First day back to school for my gang, so back to work for me. Since I've been virtually invisible other than my weekly The Factor appearances, I've heard a lot of folks think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth. But alas, I haven’t. This is the first summer in a long time—probably since my daughter was a baby, so 10 years--that I have taken time away from just about everything to focus exclusively on my family.
The first thing that amazed me was that I didn’t have time for anything else! How did I ever work in the first place, when I can hardly find time to read my little hometown paper, much less Real Clear Politics or Drudge? As I began to loosen my hold on current events, I was anxious. The world was falling apart and I was sitting on the sidelines as it happened, enjoying life with my children way too much. The pool, beach (the Bay, mind you, not the ocean), games, baking, gardening, shopping, actually tending to some housekeeping—yes, it is fun when it’s a novelty. But I was anxious--this was new for me.
Then, as the gap widened and I turned off the 24-hour news cycle, as I walked away from my phone and email for extended periods, a mysterious peace began to settle on us all. I could definitely get used to this.
Peace, strictly speaking, is ephemeral when there are three teenage boys and one pre-adolescent girl in the house, but the chaos takes on a more manageable dimension when the flurry of “the world” is toned down. A teen’s sass is no longer part of the backdrop of a busy life; it is a genuine focus, a minor crisis in and of itself, that needs to be addressed quickly and with complete attention. When it’s part of the background noise and largely ignored along with the rest of the clamor, I have discovered that it will quickly move beyond a moment of disrespect and grow into part of an overall lifestyle.
I have always known the importance of spending time with my children, but when we work, we cling to the notion of “quality time.” One thing has been confirmed for me this summer: when it comes to teenagers, and children in general, quality time as a equal substitute for "quantity time" is a big load of baloney. Yes, it’s important to use the time with our family wisely, but ultimately, it is the amount of time that matters. Now, this isn’t intended to be a guilt trip. I’m stating a fact, at least from my experience. It is an unfortunate fact for people such as me, who work for a living while we raise our families, but it’s a fact nonetheless.
Sometimes I will sit in my son’s room for 45 minutes—and let me tell you, it's a struggle for a type-A to sit for 45 precious minutes—just quietly looking through his school stuff or straightening up. He will have been silent the entire time, but suddenly, after I’ve been present, focusing on him in some way, he’ll say something that reveals volumes about where he is in life, and what is on his heart. When I’m running through, stopping in for bed time prayers or a quick kiss to let him know I love him, I get nothing, except some vague self-congratulations that I’m doing the best I can.
Like so many other parents, I work. It’s a fact of life. A summer off is one thing, but bankruptcy would be looming if I take this much further! I know I’m blessed in that I don’t have two or three jobs like many other single moms do in this economy. I have a flexible work schedule, for the most part. But I will be more tired and distracted, I will not be as focused as I’d like to be on these precious ones entrusted to me for such a short time.
So where does a summer of reflection and revelation leave me now? It leaves me doing the best I can.Yes, falling back on quality time, but shutting out any unnecessary chaos, making sure my children know they are not an afterthought, but my most important focus.
But perhaps this year I can do better. After the summer, what
are my "New School Year Resolutions?" Well, first I’m notorious for not sticking
to my real New Year’s resolutions, but maybe this will be different. I’m
writing them down, after all. Here they are:
- Say no to any new opportunities that conflict with a child-related obligation, no matter how minor that obligation seems or how major the work opportunity might be. (I’m actually getting better about the saying no part, much to the chagrin of those interested in my career advancement. Let not your heart be troubled. Plenty of time for that.) I think my kids actually care when I miss meetings related to their activities, even if I’ve been to the meetings for the past 4 years and the same things will be said. They need to know they are the priority
- Turn off the TV during the week. Generally I do this, particularly at the beginning of the school year (with some Duck Dynasty exceptions), but sometimes Bret Baier morphs into Shepard Smith, who becomes Bill O’Reilly. My kids just love having the TV on no matter what is on it, so they won’t protest. But it takes us away from each other, and brings additional chaos in. My goal is managing the sufficient chaos I already have.
- Put the cell phone away. I know, I know; that's what you tell your teens to do. Well, I'm afraid it can be a compulsion for parent's as well--not good!
- Play games together. Sound silly? It’s not. My sixteen year old spent the summer with my cousin and his fiancée and he raved about the fact that every night they played board games together. Please understand, this was coming from my sixteen year old. This is significant. He used to have disdain for “family activities” like that, and preferred to listen to music in his room or play the X-Box. But when he came home after this novel summer experience, we played games, with him rallying the others to join in. It was amazing to see the conversation and bonding that takes place when sitting around the table doing something fun, without any other distractions.
- I’d like to say I will do a six month Bible study with the kids every night after dinner, but I know me, and it won't happen. There’s just no way. I'll aim for once a week.
- Hold the children accountable for their attitude and responsibilities. When I don’t, they know I’m distracted and that they are not my focus. They might complain about making their beds, but they are glad I’m paying attention to whether they do it or not. For a mom who has been distracted at some level for years, trust me, they are glad.
- And finally, spend quantity time with my children. When I'm not working, that's the most important use of my time. Let the dust balls gather, sacrifice the gourmet meal, and just be together.
Having said ALL of that, I do believe it’s important for parents to have interests apart from their children—for their kids to know there is a world out there that is bigger than they are, and that our involvement in it is critical. We spend all these years passing along our values (I hope) to our children, and I fully intend for mine to share those values with others, and to make a difference with them. But while they’re with me, for this blink of the eye, I want to help them grow and develop, not full of resentments that grown ups don't have time for them, but knowing that they are our purpose—that we see them as the greatest blessings in our lives, and the reason for trying to make this world of ours a better place.
So it’s been a great summer—the best yet. Back to work now. But knowing that from here on out, it will be a little different. Chaos will be kept at bay, and mom will be a little more present—not just in body, but in mind and soul as well.