Minimalism. It’s everywhere we turn these days, from the tiny house movement to simplifying mealtime to spending less. It seems the new generation is rejecting the opulence of their parents’ generation and the desire for more, more, more. Not only were we obsessed with more money, bigger houses, and better vacations, but our culture, it seems, put busyness on a pedestal. “Oh, I’m so busy! I barely have time to sleep,” was often followed by a litany of all the honorable ways we were spending our time: PTA meetings, teaching Sunday School, attending sporting events and more, all on top of working 40-50 hours a week.
Spending Time With Your Kids
The question was recently posed to a group of parents, “What is the number one thing you wish you’d done differently?” Not surprisingly, most of them wished they’d spent more time with their children. Is there a parent anywhere who doesn’t think they should have done more? We strive to strike a balance between parenting responsibilities and the one million other things that vie for our time.
Even as a stay-at-home mom, I wonder if I could have been there more for my kids. I wasn’t able to attend every sporting event and wasn’t at their school volunteering every week. I often let them play on their own while I did my own thing. In retrospect, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Kids cannot gain a sense of independence or learn to solve problems on their own if a parent is always interacting with them. They knew I was here when they needed me, and I knew where they were and who they were with.
Working Outside the Home
I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about whether or not I will work outside the home now that I’m starting over. Should I revive my teaching career? Should I get a part time job? A full time job? But then I recall how vital it was for me to be home with my boys, and I’ve decided I will do the same with the girls for now, especially before they get into school.
Choosing to stay at home with the boys when they were young is a decision I will never regret. Even after they were all in school, I worked only half time. It was easy to wonder if I should be doing more to help with the family finances. But we knew that being home with the boys was the best thing for them, and we made most of my employment decisions based on that.
Did they miss out on some things because of that choice? Sure, we haven’t taken many family vacations, they couldn’t attend church camp three times a year like many of their peers, they didn’t have phones until they were old enough to get a job and buy their own. But that has turned out to be a good thing in many ways. They had to make choices about what was really important to them, like which camp they would attend or which sport they would play. Knowing they had given something up to make that choice made them appreciate it more.
Being a stay-at-home parent doesn’t automatically mean that your kids are getting all the time and attention they need, and being a working parent doesn’t mean they aren’t. The question is, what are you doing when you’re with them? It was essential to me to not be over-stressed with so much going on that I wasn’t there for my boys, not only physically but emotionally.
Moms are pulled in so many different directions, even stay-at-home moms. We could be busy 24/7 with side jobs or volunteering, but I carefully chose how I spent my time outside the home so I had the energy needed to enjoy the time with my boys. Because of that, I have so many precious memories of their younger years. One of my boys in particular often mentions how much he loved being home with me in the early days. He has fond memories of going downtown for the Christmas parade every year, and of the summer we had season passes to our local amusement park. He talks about going to the zoo or the beach.
Even simple things like story time at the library or the fact that we spent time reading together every day remind us of how special it was that we had that time together. When he comes home from school and sees me here with his sisters, it brings those days back for him.
Wow! It sounds like being a stay-at-home mom was all sunshine and rainbows! On the contrary, it wasn’t easy; some days were very hard. I remember being at the end of my rope with my unruly two-year-old twins and their five-year-old brother. Our once peaceful home was being overrun by the “wild things” and I didn’t know what to do. After all, I could only lock myself in the bathroom so many times a day! Yes, there were many hard days, but I choose to remember the good times.
“Mom, Don’t Bring Your Phone. Okay?”
As much as I had to make an effort to give my kids the attention they needed, the relatively new phenomenon of smart phones is making it even more difficult for today’s moms.
There was an article circulating a few years ago admonishing a mom for being on her phone instead of interacting with her kids at the park. My first reaction was, Leave the mom alone! You don’t know what kind of night she had. This may be the only alone time she gets today, chilling on her phone while her kids play at the park. Is it any different than the days when moms read a book on the park bench?
Indeed, at that time, I was the mom whose only downtime was being on my phone while the kids played at the park. We had two awesome but demanding foster kids that summer who required extra vigilance, and my favorite part of the day was when they were playing together at the park. Not only were they learning valuable social skills by having me not interfere with their playing, but I was getting some much needed downtime.
Yes, there are appropriate times to let your kids play alone, and it’s okay for you to be doing something you enjoy during that time. But I challenge all the parents to make sure their phone time is appropriate. We use our phones not just to play games and interact on social media, but to set appointments, make grocery lists, return emails, pay bills, and a host of other things.
We forget that kids don’t know the difference between working or playing on our phones; they just know that something else has our attention. It feels like I don’t spend much time on my phone when my girls are awake, but my daughter apparently thinks otherwise. Sometimes when we are leaving the house, she says, “Mom, don’t bring your phone, okay?” Wow, what?! Why would she be saying that if I don’t spend much time on it? It makes me aware of how I am spending my time. Am I being present for my kids when they need me?
Evaluate Your Time
In conclusion, just remember that time with your kids is essential. Along with the busyness of the past few decades, the term “quality time” was coined to make parents feel better about not spending “quantity time” with their kids. Both are important, so don’t be too busy and stressed with your own life to get to know your kids or spend plenty of meaningful time together.
If you feel overwhelmed with too many obligations, maybe it’s time to take a cue from the minimalist movement. Step back and let some things go; focus on just your family for a while until things come back into balance. And moms, frequently evaluate your phone time to make sure you’re not missing vital moments with your growing children.
What Do the Boys Think?
Join me next week as I wrap up this series with some words from the boys. I asked them several questions about their growing up years, and some of the answers surprised me!
If you missed the first two posts of this series, check them out here: