Recently, a day off that is not packed full with plans is a luxury for us. Today was one such day. As I rushed to make supper before my husband had to leave for the evening, I could hear my daughter’s giggles and hilarious toddler musings drifting up the stairwell. For a moment I wished I could put it all down and go see what was so entertaining to her. But alas, the dishes needed doing and the meal needed cooking, and frankly I enjoy cooking alone. Like almost every other night, I continued with my tasks. I’ll see her later, I thought, she’s fine.
After a pleasant supper, my daughter and I found ourselves once again playing in the basement. She wandered over to some toys, I lied down beside her and immediately pulled out my phone, scanning emails, texts, googling ideas for tonight’s post. I looked up briefly and saw how well she was playing on her own, building and demolishing some sort of duplo tower. My initial reaction was to again say, she’s fine, I’ll see her later, and return to my phone. But tonight I stopped myself. I say that too much. It’s not that I don’t care about her, of course I do. It’s not that I’m not interested in her interests and development (though to be fair, hours of pouring water back and forth between cups is not the most stimulating entertainment for most adults). It seems my lack of attention to her is a combination of factors: persistent busy-ness, habit, and finding the right amount of independence for her.
I’ve talked about busy-ness before and how I’m working to manage it better at home and professionally. It is an ongoing struggle, particularly now that I am working out of the home more often. Old habits certainly do die hard, and the more stress may build, the more frantic and less focused I seem to become. More demands on limited time typically results in taking things for granted; my family should not be one of those things, but unfortunately we seem to save our worst selves for the people with whom we feel most at ease.
There are times where I truly need to plug-in, especially considering I am often somewhat on-call for part of my work. Most often, though, whatever I’m doing on my phone is no more interesting – frequently less so – than whatever my daughter is doing. It’s just an automatic, muscle memory reaction that needs retraining. If I’m going to stare at a screen anyway, why not look at the one she’s watching and experience the show together?
This is not to say I need to be with her constantly. My parenting style is quite hands-off. I want her to be able to play on her own, imagine without my influence, feel comfortable in silence or with just the sound of her own voice. These are very important skills to have as an adult, but also now, especially as she may be an only child for quite some time (I know, as I’m a lonely-only myself, after all). My fear is that in an effort cultivate independence, I am inadvertently withdrawing too far; I fear that one day she will stop asking me to play with her all together, not because she doesn’t want me (but I’m not kidding myself, I know that day will come too), but because she didn’t think I would come. That’s not the independence I hoped for.
But enough about my fears (what is parenting without frequently worrying that you’ve really gone and messed it up, am I right?). Engaging more in our day to day lives is a renewed priority. It is important for her, but also for me. It is easy to forget that little, repeated gestures are often what creates the fondest memories of our loved ones. It is easy to see parenting as only a struggle and the child as a source of frustration when we can only recall the tantrums and screaming; quiet times, simple games, talking together instead of tuning out remind us of the good and the love. It is easy to see the days run together as a seemingly endless repeating loop, but of course, they’re not. For better or worse, this too shall pass, and I want to know that I have a memory of it when it does.