Raise your hand if this sounds familiar -
You’re out running errands with your children (most likely at Target, if I’m being honest) when you bump into a friend who also has small children. Life has been full lately with all sorts of work and family events, and you haven’t seen your friend in months.
“Hi! How are you?”, you ask.
“Hi! We’re good but so busy! How are you?”, your friend replies.
“Same, life is so busy!”, you reply.
The kids complain about the hold-up, the grocery list waits in your hand, and you and your friend head off in different directions promising to connect soon for a playdate with the kids.
We’re all so busy.
Busy is the new black.
It makes sense. As working parents, we’re pulled in a million different directions during the day. With commute times rising, we’re feeling rushed through our morning routines and out the door to get to childcare drop off and work on time. Our workdays ask us to multi-task for hours on end, navigating a day filled with meetings, deadlines, and quotas. Our evenings feel just as harried as mornings. Many of us are unable to fully leave the work behind, and constant emails and texts after “hours” keep us tied to our phones and laptops. And with childcare pickups, dinner, and what feels like never-ending bedtime routines before we toss in a load of laundry, wash the dishes and crash on the couch exhausted. And we wake up the next day just to do it all over again.
Not surprisingly, between work and errands and household chores and kid-activities and what feels like endless to-do lists, we’re worried about the quality time we’re spending with our children. Or the lack of it. We see the days come and go, and we worry we’re not giving our children the attention they need and deserve. The attention we want to give them. We feel the unrelenting guilt at the end of the day when our focus hasn’t been on our children, when we’ve been distracted, when we’ve said “no, we can’t” to our children more than “sure, let’s do it!”.
Our “busy” is getting in the way of us having quality moments with our kids.
So do we have enough time?
According to research published in The Economist, we’re actually spending MORE time with our children than our parents did with us or grandparents with their children. We feel like we’re not spending enough time engaged in parenting, but the reality is we’re doing better than our predecessors.
So perhaps this idea of not having enough time is self-imposed. Perhaps the problem is more that we’ve lost sight of what quality time actually is and what it feels like.
What makes quality time? How do you find it? What do you do to have it?
Sure, quality time can consist of big, memory-making events, like a trip to the zoo, a picnic at the park, a vacation at Disney World, but let’s be honest, these big plans can be derailed easily by weather, changes in nap schedules, crowds, or even our own expectations of the day. Honest check-in - How many of us envision these experiences as being WAY more fun than they actually are? ((Raises hand)) Many of us fall into this trap of thinking childhood memories need to be made on a grand scale.
What are we really hoping for in these big events?
We’re hoping these events expand our children’s horizons, introduce new concepts, and make lasting memories. We’re hoping our children translate these experiences into a measure of our love. We rely on the hopeful idea that our children’s memories of big childhood events serve as an indicator of what kind of childhood they had.
That is asking a lot from a population that can barely tie their own shoes.
How about a different way of thinking. What we need to remember is that children find joy in the small things as much as the big things. While a trip to the zoo can be an amazing experience, so is jumping in a puddle after a rainstorm. Or blowing bubbles in the front yard. Or silly knock-knock jokes. Or sing-alongs in the car on the way to drop-off.
Why is it so easy for children to find joy in small things, but adults find this so challenging?
Simply put, we’re out of practice.
Playing, experiencing wonder, being creative, all of these skills require practice. And in our daily grind, we’ve gotten so far away from it all, that we’ve forgotten how these acts bring joy.
Instead, we’re driven by our to-do lists, our calendars and clocks, the notifications and alarms on our devices.
Not that being driven by the clock or our to-do lists is bad - it’s a reality we all face - but it allows us to get in our own way. We unintentionally block out wonder and amazement. We pass over the small things, focusing instead on the next big thing. The next day off. The next vacation.
But what if we stopped for a moment and viewed the world through the eyes of our children? What if we found joy in finding the moon in the sky every night? What if we tried to catch the falling leaves? What if we jumped in the puddles, and asked to pet every dog that walked by, and watched ants work in the cracks in the sidewalk?
Children find joy in the small but amazing things in the world. And we can participate, too. Even if we don’t want to jump in the puddles, we can laugh along with the splashes. We can make sing-along playlists for the car. We can watch ants and talk to our children about how different animals build homes. We can explore and narrate and laugh along. (Need suggestions about developmentally-appropriate play? Check out the Vroom app.)
I get it - many of us are exhausted and tapped-out by the end of the day, and the thought of needing to do one more thing - even if it’s something special with our kids - can put us over the edge into shut-down mode.
We need to put away the distractions and get to their level, so close the laptop and put away the cell phone. We have to ask them questions and listen to their answers. We have to follow their lead.
So spend morning time together. Enjoy breakfast together. Make a game of getting dressed. Check the weather forecast together. Talk to them on the drive to childcare drop-off about their friends, their teachers, their favorite activities. What are they hoping to do that day? Tell them about your day ahead. Make the routine something they can participate in.
We can be open to the beauty of the routine and the excitement of the unexpected.
Quality time doesn’t have to be big; the time we spend engaged with our children is already enough. Busy doesn’t have to get in the way. Give yourself credit - in your child’s eyes, you are amazing.
(To be fair, to them, a puddle is pretty amazing, too.)
Be intentional with the time. Be authentic. Enjoy the wonder.