I often wonder about how we can best nurture our children. What will our children remember most about their childhoods? Will it be the lessons that I tried to impart to them about being a “good” person? Will it be what I formally taught them in terms of their academics and proper study habits? Will it be the outings to get ice cream after school, or taking naps together on a Sunday afternoon?
It is difficult to say sometimes what decisions and behaviors impact our children the most. On Mother’s Day, both my son and daughter brought home handmade cards from school. My son’s card said, “Happy Mother’s Day. I love you because you are a good coocer” (“cooker” or chef). I was taken aback, as I never really thought my son was interested in food or what I made for him…but apparently, he noticed.
My daughter’s card was slightly more extensive, but included a section saying, “I love my mom because she got a toy out from the car after I left it in there by mistake.” I clearly remembered that incident. It was bedtime, and my husband was out of town. After hours of stalling and requests for water, stories and snacks, I was done. Done. My daughter was upset because she had left her favorite stuffed doggie in the car, and said she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep without it.
The thought of having to go downstairs, open up the garage, unlock the car, and locate the missing toy (and all of its associated garments) was about to send me over the edge. But I paused for a moment and saw the situation from her perspective. She missed her stuffed animal and wanted it for reassurance and comfort. She had no ability to go to the car and accomplish this herself, the way she could choose her own book or go downstairs to get her own glass of water. So, I set my frustration aside, and I did it. I had no idea that weeks later, this would be her example on a Mother’s Day card of what she appreciated most about me.
I think on a moment-to-moment basis that our kids love receiving gifts, or being spoiled with treats. But when it comes down to it, they value our time and presence the most. They value time spent doing activities together, whether it’s reading, going for a walk or driving back and forth from school. But, I am not sure the choice of activity matters. For a child, I think being in the presence of an adult who loves and treasures the little person next to them, is invaluable.
I am painfully aware that spending time with me won’t always be number one on my kids’ priority list. Already, my daughter prefers to close the door to her bedroom and read alone, rather than be next to me in the kitchen or family room. My son is starting to ask about sleeping over at his friends’ homes. They will grow up in front of our very eyes, so gradually that we will wake up one day and not realize when our little ones became grown, adult beings. We will wonder where the time went, and where we were when it passed us by. We will miss the requests for one more story or snack before bed.
When we speak of mindful parenting, we speak of being aware of the present moment. Sometimes, when you are exhausted and have a screaming, sleep-deprived, hungry child who is mid-tantrum at Target, the present moment is not so wonderful. The last thing we want to do is immerse ourselves in it. In those moments, we can be aware that being a parent is not always roses and rainbows, but that there are also moments of difficulty and sacrifice, and moments where our deepest emotional reserves become depleted.
But if we can find a sliver of gratitude, even the tiniest bit, or an iota of compassion for ourselves and our children, we can create a space. We can create a space to step back and observe the child in front of us, the parent within us, and all of the mixed beauty and frustration that can accompany that journey that we embark on together. We also create a space to realize that, thankfully, this moment won’t last forever…and, at the same time, tragically, this moment won’t last forever.