Thursday, March 18, 2010

Attention

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I was telling a friend recently about a memory I have of my father helping me with a school project. My fifth-grade class had read 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and my dad used his woodworking tools to carve a submarine. I painted it silver, and then I used yarn to fashion a giant squid, braiding each of its tentacles. I don't recall what my teachers or classmates said about the project, but I vividly recall the attention my dad paid me for those hours.

As a mom who works from home, I often feel guilty about the time I spend with my kids while I'm distracted. Yes, I'm here when they get home from school, but if I'm in the middle of a rush editing job, I'm not always able to close the laptop long enough to look each of them in the eye and ask, "How was your day?" and then, more importantly, to keep looking them in the eye while they answer. I know their memories of me as they walked in the door will be of me sitting in their line of sight, right here at the counter in the kitchen, typing away. I won't be the mom who had their snack ready and then sat with them at the table while they prattled away about recess politics and senseless homework assignments.

Could I quit working and be that mom. In theory, yes. But would it change my relationship with them? Make it stronger? Make them more well adjusted? No. I really don't believe it would.

My father and mother were busy all the time. All. The. Time. They owned their own business and each worked more than 40 hours a week and were tired when they got home, where still there was more to be done: cleaning, dinner, home repair, yard work. And I was busy, too: homework, piano practice, my own chores, a social life their own schedules couldn't afford them. I never thought to "miss" them, to wonder what my life would be like if my mom was more "milk and cookies" and my dad more "how are the boys treating you?" I was fine--completely fine.

I still am.

And I appreciate those memories of undivided attention I recall. I'm sure there were plenty I don't recall, too--ones I bet they do.

My guilt, I realize, isn't for my kids; it's for me. They'll remember I was here, just as I remember my parents were "there." They'll know I loved them, just as I know my parents loved me. If anything, my own children will remember me asking too many questions when I did have the time to pry. They'll remember me telling them to put on a different shirt or some deodorant or to write that thank-you note or to watch how they speak to each other.

And they'll remember, I hope, the moments of undivided attention I gave them. And I hope those memories will be as sweet to them as my memories of those moments will be . . . sweet, to me, but never enough.

3 comments:

Mendy said...

I don't know about this one. I think I know a few people that felt completely ignored as children - with working parents and without. Which doesn't mean you have to spend every second with your kids, but you do have to connect with them while you are DOING. (Which I'm guessing your parents did in their very busy lives). It's probably my guilt talking, but I know I could spend more time interacting with my kids and not just getting them involved in something else, away from me. I had a friend that would try to spend 30 minutes a day just playing or making herself available to her kids and not doing anything else during that time. I try to do that as well, and those days seem a lot better for everyone. Sheesh, I sound like a manual.

Bobbie said...

I absolutely agree that it's important to find time to connect with your kids, to listen to them, to play with them. I've been busy all week and took the afternoon today to just 'be' with the 5-year-old. And it was perfect, and, like you said, it's made for a better day for all of us.

I think, however (and maybe 'however' is the wrong word here), that we too often send ourselves on unnecessary guilt trips, as though we're on the verge every moment of our mothering lives of ruining our children, of causing irreparable harm because we didn't do 'enough.' But then we can never define what 'enough' is.

Mendy said...

Amen.