The last few days have been both wonderful and challenging for me. My wife has been visiting friends in California for a much needed and well-deserved break, and I have been home with our two children. Now, I love being a dad. In fact, I consider it to be the most important job I will ever have in this life, and I am grateful for the time I get to spend with the kids.
Having said that, I am also honest enough to say that being alone with the kids isn’t always sunshine and roses. Parenting is hard, and being a single parent (even for a short while) is harder still. Couple that with the fact that there are some things that moms simply do better than we dads do, and I find that I am always learning new lessons about being a dad, and these often the hard way.
One of the more important lessons I have learned in the last couple of years is that it is incredibly important to be present with your kids, in mind as well as body. Our society tells us that we must be available at all times. We are slaves to work, to busy-ness, to entertainment. Even as I write this, I am fighting the urge to check my email or Facebook. At any one time, we might be consumers of a dozen different voices all vying for our attention. But all of these voices become distractions from that which is most important when we don’t learn to turn them off.
This weekend, I took the kids to the mall. They wanted to play in the children’s area there and then walk around to look a things. As they ran around like crazy playing with the other children there, I began to glance around at the other parents, and was honestly a little startled by what I saw. A full 60% of the parents there (I counted) were staring intently, not at their children, but at their smart phones. Another 20% were standing outside the play area completely, and were engaged in conversation with other adults. This left only 20% (2 out of 10) actually paying attention to, and interacting with, their kids as they played.
Kids continually seek the affirmation of their parents. They want to be seen, and they want us to engage with them in the things they are enjoying. Kids don’t want parents who are spectators only; they want parents who are living life with them. What I saw in that play area was a group of parents who were mostly checked out of what was going on around them. They were completely disengaged from their children, oblivious to the kids’ attempts to show them the ‘cool’ things they were doing.
Now, don’t hear me wrong. I understand that people have other things they need to think about. I know how nice it is to have an adult conversation while the kids are otherwise occupied. And I am not simply pointing out a splinter in someone else’s eye, while ignoring the log in my own. I’ll admit that even as I observed these things, I had to resist the urge to whip out my cell phone and take a picture to share here. The hypocrisy and irony of this didn’t escape me, but it still took an effort of will to just let it go and remain present with my children.
I believe that it matters to my kids and to their well-being when I make that effort of will to remain engaged with them, even when I don’t feel like it. And to do that, I must first silence the other voices calling out for my attention, and listen for the voices of my children. When we fail to close off the myriad voices of this world we run the risk of missing out on the joys of shared lives. We run the risk of missing that which is most precious.
Parents, I urge you to make time to being present with your children. Shut of your phone, take time away from your labors and distractions, learn to just ‘be’ with your kids, and I guarantee that you won’t regret it.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves. Children are a heritage from the Lord , offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. (Psalm 127)