The other day I was perusing the family photo album and something struck me. The years seem to be flashing by at warp speed. Five month olds become 5 year olds in the blink of an eye and then, 15-year-olds. This relentless march of time that turns infants into young adults is the “other” biological clock we all face.
Every month brings new advances cognitively and socially, new developmental markers and fresh surprises. At the same time, the challenges of managing our adult lives often preclude us from fully grasping the shifting sands of childhood.
We’ve all read about slow parenting, bubble-wrap, helicopter, buddy, hothouse and attachment parenting. However, over my past 31 years as a psychologist, I’ve discovered there is a common thread that pertains to any parenting idea:
All children need to spend significant quality time with their adult carers. Nothing lights up a child’s brain like caring, one-on-one attention and three dimensional play with a loving adult. More importantly, as they grow up, it’s in their interests to see who you are and understand your attitudes, values and beliefs.
If you calculate all the time your children spend at day care, in primary and secondary school, asleep, playing sport, engaged in art, music, drama, at friends’ homes, with relatives or babysitters, on school camps, and otherwise occupied with activities that don’t include you, the remaining minutes become particularly valuable.
Dr Harley A. Rotbart, author of ‘No Regrets Parenting: Turning Long Days and Short Years Into Cherished Moments With Your Kids’ has estimated that there are only 940 Saturdays between a child’s birth and she or he leaving for university, TAFE or the workforce. He points out that this may seem like a lot, but asks parents, how many have they already used up?
“…If your child is 5 years old, 260 Saturdays are gone. Poof! And the older your kids get, the busier their Saturdays are with friends and activities. Ditto Sundays. And what about weekdays? Depending on your children’s ages and whether you work outside the home, there may be as few as one or two hours a day during the week for you to spend with them.”
He suggests that parents need to focus on turning those minutes into memorable moments and suggests a mental trick to help you readjust your thinking:
“In the course of a crazy day, imagine your biological parenthood clock wound forward to the time when your children have grown and have left home. Picture their tousled bedrooms as clean and empty. See the backseat of the car vacuumed and without a car seat or crumbs. Playroom shelves neatly stacked with dusty toys. Laundry under control. Then rewind the imaginary clock back to now, and see today’s minutes of mayhem for what they are: finite and fleeting.”
Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect parent, or a perfect day with a perfect child.
My wish and the wish of all of us at the Family Peace Foundation is that when the day finally comes for them to move out of home, you will greet their departure with an overpowering sense of gratification.
Why? Because you’ve given them the skills, knowledge and strategies to face, overcome and be strengthened by whatever life throws at them and also given yourself what you need to feel like a positive parent. All of this can be achieved by giving each child at least 8 minutes a day of your undivided attention.