A few nights ago, I was ambling through the evening drill: washing dishes, sorting laundry, cleaning babyhood off the highchair, checking email, trying to decide if 7 pm is too late for the seventh coffee of the day. My four-year-old, who was cuddled up watching a movie after an afternoon of swimming, suddenly caught my eye. When was the last time that I had just sat with him and watched a movie?
So, I sat.
He smiled big, grabbed us a blanket, and snuggled against my body.
I didn’t check my phone. I didn’t read a book. I didn’t do anything but hold his little head and talk about the characters on the screen.
He beamed and giggled.
He was having fun with me. It wasn't fancy. It wasn't perfect. It was simple.
It was in that moment that I gave myself a summer challenge. I will spend 10 minutes a day giving each individual child my undivided attention. Let them lead me toward the fun.
Now let me pause. I have 4 kids. I spend all day, every day, 365 days a year with them (or at least I have since the spring of 2020). My kids get my attention, but they don’t always get my full-on attention. Can you relate?
I am NOT a bad mom (contrary to what the trolls might say in the comment section on this post) and YOU ARE NOT A BAD MOM either. Our distractions are usually because we are involved in the duty of caretaking. Household tasks, work tasks, and even surprise tasks, such as the sudden screaming “I need a Band-Aid, now!” take up most of our attention. The highly elusive and sought after “Me time” doesn’t even factor into our reason for not being full-on, eye-to-eye present.
In The Growing Season: A Year-of-Down-on-the-Farm Devotions I write about the task of caretaking. As parents, we have the duty of knowing the conditions of our children and providing for their needs. Many of us are tasked with multiple roles. Changing diapers, checking homework, and providing meals. Sometimes caretaking can be easy --giving a sweet child who has a boo-boo a little kiss. Other times the caretaking can be challenging—we might have teenagers who need a long chat and guidance to help bandage a broken heart. Caretaking comes in all forms.
But you know what else is on that list? Having fun with our kids and giving time to our children so they are seen and heard.
We all want to be seen and heard, don’t we?
It fills up our love tanks.
My most favorite part of our summer is in the evening. It’s the time, after dinner, where my husband and I gather on our front porch. Most often our kids are catching lightning bugs in the front yard while my husband and I catch up. Each of us are seen and heard.
Our kids need the same. They need our time. They need us, directly in their inner circle, showing interest in, engaging in, and conversing about their hobbies, silliness, and matters of the heart. They need us to be part of their fun. The fun they create as little imaginative beings.
I get that this can be hard. And I promise you I am not mapping out or scheduling this time into my iPhone calendar. I’m not creating activities in advance. Instead, I’m just letting this simple summertime fun unfold as naturally as possible by listening, watching, and acting upon what my children gravitate toward when they are at home or out and about. I’m answering those calls of “Hey Mom! Watch this!” by actually watching and then being in the presence of whatever whim they want me to view.
This past week my 10-Minutes Mom’s Undivided Attention has manifested into me:Conversing, watching, and being “super interested” in my eleven-year-old while he is fly tying (as in flies for fly fishing). Online shopping for a swimsuit with my eight-year-old. I get this is flighty, but I just want you to know I’m not out here trying to make origami elephants or something else crazy, unless of course my daughter was into making origami elephants; then I would be all-in. Watching and commenting on my four-year-old’s stealthy skills of avoiding the turtles as he plays Super Mario on the OG Nintendo. Hurling water balloons at my kids. Rocking my baby without a phone in my hand.
Yes, this summer I’m challenging myself to not be a MIA mama- one that always seems to be Missing in Action; but rather to lavish MUA (Mom’s Undivided Attention) on my group of four.
Undivided attention is the best gift of fun we can give to our children this summer. And MAYBE a trip to a waterpark, too.
Sarah Philpott, PhD is the author of The Growing Season: A Year of Down-on-the-Farm-Devotions and the author of the ECPA award-nominated Loved Baby: 31 Devotions Helping You Grieve and Cherish Your Child After Pregnancy Loss. She lives on a cattle farm in the south with her four children and high-school sweetheart of a husband.
This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.