Confession time: this morning I was multi-tasking over breakfast, filling out some boring-but-important forms, when B2 (our second out of 3 sons), said to me, “Mum, can I tell you something?” My response: “Not right now. I really need to focus on what I’m doing here.” I was anticipating one of his 5 minute stories, which would not only hold me up, but also make him 5 minutes later in finishing his breakfast. Even as I said it, I felt guilty.
Especially since, in my profession, I know what a gift it is to have a son who is able to communicate.
What is the thing our kids most need from us? It’s our time; our rarest commodity, it seems.
As parents, we’re engaged in a constant war of priorities – fold washing or read him a book? Cook dinner or jump on the trampoline with them? Vacuum floors or play a game together?
As a therapist, I’m regularly problem-solving with other parents – how to fit in therapy homework, how to prioritise playing with their child, building book-reading into life, everyday. To a non-parent, it might seem crazy that a parent would need to schedule in time to play with their child. To a parent, however, the constant demands of running a house (and, often paid work on top of that) can occupy every waking hour. And so we may well flop into a heap at the end of the day, wondering how we could get through an entire day without so much as playing with our children.
Time: how to find it and how to give it.
#1: Consider the big picture
What is important to you? A clean house? Providing your child with the best experiences (eg. extra-curricular activities)? Tidy-looking children? Approval from others? Having a child who connects with you and is able to communicate well with you? It’s good to be mindful of what your priorities are, and how those priorities shape your minute-to-minute decisions.
For families in therapy: The financial cost of speech therapy is usually weighed up in the decision of whether to engage services. But have you counted the time-cost of therapy and homework?
#2: Set a goal
Goals are not just for kids who are having speech therapy. They are for all of us! Here are examples of goals we might have in the way of spending our time with our kids:
- Play with Toby for 20minutes each day
- Read books to my children every night as part of the bedtime routine
- Play with Bella for at least 15minutes while baby Emily is napping
- Do speech therapy homework with Michael every morning for 10minutes
Goals should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely.
#3: Write down the goal
When we write down a goal, we commit to it. If we stick up the piece of paper with the goal on it, it reminds us to do it. Place it in a prominent place so that you are reminded of it, regularly.
#4: Be accountable for the goal
It can help to have someone who can help us stay accountable to keeping the goal. Pick someone who supports you in reaching the goal and who is able to both encourage you and challenge you. Sometimes this person will be your child’s Speech Pathologist; other times, it may be your spouse or friend.
Keeping a written record of when we complete an activity towards the goal, can help to remain accountable. Keep this record on a timetable, in your diary or on your phone.
#5: Scale back
Sometimes it is appropriate to consider our time, activities and priorities, and decide to scale back on things that we do not prioritise. For some parents I know, this has meant cutting out an extra-curricular activity. I know other parents who have scaled back on their entire lifestyle as a family, so that one parent is able to care full-time for their children and so spend time with them in their preschool years. This is not possible for everyone. However, we should be mindful of our own priorities and options.
#6: Schedule in the activity
Diarise the activity, whether the activity is doing therapy homework, reading books or just playing together. Since kids love routine, you could have a regular time for the activity. Eg. make reading books part of the bedtime routine, or play together each day at the same time.
#7: Plan 1:1 moments
Years ago, a working mother-of-4-children told me how she gave each child a night once a week to chat and pray with, just the two of them. As a woman without children, I was impressed – now, as a woman with 3 of my own, I am in awe of her! Admittedly, “One-on-one with Mum” is haphazard in our family. However, it’s definitely worth a regular appearance!
Spending time together fosters relationships and helps to build communication skills. It is also vital in communicating to our children that they are loved and prioritised.
You know the little old lady in the supermarket who looks at you with your children and tells you, “It goes so fast – enjoy it while it lasts.” Her voice echoes in my mind with every milestone reached. I will probably have a good many regrets by the end of my life, but the one thing I will never regret is time that I spent with my family.