Next week is the fifteenth anniversary of my resignation from work to stay home with the kids. And I’ve been asking myself the question, what do I wish that I’d known then? And the first answer is: time.
Adults live in a world that is typically regimented in terms of time. There are work deadlines and due dates for bills. Many usually have one or more favorite activities that fill in the unused blocks. We fit in a trip to the gym for a workout before work or between work and dinner. We arrange for a weekend away with the mate or schedule a regular poker night with the buddies. And there are constant complaints about the lack of time and the constant rush to be somewhere or do something.
But kids are born with no innate sense of time. Their awareness of time is something that is absorbed from the parents and they will frequently later take on the habits and attitudes of their folks. But when they’re first born, they have no need to be somewhere and the only activities are the ones that the parents schedule for them.
What kids are born with is an extreme egocentrism. Initially, it’s necessary since a baby simply cannot take care of itself, but as the child grows and becomes aware, the egocentrism reigns supreme until he or she learns to consider others. And until this starts to develop, you have to understand that your life is no longer your own. You do need to find time for yourself to maintain some sanity, but your child isn’t going to care whether you were able to make the gym or have the poker night. And the reality is that with the new requirements of parent- and fatherhood, you aren’t going to have time available for them.
One of my major challenges over the years has been to find a balance between schedule and flexibility, especially when the kids are very young. I have to make the doctor and dentist appointments work within the construct of their daily needs – feedings and naps – but what can be jettisoned if they’re in a growth spurt and need the additional sleep? How do I reapportion the daily task load when she’s teething and especially needs hands-on attention while I should be making dinner? What has to go away to make time for coaching the soccer team or leading the scout den? How do I function when I’ve gotten four hours sleep from caring for a kid with a g-i virus?
The irony is that while kids have no concept of time, time is what they require most. You don’t have to give them a new toy a week to maintain their interest and you don’t have to sit them in front of the television or computer to occupy them. What you do need to do is spend concentrated time with them. Take them for walks or to the park, play games with them and read to them, and talk to them. The child isn’t going to be terribly aware of what he doesn’t have until he’s taking in more television and spending more time with other kids. And if you give him the time that he requires for his development – and no, there’s not a hard and fast number – then he really isn’t going to give a damn that somebody has more Bakugon cards.
So don’t get terribly frustrated when it seems like there’s no time. There is time and God willing, there will be time again when they’re older. But accept that what you considered to be timely – in terms of activity and time spent – is going to change for the next number of years. And try to enjoy them. As someone once wrote to me, I miss those days.