — and disappear completely — just by virtue of making the time to empathize with the feelings.
- Playtime — Often, when our children are playing quietly and serenely on their own, we parents think, “OK, what can I get done with these 52 seconds.” And although I think there is some merit to finding the right moments and making proper use of them to accomplish important tasks, we also have the option to occasionally make use of such moments to enjoy our kids enjoying themselves. It may sound dumb to the overwrought parent, but spending some time just playing with, or watching our children play, can be such a therapeutic event that it ought to be a common prescription. If we are capable of being present with them, their joy and ease can actually be infectious.
There are certainly more moments worthy of our slowing down, like anytime we are impatient, or anytime there’s an opportunity for us to make/maintain connection with our little ones. In the end, of course, adjusting our pace to match the needs of our children in any particular moment is all about the connection it affords us. By doing so, we come into greater resonance with them, we achieve a deeper harmony, and we further empower the relationship we share. And the truth is, by slowing down our interactions with our children today, whether it is during emotional turmoil or while playing faeries in the livingroom, we give ourselves more opportunities to experience the moments that will mean the most to us when we catch up with our future selves in 20 years or so…
I for one like to think that I will be very satisfied then that I didn’t totally miss something so important to me. I hope that you’ll be similarly satisfied, too.