Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When I like Something, I Usually do it Often

These were the words spoken by little almost-four-and-a-half-year-old Holly on the weekend. She was talking specifically about going on the swing in our backyard, but her words rang so true with me that I couldn't help thinking about the wisdom they contained.

When I like something, I usually do it often.

When I asked her about what other things she liked to do often, her list was varied and extensive: colouring, drawing, reading with Mommy, going swimming, playing Barbies with Anna, playing with the hose and the splash-pool and the sprinkler, eating popsicles, picking out her own clothes, buying new Playmobil. In the typical fashion of a thinking mother, and with my own personal bias prevailing, I was quite impressed by what her list didn't include: watching TV or movies, playing video games, going to other people's houses, having friends over to play.

And don't we ALL try to do the things that we enjoy as often as possible? What a healthy and natural pursuit for both adults and children! I am indescribably grateful that my children and I have the freedom to choose the activities that we enjoy. With no schedules, no imposed expectations and no undue influence, we live lives of freedom and joy every day.

They say that if you want to examine the difference between what you declare your priorities to be versus how you live out your priorities, you should keep track of what you spend your time on everyday. This is particularly useful and accurate when tracking your leisure time, but it can also apply to the workplace. In my case, the 15-or-so hours that I am awake everyday can be broken down as follows:

3 hours reading to or otherwise fully engaged with the children
2 hours of housework or gardening or doing jobs like paying bills
2 hours directly supervising or observing the children, but not engaged in
an activity with them
2 hours reading (for myself)
2 hours preparing and eating food
1 hour on the computer or on the phone
2 hours caring for the children such as bathing them, dressing them and
putting them to bed
1 hour hanging out with Partner-Guy

I think my use of my time is pretty good. I certainly don't spend my life cleaning the house!! I sometimes criticize myself for not working nearly as hard as my mother and grandmothers did when they were home with their children (and probably even after their children moved out, for that matter.) But then I have to think about my declared priorities. I've never declared that a clean house is high priority for me, and I am lucky and grateful that Partner-Guy does not pressure me to do more housework.

I have a sign in my bathroom (so that I can see it, read it and reflect on it often) that says:

Make the Relationship the Priority
1. Be physically engaged.
2. Give the child a positive feeling to hold onto.
3. Invite dependence.
4. Be the compass point.

Making a relationship a priority requires something that most people have far too little of: TIME. Modern parents have decided that quality-time is a substitute for quantity-time. I disagree. I believe that quality-time only happens when lots of time is available. Taking the kids to the zoo definitely qualifies as time engaged with the children but it is artificial and contrived and does not qualify as quality-time. By contrast, the times that I have felt deeply connected to my children have come out of long afternoons of reading books, rescuing ants off the driveway before Daddy comes home in the car and hearing their hilarious descriptions of the pictures they have drawn.

By freeing me from the need to earn an income, Partner-Guy has given me the biggest gift that I can share with our children. They won't remember the dishes all over the counter, but they will remember how together we saved hundreds of ants from certain annihilation. They won't remember how many books we read, but they'll remember how I read to them every time they asked.

Holly's words should be a mantra: When I like something, I usually do it often. That's my commitment to my family. My time belongs to them, because if the relationship isn't the priority, then what is?

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