As parents, we have many responsibilities, ambitions, tasks and burdens. Corporations should thank us, because multi-tasking was undoubtedly created by parents. With technology making our tasks more accessible, i.e. mobile banking, online shopping and even an APP to help us talk to our kids, we are being driven to produce more results, more often.
In my childhood, I remember clear boundaries being drawn in regards to my parents’ time. When my mother sat down each month and handled our bills, we were not to bother her. My siblings and I would find something to do, and if we argued about it, we kept it down because Mum was busy and interrupting her was not an option. We weren’t scared to interrupt her, we weren’t under threat of punishment and we weren’t all that considerate that we left her be simply because disturbing her concentration was rude. My parents’ boundary lines taught us to prioritize our needs, so that everything we experienced wasn’t an emergency.
Well thank goodness I don’t have to set boundaries! I can just do all those things on my phone while I attend to my children’s every need and want!
Wait a second… but that isn’t a good idea.
Aside from the fact that children do need to be taught boundaries, I am doing no one a service by splitting my attention in too many directions at once. Can I really enjoy their performance at the soccer game, if I’m making my shopping list through my grocer’s weekly ad app? Am I really listening to the song my son made up on his guitar, if I’m running through a To-Do list in my mind? Will I hear the baby’s first word, if I’m listening to the news while making dinner? Probably not.
I have often struggled in my life to be present in the moment. I barely remember my college graduation, with all the logistics of my whole family coming in from out-of-state, getting them checked in to their hotels and figuring out what restaurant could accommodate us, I forgot to stop and take a picture. I had no pictures of my graduation ceremony, or myself in my cap and gown. The professional photographer at the event only has a picture of me hurrying back to my seat. I couldn’t even take a moment on the stage, to savor the culmination of my college career. I had to throw my gown back on, late that night at the hotel, and snap a few pics.
These days, I’m slowing down a little. It is important to me to make these memories not only last, but exist! Making memories is an active participation task. You must do your part to not only plan these things we do with our family, but you must participate as well. I have gotten a little better at it now that I’m more mature, but I wish I knew these things when I was younger, especially as technology has become a larger part of my life.
These are a few tips, that I would have given to my younger self:
Life isn’t made up of ambitions
When I was small, I was a bit of a dreamer, and spent much of my time planning my future. I’m not talking about the normal run-of-the-mill “I want to be an astronaut” day dreaming. I mean I did research, made lists and planned it out, I even had a list of dogs I wanted to own! (Although, I DID want to be an astronaut, very much so, for about 6 months.)
Now that I am older, I realize life isn’t about the specific job you hold, things you own or places you visit. It is the attempts to achieve your ambitions. It is the memories you create for yourself and others. Especially when you have children. Those memories will hold value to your children when they’ve grown, and they will pass those values to their children.
Set a time to focus on your business, and take care of your business during that time.
When I come into my office during the day, I have time set aside for daily tasks, like running reports, checking emails and making phone calls. It works well at home too. When I get home, I have a little 30 minute routine that I go through that gets me up to speed with the rest of the family. I talk to my husband, during this time I assess his stress level. If the baby has been crying all day and has worn him out, it is easy to tell. Because he is a man, he just says “The baby cried all day, I’m going to lay down, you’re up.” (A side note, I’ve encouraged my stay at home mom friends to use this line as frequently as needed.) My husband will fill me in on the day, what the baby did or didn’t do, and since I want to teach the baby to talk, I ask him about his day as well. Did he play with his favorite toy? Did he take a nap? Did he drink juice? He just sort of gazes at me happily, I can only assume glad to be part of the conversation. I check in with my older son the same way.
The reason I can take this time to connect with my family is because I have set aside time to deal with the business of running my house. It is so tempting when I see the mail by the door on my way in, to pick it up and start going through it, but knowing that I have time set aside to handle my correspondence leaves me free to check in with the rest of my clan. I planned dinner the evening before, so I’m not stuck trying to figure out what to eat and there is nothing thawed, or I need to go to the store for that one ingredient item, which somehow ran out. And the mail will be handled, just not in this moment.
My secret productive hour? It is actually in the morning. Since I’m blessed with a stay at home spouse, I don’t need to prepare the baby to leave the house for the day. Most days he is only waking up when I am leaving. I realize this is not everybody’s situation, and morning can be quite hectic. But take a look at your day and find that time you can get down to business. Then stick to it, everyday.
Note that it doesn’t have to be the same time everyday. On weekends, my productive hour can shift to just after lunch. Everyone is fed and happy, the baby takes a nap, and I have some quiet to deal with my responsibilities.
No one is saying emergencies won’t pop up, and thankfully we have the technology to make those easier to handle, but paying your electric bill at your kid’s dance recital is not one of them. Transferring funds into your checking account because your husband mixed up the debit card with the credit card might be.
During an activity, don’t worry about the mess.
My kitchen must be cleaned daily, as most people’s do. So, when I decided to do those Halloween food crafts two weeks ago, I started to notice that we were making a huge mess. I immediately shut that thought down.
That is the old me, the me without a graduation picture. When I shook the thought off, I caught a glimpse of my stepson opening his mouth super wide to bite into the skeleton pretzel brownies. I wouldn’t have missed that moment for anything, especially not a little extra mess in the kitchen. Ok, a super big mess. But who cares? I’m still going to have to sweep the floor. The odd thing is sweeping the entire floor takes about the same time with a little bit of dust as with a lot of pretzel salt and brownie crumbs. You’re still covering the same area. So, don’t worry about it and instead pay attention to what is happening in front of you.
You are responsible for you
Well, sort of…
You are responsible for your kids, yes, but can you make them feel differently about a moment by changing your behavior? No.
I really wasted so much time worrying about everyone feeling good in the moment, that I failed to notice how I felt about what was happening. When I look back at those memories, they are faded somehow. On my graduation day, I was totally worrying that everybody was comfortable, watching all the interactions between my friends and parents, looking out for my brother, in case there was an area he couldn’t take his wheelchair. But nothing I could have done or not done would have changed their day. It only changed my memory of the day. I definitely wasn’t thinking about how I felt about completing my degree and savoring the victory of a job well done.
Feelings go hand-in-hand with memories, and strong emotion can boost your memory. So, take a second to feel all the feels. And you don’t have to do this only at special family events, do it every day.
Pay attention to these tips, and when you look back, you won’t see lists, bills and your phone. You will see your life, made up of wonderful memories.
This post was inspired by the photography of Eric Pickersgill and blog post by