One of the most powerful parts of parenthood is the fact that you get to watch your children grow and change over time.
They start off as babies, where the bonding is easy. You can hold them in your arms, feed them, sing to them, and rock them to sleep on your shoulder.
Soon, they grow into toddlers, where the bonding changes into teaching them very basic things, like how to walk and how to correctly use the bathroom. They also emotionally rely on you in a very deep way, running to you every time there’s a new situation that they don’t know how to tackle.
Later in childhood – but before the teen years hit – they continue to grow and change. This is where I find myself with my two oldest children (my youngest is still pretty much in the “toddler” stage in life).
They know how to do a lot of things for themselves. They’re also developing a strong sense of their own emotions and internal life and limits. With my two oldest children, they can easily find entertainment and play for themselves without my involvement at all.
In short, they don’t need me as much as they once did – at least, not in the obvious ways.
It is at this stage where I can understand how easy it is for busy parents to just buy their kids things and let them be largely independent at home. Most of us are in a mid-career phase where we are simply inundated with work opportunities. We’re also responsible for keeping up a household, some semblance of a social life, community responsibilities, and (ideally) a bit of time left over for personal interests. Our children seem to need us less and seem to need us even less if we give them things to focus on independently, so it can be tempting.
It’s also something I’m aware of and I’m actively trying to resist.
Regardless of their burgeoning independence, my children do still need me. I’m 35 and I still need my parents.
They need me for their basic life needs. They need me for safety and security. They need me for unconditional love and hugs. They need me for praise, particularly in terms of their work ethic. They need me to answer questions about life and countless other things. They need me to listen to them. They need me to teach them new things. They need me to be there when times are tough to help them through and when times are great to celebrate.
So, even though it is at times very tempting to fall into that trap, I strive to spend devoted time with my children each day. It’s time that they need, not stuff.
I talk to them about their day and, if they’re not saying much, I follow up with questions.
I play board games with them and talk about strategies and choices and how to make them.
I figure out what they’re interested in and try to participate in it with them.
I get them to help me with household chores with the focus of teaching them how to do the tasks rather than efficiently completing them.
I give them each a hug every day, whether they’re not really enthusiastic about it.
I do this thing with them that I call “interactive storytelling,” where we make up a story together. When they were younger, the stories were simple, but today they’re multi-threaded and often last over multiple sessions.
All of these things only cost me time. There’s no money investment here (unless you argue that I could spend that time writing an ebook or something). It also keeps them from doing too many independent and passive things, which are good some of the time but can easily be overdone and create distance.
I set aside at least one hour each day for these things – and more in the weekends.
Not only do these things reduce their need for things like video games and computers (which saves us money), these steps go a long way toward maintaining and even growing a strong relationship between us and helping them mature into well-rounded young people.
Don’t throw money at children. Give them time instead.