I am, at the moment, holding a fussy five year old. It doesn’t make for the greatest writing conditions – but I suspect God has a point here. I have long believed that the best gift I can give my kids is my focused attention. Now that being said, I home school seven of my eight children, and unless I devise some method of dividing myself up into pieces on a routine basis, undivided attention, all the time, is an unrealistic goal. Actually, a rather unhealthy one too.
What I have discovered to be very healthy is being present in the moment that my children and I are actually interacting. Now that may sound obvious, but I have found myself distracted by so many events of the day, of the world, of the inner workings of my mind, by thoughts of the next job to do, that more often than not I am everywhere but really present to the person in front of me. So I have to train myself to focus. I think of it as being a guru-of-the-moment-in-training.
Some people actually get the idea that because I am home most of the time, my kids and I naturally know each other perfectly by mere osmosis. In truth, that is not so. You can live, work, and study, in the same house, even in the same rooms, and be very far from each other. It takes an act of will to ask the right kind of questions to discover what is going on in your children’s minds. Why not just say “So, how you doing today, Johnny?” Well, that works for an opener. But usually Johnny will counter with, “Oh, just fine.” And you’ll both go your separate ways again. I have found it is better to get right to the details. “What do you think of that Brave New World book you are reading?” “Hear anything interesting on the news?” “Got any good story ideas?” “Feeling a little tired, today?” “Got any ideas for a creative dinner menu?”
For younger children the questions are simpler – they are a lot more willing to talk. But it is imperative to actually hear their answer or you’ll end up with young adults who never listen either. It is very true that we set ourselves up more often than not for our futures. If we were terrible listeners to our children when they were young – we might expect them to be terrible listeners to us when we are old. Paying attention and asking questions, being sincerely interested in the answers, and asking follow up questions to clarify what you don’t understand, show sincere interest in someone else and in something beyond our next project.
It all sounds so simple doesn’t it? But in real life – it is the simplest things that define how we will be remembered. When my husband died, he didn’t get to take anything with him. Everything he ever owned was left behind, even his own body. But what I do believe he carried with him were his memories of his family, our love, our interest. and our presence. Often we live as if we are packing our projects to go with us to the next world. But as I see it now, the best thing we might start packing is our presence to those who still live with us.
Speaking of which, I have a five year old who’d like to take a walk. Got to go be present for a while…