Winter is Coming
What have you planted in your parenting garden lately? Did you sow anything to keep your family nourished in the days ahead? Sometimes it’s only when the weeks are cold and the cellar is empty that we stop to reflect on the fact that we never gathered any nuts when it was still possible. That’s an awfully sad situation to be in.
It can happen that we are so busy juggling all the demands of family and work and home when our kids are young, that we neglect to make preparations for their emotional needs as they grow. If you have a strained relationship with your teenager then winter is already here.
Coulda, shoulda, woulda
Once I worked with a couple who came to discuss their break-up. We explored options for separation and co-parenting of their two young children. Dad wanted to stay together but mom had lost trust. They each explained their positions and what they were feeling.
Dad earnestly described how crushed he would be to not see his kids every day. He wished his partner would give their relationship another chance. “You and the boys are everything to me,” the man told his wife. Although she cried hearing this, her reply was, “I don’t believe you anymore.”
I facilitated their dialogue as they constructed a picture of their family living apart. The regular issues that parents have in these situations – schedules, expenses, decision-making – were all on the table. The woman asked her husband, “If the boys are everything to you, how come you only want them 25% of the time?” The father explained about the demands of his work and how he viewed the needs of the two young people. The mother responded, “I work full time too, you know. I think this is a matter of priorities.”
Investigating spending habits can help people understand their priorities. Specifically I ask, “What do you spend your time and money on?” It can be difficult to know where our cash goes – it’s another big thing to pay attention to when we already have too many things pulling at our minds. But without conscious awareness of our bank account, the balance is just like anything else where we lack information – we aren’t in a position to make rational decisions about it.
“How much time did you spend with your sons this past week?” I asked the man. He told me what he remembered, however his wife recalled it differently. Then I inquired, “How often did you bathe them? Read to them? Take them somewhere outside the house?” This focused the conversation, and it became clear that he did much less of the parenting than she did.
We took out a calendar and made some notes on the work of raising a family including the fine details of personal energy outputs. The husband had been regularly spending his dollars and energy on snowmobile trips and electronic gadgets while his wife had been doing bedtime almost every night for seven years. Suddenly the mom turned to face her husband, “This is why I haven’t trusted you for so long – you always say the boys matter but then act like they don’t.”
If we sincerely put time and money into family development, it usually pays off. When we regularly supply our parenting projects with awareness and energy,
there are gains to be had. But with no investment there’s little harvest.
Adults might think building a new home or buying a fancy grad dress are ways to provide for the family. They can be, yet don’t forget that what really keeps children warm at night is the physical and emotional presence of their grown-ups. What FEELS like love to young people is our calm and interested attention, not our words about how much we care and how hard we work.
Meeting the needs of each family member at all times is an impossible task. There are no guarantees in life, and any investment is a gamble, so it makes sense to take thoughtful risks with our time and money. As much as you can, involve yourself in activities that plant seeds for the future people your children are growing into.