It hit me when author Rob Parsons discussed the countdown clock in our children’s lives. When our children are born we have those 18 years – that ‘s the equivalent of 6,570 days. When your child is 10 years old, you have 2,920 days left. In Rob’s words, ‘no amount of money, power, or prestige can increase that number.’ My eldest is 10. I want to utilise those 2,920 days I have left wisely.
It makes you rethink life’s busyness. Life always creates that busyness. It’s no one’s fault but our own. It’s hard to say no.
This is not to say, don’t work or don’t have a life. I think it is just a half-time call to reassess priorities. I truly thought that when my child was 6 months-old, he needed me most. Yes, it’s true, he needed me. I thought that need would dissipate with time as he potty-trained and learnt to feed himself. However, I was truly mistaken.
Most mothers with children around age 5 and above would agree, our children need us even more in a different way. That surprised me. They need us around to discuss their day or random thoughts that fly through their minds, play boardgames, guide them with their homework, to support them when they have a bad day at school, or just be there with them, and the list goes on. My children note how many nights I have out in a week, and they tell me off.
I have always tried to speak with parents with greater parenting experience; often I find it most interesting to observe or speak with parents with children ten years older than my own. It’s an eye-opener to see the path they have experienced to get an idea of what is to come. Think about it, when you meet an 18-year old you know much of what they might experience, and everyone has some gift of wisdom to share. I, therefore, try to ask those parents who have wonderful relationships with their adult children what made the biggest impact of that relationship, what worked, what didn’t. I have amalgamated a wealth of parenting knowledge that they have shared taking some advice that works for my family and me.
However, one thing is most common with all their answers. They said, enjoy it all now. Don’t be filled with regrets about not spending enough time with the children. I feel that already. Therefore, it’s important that we adapt to the new season our children are in. I have reached that new season.
Five Languages of Love
Gary Chapman’s Five Languages of Love should be a must read – I highly recommend it. Even if time is limited, it is important to understand how our children need to feel loved. Sounds simple right? This book was initially written for couples but it works with children, family and friends too. Chapman identifies five main love languages: acts of services, touch, words of affirmation, gifts, and time.
For myself, I feel loved through acts of service – when my husband remembers to make me an espresso for example or helps me with the children’s reading without me asking. For me talking is useless, it’s actions that matters. For my husband, words of affirmation and time matter. Each of us is different. This is similar with our children too. This is a great way to arm ourselves to be an effective parent even if busyness is all around us.
Just the other day, I took time to discuss with my children individually over lunch about what makes them feel loved. My eldest tells me it’s cuddles and tickles. He feels loved when I tickle him until he can’t breath with laughter, and it’s the time he spends with me one on one. Simple tasks like taking him grocery shopping makes him happy.
My third child loves words of affirmation and gifts so praises and presents makes a difference to his week. All totally different children.
It’s amazing what children reveal when we ask them the right questions. Armed with this knowledge, I try to fill up their love tanks so they feel loved. I realised there was little point loving them how I thought love should look. Almost none of my children mentioned acts of service. Obviously, they do appreciate the things I do for them but that wasn’t what filled up their love tanks. Some of those extra tasks I made myself busy with don’t matter anymore, and I ought to spend time with them in ways that fulfill them, not me.
Preparing for a new season
Therefore, this September, I am trying to rework my days. I want to make sure that I am not exhausted by the time I pick them up like doing four meetings in a row. I need to ensure that my love tank is full by the time I see them and that may involve giving myself a break for an hour before pick up. I realise it is also about preparing myself before picking them up at school so I am in the best mental state before seeing them. I take note of what tasks I do that leave me feeling exhausted. I now try to cut those out. I am trying to protect my time to ensure I can handle motherhood in the best way. I don’t always succeed each day, but I wake up trying again and again to make it work.
3pm – 8pm are the most intense hours everyday after school as most mums understand. I need to rework my patience as I read a ‘yellow’ colour band Biff & Chip book for the fourth time with 4th child and I am trying not to shout out in boredom wishing I was doing anything else but this, and this often exacerbated when I am low on energy and overcommitted. It’s important to not let myself get in that state. When I am feeling frustrated doing mundaning parenting tasks, I also try to remember the number of days left.
Rob Parsons eloquently put it about a life of illusions when it comes to parenting and over committing ourselves. There are three main illusions.
1. ‘I am doing this for them’ – the number of times I have justified that to myself. The truth is our children would prefer less things and more of us. As one child psychologists said, ‘ We are so busy giving our kids what we didn’t have, we don’t have time to give them what we did have.’
2. We tell ourselves that life will not always be so busy. I do tell myself that this is just a busy season, and that this too shall pass. I will wait to make time to do more with the children. It’s not a busy period, it’s life.
3. The door of childhood will be open forever is an illusion. I am guilty when I say ‘later’ when the kids are begging me to swim or to take them out on a bike ride. My son is 10-years old, and many mums tell me that in a few years, he won’t want bedtime stories, to hang out as much, and to just hang out. I have to savor every moment. Even if I fall asleep reading them their bedtime story, I want to keep trying whilst they will have me. I have read Peppa Pig continuously for 8 years already. I am longing to turn each page, as it is mind numbingly dull but I know there will come a day when my youngest won’t want to share that moment anymore.
We need to remember a useful proverb, ‘If we do this, we can’t do that.’ Therefore, parenting also requires self-care. Like any athlete, its about getting into the right mind set, health, and protecting the energy levels to ensure that we are able to perform to the best of our abilities. If that also means cancelling a coffee morning, lunch or a meeting, it’s worth reassessing.
With that said, I am off to book a massage before pick up today. It was a long weekend with the children. I am trying to be my best self at pick up time. Yes, I do work too but we all need to find time to recharge.