The Army uses the slogan, “The toughest job you’ll ever love.”  As thankful as I am for our military men and women, I have to respectfully disagree.  Parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love.  There is nothing in this world that can take us to the limits of our patience, reveal our selfishness in such a magnified way, or leave us feeling convinced that we don’t have a single working brain cell  – all within the span of an hour!  It is tough being a parent.

When things get tough, we want to escape.  And, escapes are easy to come by in our world of iPhones, iPads, Facebook, etc.  Take a look around at the park, at the bounce house, at the ball field – parents’ eyes are looking down, staring at a little screen.   I am guilty.  Not more than 15 minutes ago, my precious daughter with eyes lit up and a smile that completely covered her face, came running in the room saying, “I made a song.  I made a song.  Do you want to hear it?”  In my distraction, I rebuffed her and sent her to her father, because I had something “important” I was working on.  And then I heard it.  From the kitchen, I heard an angelic little voice singing:

                  “I love you!  I love you!  I love you, yes I do!”

Daggers to my heart could not have pierced me more deeply than hearing that.  That was supposed to be my song – her love song to me – and I turned her away and my husband got to receive it.  So, I went groveling to her asking her to sing it to me, which she did so joyfully that I could have cried a thousand tears.  I almost missed that blessing.

So, how do we stay present with our children?  How do we pay attention to them when we are distracted, busy or just plain worn out?  There is definitely a time and a place for our distractions and our technology time and a break.  But, really, how many more songs will there be for me if I push her away repeatedly because I am too busy or too wrapped up in my own world to hear what she has to say? 

I am challenging myself to put my electronics aside more often and to find ways to engage wholeheartedly with my own children.  However, we sometimes need a little help figuring out ways to do this.  Below are some suggestions for ways we as parents can be involved, be present and be available to our children.

*Blow bubbles outside.

*Build a fort out of blankets and chairs and gather up the flashlights and create an indoor adventure.

* Serve someone in your community.  Bake cookies and take them to the firemen at the fire station.  Spend some time with the animals at the pet shelter.  Rake the leaves for an elderly lady in your neighborhood.

*Draw together.  Create a masterpiece together taking turns adding something new and interesting to the drawing.

*Cook together.  Invite your children into the kitchen while you make dinner.  Bake cookies together. 

*Tell them a funny story about when you were a child.

*Tell them funny stories about when they were a baby.

*Look at their baby pictures with them.

*Ask them to help you do chores around the house.  I have a “special” bottle of window and glass cleaner just for my children to help with.  No chemicals so I can turn them loose and let them go.  They feel helpful and we get to complete a task together.

*Read together.

*Pray together.

*Find something small to celebrate during the day – a new skill accomplished, a good grade at school, showing kindness to their sibling – and honor that during meal time with a special treat, a balloon, or some other creative, festive idea.

*Go to the park and actually play with them.  Get on the swings.  Go down the slide.  You might find you can still enjoy this too.

*Fill up spray bottles and have a water war in the backyard.

*Ask them about their favorite things.

*Hug them for no reason, just because.

Our time with these precious and amazing little people goes by much too quickly.  Carpe Diem – Seize the Day!

Robyn Thurman, MA, LPC