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Happy New Year, everybody. I’m not much with New Year’s resolutions, but I decided to ask for some guidance from my kids tonight.

I asked them, separately through the evening, what they thought it was most important for parents to do. I explained that I was going to write about their answers.

The eight year-old was first. She answered immediately and with much conviction:

“Love your children. Love each other. That’s it, really.” This was her final answer.

As I was putting the little ones to bed I asked my six year-old. She equivocated for a few minutes, arranging the various stuffed cats (wild and domestic) that lurk about her pillow and said, “Spend time with your children. You know, like sitting with them and snuggling and stuff.”

The four year-old was next. She was, characteristically, suspicious of the whole enterprise. “I don’t know what parents do! I’m a child. I only think about play.” I pointed out that when she plays she often pretends to be a mother. She thought about this. After a time she said, “Cook. Work. Take care of us.” Then, after a pause, “And pets.” Okay, then.

The ten year-old needed time to think about it. She has been looking and behaving an awful lot like a teenager lately, but now she lay on her back, rocking back and forth, holding her feet which were suspended in the air. She asked the eight year-old what she had told me, but she wasn’t going to share. “It’s private,” she said. Finally my eldest answered, “Love your kids and have special time with them. Hang out with them.”

It didn’t hit me until later how much they had given me to work with. What does “Love your children” mean? They understand love as an action rather than a feeling. In our family we say “I love you” with much frequency (a phrase with which I had never been comfortable until I became a parent). I don’t know what to do with that as a resolution other than to acknowledge that the act of loving your kids, which is in one sense automatic and, you know, of course, also entails to struggle to do it well, from day to day, from moment to moment.

So I thought, spending time with them. I can do that. I do that. I thought back through the day. I was at home, as work was canceled due to inclement weather. I spent much of the day washing their bedding, tidying their rooms, vacuuming, preparing meals, doing the dishes. To me, these tasks are acts of love and I approach them that way. But how much time did I spend with them? How brief were my check-ins with them? How much attention did I give to their drawings and projects and imaginative games?

Thanks for the reminder, girls. This is simple, but it’s not easy. There’s always work to be done.

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