The other day, I went swinging. I was at the park and the swings beckoned. The sky was blue, trees brilliant yellow and sun shining and no one else was at the park except me and my young companion. She wanted company and I wasn’t about to disappoint. I got going higher and higher and really felt the carefree lift that only swinging can give you and it was delightful. I had to stop myself when I surprisingly started to feel sick and dizzy but for those few minutes, there was not a care in the world. It was exhilarating to feel that even for a little while and to get that “real” feeling of being a kid. Too often we don’t take the time to truly empathize with our child in the good times let alone the challenging times. So, when an opportunity next comes up to swing, dance, roll on the floor, or run the bases, do it. Sense what it feels like and tune in to what memories it stirs up from your own childhood — Good? Bad? Neutral? All that information is of value. Your inner child is worthy. And it is incredibly valuable to your child.
Being real is being authentic, who you are. Another part of being real is being honest with our children. Perhaps I am the only one on Earth who, in moments of parenting when the ship is going down, I escape with my phone to seemingly greener pastures. I just want to get away from the sibling rivalry, the piling laundry, the sticky floor or the pending bedtime routine. I may text a dear friend for a life line, see how email can save me or be whisked away into a newly remodeled bathroom on Pinterest. Essentially though, I am fleeing the situation. Lately, I have started to verbalize my fleeing in the form of “I’m taking a break for a minute!” Or “This is too much for me, I need to get calm first so I can help you.” Or simply, “I’ll be right back.” It helps to serve two purposes: 1) it helps me get back to a calmer state so I can actually deal with whatever situation is before me and 2) it teaches my kids that it is OK to go somewhere else to calm down sometimes, that we think better and solve problems more effectively when we’re emotionally well.
My smartphone is somewhat regrettably, with me most of the time. I strive to change this habit as I recognize the negative impact of always having a device come between relationships – especially the relationship with my children. But occasionally I think it is OK to use the phone as an escape device. What matters is talking about it, verbalizing how you’re using it. Stating something like, “I can tell this phone is getting in the way of being able to play with you. I’m putting it away” as well as “I’m texting Gran to see how she is doing” or, “I am checking the weather on my phone to see if we need a jacket” are all ways to lessen the phone-as-barrier to our relationships with our kids. Ultimately we want our children to be able to make good decisions about the high tech devices that they will have in the future. Having heard the decisions we’ve made in how to use them effectively will help them make those good decisions.
And when you’re not in escape mode, try to be fully present with your child. Verbalize how you are putting your phone away, storing the tablet or closing your laptop so that you cannot be distracted. And then really do it. Try to put the technology away a little more each day until you feel that your happy-medium has been met. Remember that no hi-tech device will ever be better than just getting down on the floor with your child and being a kid again yourself and playing.
This is one of my favorite videos that explains why, when the milk really does spill, we go into a very human response even though we may not need to.
Have you ever thought of “being who you are” as a way of conserving energy? Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said “The most exhausting thing in life, I have found, is being insincere.” Being real — it’s worth every drop of energy used and saved.
In a classic and endearing children’s book, The Please and Thank You Book by Barbara Shook Hazen, the last page is the best. It’s brief but an important reminder: “The leopard is proud of her spotted coat, the nightingale of his song. The elephant’s glad she has a trunk. The lion’s glad he’s strong. They all agree. “I’m glad I’m me. No one’s more fun or nicer to be.” Remind yourself, be glad you are YOU. Be glad your children have YOU. For your children deep down, don’t want anyone but the real you.