Sunday, 24 April 2011

Too busy to parent?

There are so many things we can give our children.  Amazing toys and games, DVDs, computers, expensive holidays and clothes.  You can work hard and earn enough to be able to get a mortgage on a big house and drive an expensive car.  None of these are bad things and, if you choose to give them to your children, they will smile and enjoy them.  There is nothing wrong with that.
What is the best gift you can ever give your children?  The thing they will always remember and never forget?  The thing which will develop and grow them the most?  The thing which will help them to achieve in later life?  The answer lies in something which costs nothing but means everything to your child.  The answer is YOU.

Modern life can be so busy.  We fill our days with answering phone calls, checking emails, watching TV, facebook, twitter.  We work long hours and feel the pressure to put in the extra time at the office.  We promise ourselves we'll focus on our family tomorrow or next week when we have more time but that day never arrives.
When your first child is born people tell you their childhood will go by so quickly and you know that you have plenty of time to cherish your children.  The truth is that they are right and all too quickly the baby is a toddler and then the toddler is at school and before you know it they've grown up.
I don't remember one single gift I was ever given by my parents as a child.  What I do remember are the times we spent together and the things we did.  I remember that very clearly.
If there was one single piece of advice I could give to all parents it would be this.  Spend time with your children.  It doesn't matter what you do with them, just spend time with them and as much of it as you can.  I don't know anyone who has ever said they wish they'd spent less time with their children but I know plenty who wish they'd been able to spend more time with them.

It can be really difficult to find that time in amongst a busy life and I don't want anyone to feel guilty that they can't give enough time to their children.  Sometimes you will need to work, clean, shop, whatever and that's ok.  My plea is that you try not to let those precious years of your children's lives slip through your fingers.
Here are my tips for making the most of your time with your children.

1. Try to eat together as a family - turn off the TV and talk together, find out about what has happened in the day

2. Read with your child - take time to do this everyday at bedtime and do not answer the phone whilst you are reading

3. Listen to your child - give them your full attention when they speak, get on their level and look them in the eye.  Value what they say.

4. Tell your child you love them, use affectionate touch (cuddles, holding hands, etc) when you talk to them.

5. Involve your child in household tasks.  Use this as a chance to spend time with them.  Cook with them, clean with them, do simple DIY tasks with them, involve them in shopping for groceries, gardening.  Talk to them whilst you complete tasks, teach them how to do things.

6. Get outdoors and amongst nature.  Do this even in poor weather.  Run and play, laugh, jump, splash in puddles, get messy and dirty.

7. Play with your child.  Find out what their interests are and play with them.  Sports, jigsaws, board games, make believe, messy play, whatever!

8. Use car journeys to chat with your child.  Have a conversation and enjoy each other's company whilst you are stuck in traffic!

9. Write a letter to your child.  Even a very small child will love receiving a letter from a parent.  Post it and it will become even more exciting!

10. Ask yourself if you're really too busy.  There are very few things which are a real emergency and can't wait.  Your children are only children once.  The phone call, email, work project can wait.  One day your children will stop asking for your time and then you'll regret not spending time with them when they were little.  Make the most of the years you won't get back.
Make time for your family and make the most of the time you have got.  You don't need to be wealthy to give your children a fantastic childhood.  Deprived children are not those who live in poverty (although we should work to get rid of child poverty and help those in financial need) but deprived children are those who do not have their parent's time.  Spending time with your children will give you the opportunity to develop your relationship with them, to teach them skills and the values you hold dear.  To show them the wonders the world holds and to share their joy as they discover it.  You will never, ever regret a moment of the time you make to spend with your children and they will remember it forever.

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