I am writing this because I want to help remind us and help us ‘reset’ our senses regarding just who our children really are, because sometimes we forget.
Or perhaps life has been so busy and hard for us that we were never able to Stop long enough to know.
I’m using the word extraordinary here- ‘extra-ordinary’- to describe the spirit of our children and here’s why:
From the moment they are born our children want nothing from us but our love and attention.
Our LOVE and our focused ATTENTION.
They are not born asking for money or the keys to our cars. They were not born to manipulate or denigrate us or stress us out. And they were NOT born by their own free will.
As a parent, I know just how hard it really is to give these two things, love and attention, consistently to our children- especially the latter.
In fact, I sometimes tell my patients who are parents (when we need humor) that the ‘real meaning’ of ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ is the DEFICIT of attention from us to our children.
Life is hard, and seems to be getting harder and busier for most of us all the time.
The harsh reality is that, for many of us, our kids often feel like a distraction or an interruption from whatever else is going on for US at the time; things which are just too ‘important’ for them to interrupt.
Some examples include:
-anxiety or depression
-other relationships in our lives (including our own parents and siblings)
-bills and finances
-habits and/or addictions
-other ‘adult matters’
-ANYTHING OTHER THAN THEM
In my recent book, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand A Few Things First), I talk about how the time and energy we give to our spouses is not supposed to be “left-over” time and energy, but, instead, “prime” time and energy.
This also holds true for our children, and, in some ways, even more so.
As a father, no matter how rushed, busy, “possessed”, worried, vigilant, active, engaged, OR disconnected I get, I try to always remind myself that my children never asked to be born and that I owe them for making my dreams of becoming a father to them come true.
I WANTED them. And I still do.
It’s just that we parents have to remind ourselves of that and of the remarkable, extraordinary spirit and transient magic of these little humans.
What if I were to tell you that our children, especially the little ones, literally LIVE for and because of us?
I don’t have to tell you that science has taught us that human babies are perhaps the most dependent baby creatures on Earth. Without us, they wouldn’t make it very far.
They observe and STUDY us. In fact, someone much wiser that I once told me that our kids are especially watching us when we least know it.
But let’s leave physical survival alone for a minute and let us, instead, focus for a moment on the emotions and spirit of our kids.
When one of my children comes to me to show me something or to tell me something, a LOT is going on that we can tend to forget (or never realize.)
EVERYTHING with kids, especially little kids, is a metaphor for something bigger.
In fact, our children speak and act in a metaphorical language all their own.
One day recently, my 7 year-old son said to me, “Dad, you’re not the most important person here.”
I had been talking to my wife about something that moved me emotionally the previous day and my young son overheard some of it.
Now, he hadn’t heard much (by my design), but he heard enough to know that daddy was a little upset.
Translation to the child’s spirit: dad’s upset, so he’s really not with ME, but with HIMSELF right now.
No judgments were made, no criticisms. But he noticed something in his little heart/spirit.
And he was right. What I left out was that HE was about to get on the school bus and needed my support and encouragement. He was simply pointing out the truth to me, in his own, metaphorical-child-way.
We need to not be defensive about our childrens’ need to have us be with THEM, especially when they are young.
Anything, even deliberate or necessary things, which take our INTERNAL focus away from them when they need us is NOTICED by them; for now, subconsciously, but later on they will know it more consciously as the idea that they ‘need’ us less, even if it’s not true. This becomes more of a sour-grapes type reaction, as in, “I never could have you, so I don’t really need you anyway.”
In reality, kids do and SHOULD need their parents for a good long time.
It doesn’t matter if I am ninety and they are in their fifties; if I’m still with it mentally by then, they’ll still, on some level or another, need me as their parent- there is no fixed end-point to this job.
Now, getting back, for a moment, to that word ‘extra-ordinary’: the reason I used this word is that children have the remarkable power to take on blame for our shortcomings or emotional immaturity as parents.
That means that if I systematically ignore or allow myself to be constantly distracted from my kids, they will be more than happy to try to not notice the truth of what’s going on.
In other words they will REPRESS the fact that I’m not paying much attention or giving much time to them (picture the classic- reading the paper or watching T.V. while saying, “Uh-huh, yeah, uh-huh….”)
AND they will feel the disconnect with me, but they won’t really know what it is.
Chances are they will take on the disconnect themselves and they will also BECOME disconnected FROM themselves.
What they WON’T be able to do is to say (and truly believe on all levels), “Oh well, dad’s just busy and has a lot on his mind right now, but he really DOES love me and want to be with me”, because that’s just not the full story.
The full story is that WE are already disconnected within OURSELVES from our own childhood experiences with our disconnected caregivers.
By not stopping the cycle with our kids, we are not only passing along the disconnect to them, making them ripe for all sorts of acting out behaviors later on, but we are also passing UP an opportunity to heal the disconnect within ourselves by doing for them what our caregivers could not (or would not) do for us.
In other words, we could Stop what we are doing and pay focused attention to them.
In my practice I came up with a “Two Minute Rule” that goes like this: no matter what your kid (or anyone) is wanting to say to you or show you, you can ALWAYS Stop and Listen for two minutes.
I mean, unless someone drops in front of you and you have to immediately do CPR, you’ve got TWO STINKIN’ MINUTES!
So let’s us parents remember a couple of things: first, that we’ve always got those two minutes of pure attention, which will seem like two HOURS to them; and, second, that our kids are here because we CHOSE to make them- which means that, of all the people in our lives, we actually DO OWE them.
Make a special effort with them which befits their special place in your heart and the world around us.
It may be trite to say, but those two minutes will be one of the best investments you ever make.
All my best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.