As we begin the New Year, parents, everywhere, are recommitting to being more present with their children -- whether that means leaving work at the office or spending less time on their phones.
Amidst all this resolve is one uncomfortable truth that often goes unsaid: hanging with your kids, no matter how much you love them, can be boring. Super boring.
I’m thinking of all the parents who tell me about endless games of Candy Land and the pleas from their kids to “watch me!” skateboard or shoot baskets or build Lego castles. Slowing down to the pace of your child can be challenging. Too often parents end up going through the motions, checking their Twitter feeds, only paying half attention. And then they feel terrible for not being present.
First, you are not alone. I can’t tell you the number of parents who’ve admitted these feelings to me. And second, you are not a bad person for thinking time with your kids is occasionally boring. It is actually boring.
As adults, we want to enjoy the “fun” time we get to spend with our kids. Our natural inclination is to do something that’s interesting -- to us -- and drag our kids along for the ride. But that’s not what this “fun” time (what I call “relating” time in “Time To Parent”) is best used for. Instead, it’s time that’s best devoted to exploring your child’s world. To seeing what they’re interested in and delighted by. That’s how you really get to know and connect with your child as a fellow person in the world. Of course, what interests them is naturally going to be different from what you, as an adult, are excited about.
As much as we’d love our children to enjoy shopping for textiles, or watching college basketball, or going to the latest exhibit at the art museum, left to their own devices they’d probably prefer to do something else, right?
So what’s a mom and dad with good intentions to do?
Give up on the idea that you are going to enjoy the activity at hand – that’s, in the immortal words of Dana Carvey impersonating George H.W. Bush, “Not gonna happen!” Instead, be curious about what makes your child so engaged in the activity. Study it. Take notice of what challenges them, what makes them laugh, what makes then excited.
Not only that, pay attention to what skills and characteristics they are demonstrating to you with their engagement. In their 17th game of Candyland, perhaps they show great sportsmanship – not getting upset when someone else draws the vaunted “cupcake” card. Or while practicing the 79th ollie on their skateboard, you see how persistent and resilient they are. Or after an hour of Fortnite, you notice what close attention they pay to the tiniest details of the game.
Spending time in your child’s world -- fully immersed without judgment or agenda or distraction -- can be a front row seat to really understanding who your child is.
That’s a wonderful point of connection to start the New Year.