This weekend my family and I went away on a retreat to the mountains with a number of other families with young children. We had all been encouraged to leave our cell phones off, and I was happy to comply. It was easy to do because I wasn’t worried about getting things done or making plans for the weekend; my “job” while we were there was to hang out with my family and friends and take care of my kids.
The time away reminded me of a valuable parenting lesson: in order to be present with my children and tuned in to them (as well as myself), I need to find ways to turn off my mental list of everything I “need” to get done, if only for a few minutes at a time. It’s so easy and tempting to respond to one last work email, unload the dishwasher, answer the phone, put one more load of laundry in, or sort the mail. Look at me! I’m being productive!
But at what expense? At the expense of quality time connecting with my children? Sadly, the answer at times is yes. Now, certainly, I can’t give my kids 100% of my attention 100% of the time; it’s not good for them and it’s not good for me. They need to learn to play alone and navigate conflicts without Mommy stepping in constantly, and my sanity and career would go down the drain and our house would end up looking like a bomb hit it after about 24 hours. The key here is balance.
The question is what exactly do we “need” to get done? In the days before I had children, the answer was everything. I needed to check off every task on my to-do list, whether it was for work or taking care of our home or my personal health or connecting with family or whatever else I was working on at the time. After my daughters were born, my to-do list got even longer: do all of those things AND buy diapers and wipes and make …