Given that the name of this site in Engaged Marriage, I think that today’s parenting post is rather fitting, as I want to talk to you about another aspect of engaging in your marriage – and that would be being fully engaged with your children.
But, before we get into that, you’re probably wondering what might make me an expert in parenting.
I’m not an expert. I don’t have any degrees that relate, nor have I devoured stacks of books.
However, as with most things in life, I’m learning as I go along. My wife and I are doing the best we can for our two little girls. Sure, we’ve learned by doing our share of reading on the topic, but parenting is just one of those things that you truly have to experience.
And it’s that experience – and the mistakes that we’ve learned from – that I’m hoping to share with you here.
Back to my original premise of engaging with our children.
We’ve always had distractions in our lives – our jobs, chores around the house, errands that need running, things of that nature. More recently, of course, we’ve had all manner of mobile devices (phones, iPods, and tablets) crop up that many of us carry everywhere we go. And it’s those devices that can cause us to become disengaged from our children.
When our oldest was still relatively little (under 6 months old, say), I would often rock her to sleep at night. Of course, once she was asleep on my shoulder, I couldn’t immediately lay her down, as the odds were she would wake up. I needed to wait awhile to ensure she was truly asleep.
With a sleeping baby in your arms in a dark room, how do you pass the time?
For me, that was easy – I’d fire up the iPod, and hop on over to Facebook, or perhaps play a game. And that was the pattern I kind of established for myself.
It was easy to follow, as I generally always had the iPod in my pocket when I was at home (never know when you need to check your email, right?) As our daughter got older, however, both my wife and I realized that perhaps that wasn’t the best course of action.
Where it really struck home for us was when she was a toddler.
We’d set a phone or iPod down somewhere, and if it was in her eyesight, she’d pick it up and bring it over to us. Yes, in some sense, she was being helpful. But that action also carried a message.
It seemed like, since she always saw us with a device, that she thought we must have set it down by accident, and was bringing it over.
For us, that cut deeply.
I know for myself, I’d often sneak a quick peek at my email while she was distracted for a few minutes playing with her toys. But that device was pulling me away from my child. Sure, I wasn’t missing out on any milestones, but I was still missing out.
And I certainly wasn’t doing anything constructive to help her to learn and grow – or just simply have fun.
The end result of this was a decision – when we’re with the kids, the devices stay tucked away.
Often, my cellphone is in a different part of the house once I get home, so I don’t have any distractions from that. Sure, I may have the iPod tucked away somewhere, but it stays tucked away.
This way I can be engaged with my daughters, enjoying their laughter and curiosity. If that means being the crazy customer at their “restaurant” or building an amazing track for Thomas, then that’s what we do. We engage them, and do our best to take their imaginations on a journey.
And if you think about it, there’s a relatively simple equation behind this decision: Time spent on a device plus time with your kids is equal to the time you have before they go to sleep.
Decrease one, and the other increases. And even though they may not have the vocabulary to form the idea, your children will interpret what they think is most important to you – it’s what you spend your time doing.
This is one of those lessons that we learned the hard way, via our oldest bringing us the phone that we set down somewhere in the house to get away from it. She had that image of it in our hands set in her mind, and she was restoring the picture of what she saw as normal.
This isn’t to say that we don’t use the devices in kids presence. Sometimes, there may be a question that comes up that a quick YouTube search pulls up a video that explains something we can’t quite describe. Or maybe they want to see a silly picture we took of them.
But that’s the root of why the device may be out in their presence – it’s focused on something for the children, not necessarily for us.
And lest you think I’m preaching from on high on this topic, let me assure you – while I’ve personally made strides to improve this, I’m by no means perfect in this regard. If I was, I probably wouldn’t even have the iPod on my person when I’m at home, and would need to go hunting for it.
But that illustration is representative of parenting, at least in my mind.
You pursue a course of action, and then you make corrections as you realize a change needs to be made, for the benefit of your children. Email and Facebook messages will be waiting for you once you have some downtime when the kids are asleep.
Your children, however, will only be the way they are in a moment for that moment – and once it’s gone, it’s gone! At the same time, we’re also setting an expectation – by our example – of how we expect our children to act when they (one day) have their own electronic distractions – we will want their full attention when we’re talking to them.
What I’d like to encourage you to do is simple: once you get home, set your phone up on a cabinet somewhere where it’s out of sight (and hopefully out of mind).
For the few hours you have at night before your kids go to bed, really focus on your family (children AND spouse), and make the most of that time that you have. For extra credit, you might even consider an electronics-free day (or weekend) – it’s something we’ve talked about in our house, but haven’t quite gotten there.
And for those of you already further along this path, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, and some of your “tips and tricks” around this particular subject.
As with many things parenting-related, it’s not always an easy path to walk along – but it is certainly one of the most rewarding ones we’ll find ourselves on.