PAREN(T)HESIS — Time For Kids

April 2, 2018

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

As Mother’s Day approaches, we will see lots of articles and interviews about motherhood. Many will be insightful and surely provide a new angle for thinking about raising children or inspiring a new appreciation for its blessings. But I find one truth that stands above the others: The importance of spending time with children. I don’t mean dressing up for holidays, going on Wisconsin Dells trips, or attending concerts together. I’m thinking of plain, old quotidian time.

Having tea together, sitting around reading, or assembling a puzzle don’t make good photographs or moments to share with grandparents. They won’t sound impressive in a daily journal or look good on Instagram. But what doesn’t make a good social media moment does make a good parent-child relationship. It’s true, too, for grandparent and child or guardian and child.

I’ve heard executives brag about attending all their kids’ games. But I know they weren’t around for much “everyday” time after school when nothing particular was happening except meal prep and homework plus lessons or practices. I think it’s nice to attend some of one’s children’s games, chess matches, dance recitals, etc., but during these events, the child isn’t getting interpersonal interaction with their parent, who is sitting with other adults.

In my opinion and that of child expert Dr. Meg Meeker, it’s more important to be around to do things like help with homework, share a podcast, or bake something together. Meeker, a pediatrician who has listened to children share their needs and fears for 30 years, has concluded that every child wants lots of attention from parents—even 16 year olds who roll their eyes when their parents enter a room.

Looking back on my own happy childhood, I do distinctly remember and appreciate one Christmas and one birthday (I got an awesome purple bicycle), and I especially remember a trip that just my mom and I took to Florida, which was a big treat for us.

More than those isolated, exciting events, I remember playing catch or shooting hoops with Dad after school, reading on the couch on a Saturday, and dozens of outings on weekends like cross-country skiing or hiking in Muskego Park or the Southern Kettle Moraine. My sister and I played sports or our own invented fun with neighborhood friends. To me, these unremarkable hours are the true building blocks of my childhood.

Sometimes my parents had fun without us and went out with friends, while my sister and I were “stuck” with fish sticks for dinner and a babysitter. My dad, a police officer, often had to work weekends. But I got an overriding sense that there was time for us to be together and that’s precious to me now.

Some of my most deeply-felt memories seem almost silly to share because they were so commonplace: goofing around with the dog, playing in a treehouse my dad built while he worked nearby in the garage with the Badgers football on the radio, and lying in sunbeams in the living room with my sister while my mom made pudding on a Sunday afternoon. These are the most evocative vignettes for me. No photograph triggers these recollections and they are not the type of thing American society applauds.

But while most of society doesn’t value them, they are valuable. Though they’re free, or don’t cost much, they are not easy to achieve in today’s fast-paced society.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at jill@bayviewcompass.com

Learn more about Dr. Meeker: megmeekermd.com

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