“Just a minute.” “Hold on, I’ll be right there.” “I have to finish something first.” “Not now, I’m in the middle of something.” I wonder how often these are the first words to come to my lips when our kids want my attention?
Now, I am not one to believe that I need to be at the immediate beck and call of our kids. In actual fact, I believe that children need to understand that parents have interests and responsibilities that do not necessarily revolve around them. (I mean, how would it serve them to believe that the world revolves around them – when in fact it does not.) There are many areas of my life that warrant my attention and I feel it is important that our kids respect that and the boundaries I set. At the ages of 8 and 10, they are mature enough to understand this. I want them to see me as a separate and unique individual – with my dreams, goals and aspirations – partly because I want them to grow up strong in their own individuality, and partly because I want to make a difference in the world that extends further than our immediate family. By taking care of myself and setting respectful boundaries, I hope to be a positive role model for them.
However, there is a fine line between setting my personal boundaries and allowing myself to be so absorbed in my own activities that my kids are left out. I never want them to feel that they are second in my life.
I recently read a blog that deeply resonated with me. It was about a child who wanted to be truly seen; seen for more than his imperfections; for more than the ways that he pushed his mom’s buttons. In his child’s perception, his mom only noticed all of his faults, and he was not important enough for her to disengage from her busy life to stop and let him be the focus of her undivided attention.
Truly, it was a story about our human need to be loved. From a child’s perspective, it is really as simple as their desire for us to stop what we are doing and tune in to them as they stand before us. To focus more often on their strengths than their shortcomings. To acknowledge that those things that make their young hearts sing with joy are important, and worthy of our attention.
It is, in fact a primal requirement to feel that we are seen, heard, and valued -and ultimately to know that we matter in this world.
While reading this blog, I felt as if I was on the verge of breaking down inexplicably in tears. On the one hand, it’s always been a conscious effort of mine to truly see my kids, to listen to them, to get down at their level, to look them in the eye. I do my best to turn off my phone, not be distracted, and to let them know that their time, their opinions, their feelings and their stories matter to me.
Unfortunately, however, I think this blog touched a chord inside – one of sadness and guilt for all of the times that I didn’t do that. There have been so many times that I was stressed out, or tired, or had too many things to do. So many times that I was distracted and my child was left feeling that ‘mommy didn’t see’, or ‘mommy didn’t listen‘, or worst of all – that ‘mommy didn’t care.’
In recent weeks, Audra has taken to imploring me: “Mommy, listen to me!” and she shows her frustration when she thinks that I am not, usually with an emphatic stamp of her foot. Or she has told me: ‘Mommy, you always make me wait!” Or she fairly growls with anger if I interrupt before she’s finished speaking. (This happens far more often when I’m in the company of other adults). “Mommy, I get so frustrated!!“
Finally those messages are starting to get through. Perhaps the sun does not rise and set on her (despite her most sincere efforts) – but what message am I sending to our kids about their own self worth if they feel that I always have better things to do than to listen to them?
The bottom line is this: In our family, we are committed to letting every member of our household have a voice. There is no topic that is taboo. We strive to provide a safe place for us to communicate the full range of our opinions, thoughts and emotions – as long as it is done with respect. And what I realize is that as of late, I have not been as respectful of my kids’ communication as I would like to be.
When they were much younger, it was easier in a way – because they needed my attention and supervision for everything. The idea of focusing on anything else when they were home was absurd. But now – there are times that I am home and they are outside playing, entertaining themselves, or spending time with friends – and I am free to do other things. I can write a blog, prep a meal, read a book – or any variety of activities. The time and space buffer that used to exist has blurred.
So I think I need to have some new awareness of how to more appropriately set my boundaries, plan my time, and maintain the open lines of communication we wish to keep with our kids.
For starters, I am taking note of how many times I say “Just a minute” or “I’m too busy” or “I’ll be right there” (and then let an unacceptable amount of time pass before I follow through).
I am taking note of the times that I’m only half listening because I’m into something else.
Maybe I don’t need to drop everything every minute to attend to our kids’ needs – however I think I need to put more awareness into how often I let the unimportant things take precedence over the most important: the amazing human beings – our kids – who are standing right in front of me.
As for Audra – we came up with a signal for her to give when her feelings are being hurt. Yes, her volatile feelings may be easily bruised – but I’d rather be aware of when and how my actions may unintentionally do so. Now, if her feelings are hurt, she signals my awareness by patting her heart two times. So far, this simple communication tool has worked wonders. It catches my attention so that I can course-correct when and if appropriate. And on her end, she feels heard again.
Yes, I became a mom on purpose. I chose this challenging job.
I am committed to being the most conscientious, inner-directed, living-in-the-moment mother that I know how to be.
It certainly doesn’t always comes easy. As a matter of fact, in my experience, this might be one of the hardest parts about being a parent.
I don’t doubt that we will have many other challenges over the years as we navigate the waters of parenthood and communication within our household. (With four strong personalities under one roof, I expect we’ll face many bumps along the way.) And while I know we may be far from perfect, one thing I know for sure is that we are committed to doing the best we can as parents to help our children to know that they are the most important people in the world to us, that their thoughts and feelings are always valued in our home, and that they always – always – matter.