Reminder To Parents: It’s ‘Next Week’

Someone once said that relationships and feelings are all that really matter in life; that everything else is of secondary importance.  Of the many relationships a person develops throughout his (or her) life, none has a greater or more long-lasting impact (for good or bad) on him than those formed with his parents.  Such relationships set the stage — provide the foundation — for the child’s developing view of himself, others, and the world.  The bonding process which begins at birth is critical to the development of the newborn’s sense of trust and security.  Later, the quality of the attachment between parent and child affects the child’s developing self-image, ability to relate to others, and judgment and decision-making (to name just a few areas).

Parents give their children a priceless gift when they blend nurturance with discipline to create the basis for a healthy relationship.  As experienced parents know, however, this gift requires more than just good intentions or words alone; it requires considerable time, effort, and patience.  Of these, perhaps none is more difficult for parents to come by than time.

Several years ago the LDS Church produced the Homefront Series, a collection of TV commercials aimed at promoting the Church’s image and values.  One commercial opened with a father lounging in his easy chair while eating in front of the TV.  In the background stood his child, sadly and impatiently waiting for his father to come play catch with him.  An anonymous voice asks the father, “Remember when you promised your son you’d spend some time with him next week?” to which the father lazily nods his head.  “It’s ‘next week’,” the voice pointedly chides.

Periodic reminders that “next week” is here help parents stay focused on their most important shared priority: their children.  Children need their parents’ time and attention, not merely for supervision but, more importantly, for their developing self-image.  They need to feel that they are important, that they’re worth spending time with.  When parents take time with a child, they send a strong message of love and approval that registers deep within the child’s heart.  This is time well-invested, as it contributes to the child’s development of a healthy self-concept.  Conversely, failure to give time and attention to one’s child can, over time, leave him feeling that little of who he is or what he does is of value.  Such low self-esteem places the child at risk for seeking attention and approval in less ideal places and in less desirable ways.

Clearly, the amount of time spent together has a tremendous impact on the nature of the parent-child relationship.  Some have argued that it’s “quality time” rather than the quantity of time spent together which is most important.  While I agree that the quality of the time spent is crucial, I think this argument is often used as an excuse for not spending more time with one’s children (or spouse, for that matter).  The story is told of a man who ordered a prime cut of steak at a fine restaurant.  When the waitress brought him his meal, the man immediately was indignant that the steak was only one inch in diameter, only a fraction of what he had eagerly anticipated.  “But”, insisted the waitress, “you asked for our highest quality steak.”  Clearly, quality counts, but not at the expense of quantity.

Parents busy raising a family know all too well how bills and errands and responsibilities can get in the way of the “more important things” of spending time with little (or bigger) ones.  Life seems to work against us because it often brings on added responsibility the longer we live; just when our kids need us most we seem to have that much more to do.  What’s worse, adulthood robs us of the energy we once had, so we’d rather sit on the couch and read the newspaper or plop down in front of a good video than play Barbies, Catch, or talk about the “cute guys” at school.

Despite these obstacles, just about every mother and father can rehearse instances in their own childhood, “golden moments” that have been forged into memory by loving parents.  I remember, for instance, when my father used to fold up a towel for home plate and call ‘balls’ and ‘strikes’ as I pitched to him in the back yard.  I likewise remember the Saturday evenings when, after bath time, Mom would give us kids a snack and let us choose between going to bed or watching Lawrence Welk on the old black and white TV.  It still doesn’t seem like Lawrence Welk was much of a choice, but I do have the memory of mom singing to the orchestra tunes midst all those bubbles.

One of the greatest opportunities parents have in influencing their children’s lives for good are found in the moment-by-moment opportunities for positive memories.  We’ve all taken advantage of these, such as when you took the time to place a note of love and support in your son’s backpack that he will only discover when he opens his book during math; or when you asked your daughter if she’d mind if you sat by her at dinnertime, then you gloated to the family of the many ways she resembles the ideal mother of a future prophet; or how about the time you surprised your son by including yourself in on a basketball game when his friends come over to play?  Other positive experiences have been created out of outings for ice cream cones, trips to the public library for books, visits to the mountains for a hike or to sing and tell stories around the campfire, and spontaneously splashing in the heaven-sent downpour with the kids.  Family vacations are themselves ready-made producers of priceless memories that often become legends over time.  The establishment of traditions, too, can add to the closeness between parents and children.  Quite simply, the positive influence parents have on their children grows as they spend time with them, be it on a grand scale or in the moments of everyday life.

Indeed, even more important than the “golden moments” are the simple daily interactions between parent and child, such as the time a mother spends and the interest she shows in her son’s cut knee; the attention a father gives as his daughter plays her newest piano piece; the understanding a father offers as his son tells of a fight with a friend; or the patience a mother shows in not retaliating when her daughter says hateful things in a moment of rage.  Similar demonstrations of love are shown by parents who take the time and effort to consistently employ discipline and uphold family rules.  Part of loving a child is taking the time to correct and teach him when he misbehaves.  The above efforts form part of how a child remembers his parents, will greatly influence his childhood experience, and will have a tremendous impact on the type of adult and parent he himself becomes.

Naturally, expending time and effort in a child’s behalf does not guarantee that he will develop as his parents might hope.  None of us is perfect in our parenting nor do we have endless resources to draw from.  Still, we can all give a little  more to our children.  The “little more” involves time and energy and patience.  Our children need our genuine interest in their lives, attention to their successes and failures, encouragement to persist in times of difficulty, and support in their efforts to do their best.  There is simply no substitute, no short-cut to spending time with our children, nor is it something we can delegate to others.  We can all do a little better if we remember that ‘next week’ begins this week.

 

Steven M. Gentry, PhD., is a Child & Family Psychologist and the Executive Director of
Psychological Assessment & Treatment Specialists in American Fork, Utah