It isn’t always easy to spend the time we want with our kids, and still get everything else done that we need to do. We are not done with the parenting journey yet, but I’m starting to see some of our investments of time with our kids pay off in our two oldest, who are teenagers. I am hoping this is a bit of motivation for you in the trenches with younger ones-and for myself- to keep investing in our kids where we can.
We may not do everything right (there may be days we feel we can’t do anything right), but prioritizing time with our kids in purposeful ways always has its rewards. Please know there will be dividends down the road in the kind of people they are becoming and in the relationship you will eventually have with these young adults. We will all get there – some of us sooner than we would like!
What investments have we made in our kids that really have started to pay off?
1) Sacred dinner time with no technology (this means me too!). We have all read the research – eat dinner as a family and your kids will be less likely to make bad choices in life, and more likely to be successful in school. I agree with all of it. The thing I love most about this investment of time with my kids is it gives all five of us the opportunity to check-in at the end of every day.
While it’s never too late to start this tradition, the sooner the kids get into the habit of family dinner, the more they adapt it into their routine. Dinner with three toddlers wasn’t always (or ever?) easy, or relaxing, but pretty quickly the kids began to know what the expectations were.
With older kids in two travel sports and band, this doesn’t happen easily and often takes place too late. But we all sit down at the table together at some point. And oh the conversations we have…they crack me up. Best of all, we learn so much about their concerns and joys of the day while everything is still fresh.
2) Bedtime routine. With three littles I could never quite figure out how to do this efficiently. Looking back now, I’m glad I didn’t substitute efficiency for quality time. Our kids seemed to open up most when they were supposed to be getting to sleep.
For years this turned into an almost three-hour ritual – nearly an hour of time invested with each kid as we tidied up their rooms, settled down from the day, read books, told stories, rubbed backs, and just talked. Almost every night, I wished that I could get more dishes or work done before I was completely wiped out myself.
I know now how valuable this investment of time with my kids was and still is. Kids don’t talk on our time – they talk when they’re ready. When they knew I wasn’t going to rush in and out of their rooms, it often meant they’d bring up topics that needed a little time to discuss. Sometimes they just needed a hug while they cried on those days when things weren’t going quite right.
Now that they’re teens, they don’t really need “tucking in” anymore, but more nights than not, I still plop down on their beds and see what comes up. I think they wouldn’t be quite so open to this if this wasn’t something we had done for the last 16 years. I know more than I probably should these days about their friends, who is making bad (and good) choices, who likes who, and what everybody had for lunch. I also know their fears and hopes. It all just comes spilling out at bedtime, and I am so grateful for that. (Here’s another great QC Mom’s perspective on taking time at bedtime).
3) Getting involved at school. Every chance I could, I would chaperone field trips and dances, volunteer in class, come to parties and fundraisers, stop by the playground, bring a pizza for lunch, join the PTA and just be around, just as so many of us do. Granted it was an investment of time with my kids and it was a great way to see the kids interacting in an environment very different from home. Selfishly I loved to get to know their teachers and classmates.
While I was fortunate to have worked part-time when the kids were younger, I know it can be tricky to find daycare for younger siblings or time away from work. But it matters. Now my daughter is at the high school where her dad teaches and her mom does college recruiting- she is used to having us around. Once in awhile she will even give me a hug in the hallway. Her friends know they can stop by her dad’s room if they need anything (they know he has food), and we know which kids are good influences and which are skipping class. We just try to be around.
As a mom, I wonder a lot if I am enough. Am I spending enough quality time with them, instilling enough discipline, encouraging enough, doing enough? There’s so much to question. When we can begin to see hints that just maybe some of our parenting has laid the groundwork for having the kind of relationship we want with these amazing young adults, it starts to feel like maybe I can breathe, just a little bit.
While I miss those days of having three little ones around, I love seeing them begin to grow into their own amazing people. And that is worth any investment.