HOW TO TUCK LOVE INTO EVERY POCKET OF TIME
When you think of filling your child’s life with love, it seems like an enormous task. You hardly know where to begin. But you can start by viewing time in little pockets–five minutes here, ten minutes there–that can be filled to the brim right now–not tomorrow or next month or next year. Your constant thought should not be, “When will I ever find the time?” Rather it should be, “I have a five-minute pocket of time; what can I do right now that will get the `I love you’ message across to my child?”
How Do You Say, “I Love You”?
Most parents are willing to give everything they have to their children. They will sacrifice their own needs & work long hours to provide their children with the necessities, as well as the luxuries of life. But if a parent neglects to give a child love, nothing else can substitute for that gap. The child will suffer. Parental love is of primary importance.
You can’t say “I love you” with things. Love can be expressed by words & actions, but in order for either of these methods to be effective, a parent must spend time with a child. Love is communicated by the time spent individually with your child, & by the time spent in pleasant family activities. It is your “presence,” not your “presents,” that really expresses your love.
This does not mean that you must spend every minute with your child. However, when your absence is necessary, you must continue to communicate love messages, & convince your child that your absence does not mean other people are more important to you than he is.
What if a child does not want to spend time with you? Parents of teenagers told me that they would gladly spend time with their children if the children wanted them to. Now they have the time. Their children are old enough to converse & enjoy some of the same activities their parents enjoy. But their teenagers often want nothing to do with them. “Dad never had time for me when I wanted him to take me hiking & fishing; why should I include him in my activities now?”
Make yourself & your love readily accessible. Be fun to be with. Create an atmosphere of warm acceptance & most children, including rebellious teens, will be drawn to you.
Making Presence Qualitatively Meaningful
Let’s go through the day & see how you can get the most out of your time with your children.
- Morning: Instead of yelling, “Time to get up,” walk to the children’s bedroom, whisper in their ear that it’s time to get up, & then stroke their foreheads as they open their sleepy eyes.
- Goodbye time: Instead of running out the door, say “Goodbye.” Wink at the children as you turn to leave & then blow them a kiss from the car.
- Midday: Instead of working straight through the day, take a break & think of a way you can communicate your love to your child. Call him at school, bring him something from the office, remember to tell him the joke you just heard.
- Evening: Instead of letting everyone go about their different tasks, do a few things together. Talk, smile, laugh, & give your child a pat on the back when a task is finished.
The Importance of an Unconditional Loving Relationship
The important key to helping our children develop desirable characteristics is love–unconditional love. No matter what mistakes a parent may make, if a child knows that he is loved, he can overlook many of these mistakes. And, with the sense of worth that love brings, he can grow into an emotionally healthy adult.
When parents begin tucking love into every pocket of a child’s life, they must not base this shower of affection & acceptance on the child’s behaviour. The kind of love that must be tucked into pockets of time is the kind of love that is unconditionally given, no matter what the child does.
Enjoy Your Child
It’s always sad to hear parents say, “I can hardly wait for my child to get through the diaper stage.” If you are really interested in filling every pocket of time with as much love as you can pack into it, you must enjoy being with your children. You have to enjoy them just the way they are, at whatever stage they may be. Here are some suggestions to help you create that sense of enjoyment.
Be prepared. Husbands, how do you feel when your wife & children have truly prepared for your homecoming in the evening; when dinner is ready & the mail is lying in a place where you can find it? When someone has made an extra effort on your behalf, you know that person has been thinking about you. You feel loved. Children feel the same way. If you prepare for their birth & their various developmental stages, the time you spend with them will more likely be quality time.
Keep a diary, scrapbook, or picture album. Collecting the children’s cute sayings, anecdotes, photographs, drawings, & other interesting miscellany helps build memories for future enjoyment. Collecting & recording can add to your enjoyment right now, if you keep the task easy.
Play games with your child. Playing games with children means getting involved with them at their level; being responsive to their behaviour. Start at birth. Play the “I’ll touch-your-nose, & tickle-your-tummy, & pedal-your-feet & stretch-your-arms-up-so-high” games. Toddlers love the chase-me-but-don’t-catch-me game & peek-a-boo. Preschoolers enjoy pretend games like let’s-play-house. School-age children enjoy organised games like basketball, baseball & Ping-Pong–if you are skillful enough to allow them to win without letting them know what you are doing.
Dovetail your interests. Young children are interested in collecting earthworms & catching ladybugs, digging in the dirt pile or jumping in the pile of leaves. Forget yourself & enjoy your child’s interests. Pull weeds while you’re collecting earthworms, or finish your crossword puzzle by the pile of leaves. The important thing is that you are enjoying the activity that your child is interested in.
Do what you enjoy (or what you have to do) & take the children along. Why not take the children along on a business trip if you think you might have a few pockets of time when you could enjoy each other? A colleague who works long hours & takes frequent business trips to Washington, D.C. takes each of his teenagers with him once a year. While Dad attends meetings, the teenager fills his mind with thousands of interesting facts & sights at the Smithsonian Institute. Each evening they do something special together.
If photography is your thing, introduce your child to the darkroom. Choose an activity that you really enjoy & include your child, but remember his developmental capabilities. He may not be able to sit through a long meeting, hike ten miles a day, or fish on a quiet lake without rocking the boat, but with a little modification you may be able to take your child along & create a memorable occasion for both of you.
Take time to enjoy each child individually. Ideally each parent should try to spend some daily individual time with each child. Finding this time is more difficult when families are large. With each new birth parents have less time to give the other children alone.
One very busy travelling evangelist, who was also the father of six, solved this problem by making bedtime his time with the children. Every night when he was home, he scheduled their bedtime at half hour intervals. This gave him time to talk over the events of the day, read to the children, & listen to each child’s prayers individually.
Do the Unexpected
I once read an unforgettable account about a father & his 7-year-old son. On an August night, the father bundled up the sleeping child & carried him into the darkness. As the boy’s sleep-filled eyes began to focus on his surroundings, the father shouted, “Look!” And there in the sky the little boy saw a star leap from its place & fall toward the ground. Then incredibly, another star fell, & another & another. That was all. But the boy never forgot that night when his father did the unexpected.
How often do we miss the beauty & richness of life because we are locked into routines & schedules, & we are afraid to take advantage of the unknown, the unplanned, & the unexpected? Keep a “Why-not” list. This is a list of way-out, interesting, crazy things to do with or for your children. When the opportunity is right & the children are least expecting it, surprise them with the announcement, “Why not…?”
At the top of a Why-not list I suggest a love note. Why not write a love note when it is least expected? For years mothers have been tucking little notes into children’s lunch pails, but have you thought about taping a note to his toothbrush, or on the ceiling of his bedroom so he will see it as soon as he wakes up, or putting it under his napkin at the dinner table?
Here are some other “Why-not” ideas. Why not take the child to some unexpected place or do something out of the ordinary? Why not milk a cow? Why not visit the local radio station? Why not paddle down the river or float on inner tubes (if you’ve got a river close by)? Why not sit on the roof & watch the full moon come up? Why not catch butterflies, or fly a kite, or have a three-legged race? Why not camp out in your backyard with sleeping bags & a campfire? Why not just stop in the middle of your ironing or dusting to read your child a story?
Open Doors for Your Child
One of a parent’s greatest privileges is to open new & wonderful doors of possibility to a child. One day, after winning a tennis tournament, the young teenage winner was asked when she first became interested in tennis. She thought for a moment & replied, “it was the day my father gave it to me.” The reporters, not understanding her reply, try to clarify, “You mean, when your father bought you a racket & ball?” “No,” she replied, “it was the day Dad took off from work & played with me. That was the day he gave me tennis.”
Open the door to good cooking by sharing kitchen responsibilities with your child. Let her read your cookbook or take her out to eat at a gourmet restaurant & then encourage her to experiment on her own. Open the door to the artistic world by frequenting art museums & galleries. Plan to open a door for your child today.
Be an Effective Communicator
Studies on teenage runaways suggest that the most important way a parent can help a troubled adolescent is to listen. Running away is a desperate attempt to communicate what parents were not willing to listen to before. Being a good listener is a simple way to show you understand & care. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Show interest in your child’s conversation. Look up. Make appropriate comments. Stop what you are doing.
- Don’t correct his speech while he is talking to you.
- Focus on the hidden message–if you think there might be one.
- Don’t contradict his story or the points he is making until he has finished & wants your opinions.
- Don’t squelch a child when he voices offbeat values or comes to an impossible conclusion. Don’t laugh, make fun of, belittle, tear down, or in any other way make it more difficult for a child to open up his heart & ideas to you in the future.
- Be an active listener. Active listening means active involvement with the person who is communicating. To show that you are actively listening, make little expressions of understanding, such as, “Yes, ah ha, I see,” etc.
- Encourage your child to talk, to express himself, & to share his values & goals. One way to encourage the child to share his world with you is to have a talk-about-it bowl or basket that sits on the kitchen table. During the day, the children can put objects, notes, newspaper clippings, or articles into the bowl that they would like to talk about during dinner.
Write a variety of questions on paper placemats. Cover them with clear contact paper so they will last. Choose questions that will stimulate a good conversation. When the dinner conversation seems to drag, read off a question, like, “What would you do if you just inherited a million Dollars?” Or, “If you knew you were going to die in one month, how would you spend your time?”
- Children should be encouraged to communicate on the feeling level.
If children are going to learn to communicate their feelings, then you must encourage them to do so. Does your child know that it is safe to say, “Mommy, I feel sad. Hold me a little bit.” “Mom, I feel discouraged. Do you have a minute to talk?” “Dad, I got angry when you spoke to me like that. Can we discuss it?”
What kind of communicator are you? For one hour while your whole family is together, tape-record your conversation. Then analyse your interactions.
Prepare for Separation
It is often easier for children to accept their parents’ vacations or business trips if they know that they will be invited along some other time. Children suffer most when they don’t know when or why their parents are leaving, and when they feel that they will never be able to join their parents.
When young children are separated from their parents, the most difficult part of the day is often bedtime. One parent solved this problem by reading stories to her child over a cassette tape recorder. Her daughter was reminded of Mom’s love at the end of every day when she heard her mother’s words, “I love you & miss you. So snuggle up in your warm, cozy bed. I’m going to blow you a kiss. Did you catch it? Now there’s a special story for my special little girl.”
Take Advantage of the Prime-Prime-Times
There are extra-special times when your presence or absence will have a tremendous impact on the child. I consider 1) arrival & departure times, 2) performance time, and 3) bedtime as prime-prime-times.
- Arrival & departure times. Arrivals & departures should be family celebration times. No matter how insignificant these times may seem, make some preparations & take some time off from your busy schedule to affirm your love for the arriving or departing member of the family.
Departure times can be more meaningful if they are not rushed. In most homes, including ours, the average after-breakfast departure time is a disaster. “Grab your lunch pail.” “Kevin, get your shoes.” “You forgot to wash your face.” “No, I don’t know where your note that I was supposed to sign is.” Finally, when they are gone you collapse in the midst of dirty dishes, thankful that you have once again lived through the departure hurricane that has just swept through your house.
Again, preparation is the key. Our most pleasant mornings begin the night before: The children have prepared their box lunches, set the table, organised their clothes, & put everything they have to take to school by the back door. It also helps when they get up early enough to get themselves ready & still have time to help Jan & me with breakfast. Then we have time to enjoy each other.
- Performance time. A child’s performance time is a prime time for parents to show love & support. It doesn’t matter how small a part your child has in a performance, your presence is meaningful. At such times, parents should support their children because they are trying, & pat them on the back even if they strike out or fumble the ball.
- Bedtime. Bedtime is by far the nicest, coziest, & most enjoyable part of the day. If I could choose only 15 minutes a day to spend with my children, it would be the 15 minutes before bedtime.
Bedtime can be a hassle if it’s not well planned–if the kids are dead tired, haven’t done their homework, and are bickering about who should pick up the dirty clothes left in the bathroom. To set the stage properly, there has to be adequate preparation & planning. Bedtime is most enjoyable when the children are not exhausted or rushed.
This is the time when I listen to my children’s prayers, tuck them in with a hug & a kiss, & then linger around after the lights are off to chat, rub backs, & snuggle–if they feel like a snuggle.