As I drive to work each morning, I pass a local elementary school. On a typical weekday morning between 8:30 and 9:00, yellow lights flash, signaling drivers to reduce their speed to 15 mph while children are arriving for school. Brake lights turn red as drivers yield to the law for those several hundred feet.
One morning, much to my surprise, well after passing the sign that announced End of School Zone, I was still traveling 15 mph. I only realized this when the driver behind me kindly notified me with a startling “honk.” Oh my! It was almost as if I had become comfortable at this speed and needed to be alerted to my now unnecessary slowness.
I promptly accelerated. Simultaneously, I began reflecting on those few moments of reduced speed.
- I felt my body relax.
- My mind stopped racing.
- I saw details of homes, yards, trees, and people.
- I thought about my family.
- I contemplated how rarely I intentionally slow down.
My reflections drove me further. Calendars and appointments have a way of propelling us forward. Fast forward. Does your day begin with the goal of accomplishing as much as is humanly possible, and then some? After all, others judge your worth by what you produce and achieve. Our culture frequently reminds us that you are what you do. Driving at top speed leads to greater results. Or does it?
Slow Down to Pay Attention and Listen
When it comes to parenting, results are rarely recognized. Yes, when you make meals, tie shoes, drive kids to school or an activity, or purchase a fall jacket, you have something tangible to show for your efforts, however briefly.
But other parenting pursuits such as playing a game, reading a story, listening to an idea, assisting with a school project, comforting a discouraged child – these require effort that doesn’t always yield instant, positive, measurable, or observable results.
Yet these, more than the first set of tasks, demand that you stop and focus. Thought is involved. Emotions fluctuate. Your needs get set aside. Reading a story while “on the run” just isn’t as satisfying for your child or you.
Trouble with Not Tuning In
One of the problems with being in such a rush is that relationships suffer. More specifically, your children lose out. Their emotional need for connection with the most significant people in their lives goes unmet.
Children tend to view your distraction, your not paying attention to them, your focusing on things in your life other than them as your lack of interest in caring for them. They feel your love when you focus fully on them, communicating that they are the most important “things” in your life.
How to Tune-In
This focused attention consists of direct personal involvement. It goes beyond slowing down. It involves being with a child physically, intellectually, AND emotionally – tuning in and being “all here” for your children. It means you temporarily let go of your agenda to give priority to theirs. You stop, look, and listen.
For some parents, this does not come naturally. You may not have had healthy modeling from your parents. Or you may have daily schedules that are so tight that you can barely meet your own basic needs. Sometimes you are unaware of the busyness in which you are swirling. Fortunately, your children often remind you of their need for your presence. They are more present-focused.
Benefits of Slowing Down
As my oldest child nears the beginning of his college career, I am all too conscious of how quickly he has grown up. The cliché that “kids grow up too fast” has proven true. Looking back, I am grateful for those afternoons at the playground, rushing to see a train go by, cuddling up to read books, going out to eat together, watching football games (in our case, the Philadelphia Eagles), listening to his dreams, and on and on. Yes, there are regrets too.
But as I slow down to ponder these last eighteen years, I realize he was not the only one to benefit when I slowed down to engage with him.
- I had fun!
- We developed a relationship that continues today.
- I learned facts about trains, trucks, construction equipment, the Titanic, Legos, the Eagles, and more!
- Traditions were built, such as family mealtimes, which continue today.
- The values of fun, relaxation, and sharing time together were transmitted.
It takes effort, deliberate intention, and self-control to slow down. Sometimes you may need to pretend you have blinders on so you can ignore the judgmental reactions of others.
- Set aside time.
- Make an appointment with your child.
- Let go of that “have to” on your list.
- Ask her to accompany you on an errand.
Whatever you decide, don’t put it off. Your child is worth it. You are worth it. Your relationship is worth it. Start today!
By Pam Nicholson, Certified Parenting Educator
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