“The family you come from isn’t as important as the family you’re going to have.” – Ring Lardner
In my practice I often joke with people that “we’re all messed up because we all have parents.” While this is said in jest I have yet to find someone who doesn’t get the joke. The truth is, all of us were raised by imperfect human beings. Most of us move forward in life with the idea that we won’t make the same mistakes our parents did. Many of us succeed at this . . . mostly. And then we have the horrifying moment when we hear our parent’s voice and words come out of our own mouths, and we cringe. OK, so we’re not perfect parents either. We have stress, responsibilities, busy schedules, and a desire to do a great job of parenting that sometimes falls flat. With that in mind I decided to share one theme I find present in most families I counsel that will significantly impact the trajectory of your family, and specifically your children.
A good friend of mine is a church pastor. He told me that his church gives a gift to the parents of every baby that is born into the congregation. The gift consists of a large glass jar with ~940 marbles. This is equal to one marble for every week of the child’s life up to age 18. The accompanying instructions are simple: every time a week passes by remove one marble from the jar. The result is a slow moving hour glass style representation of the time you have before your baby goes out into the world on their own. This provides a weekly reminder of just how precious your time with your child is, and how much time is left for you to teach and guide them toward adulthood.
This project resonated with me because one very common theme I see in family counseling is a lack of time spent with parents and children engaged with each other. Often family time is spent hauling kids to practices, events, or other activities where having a conversation just isn’t possible. While supporting your children by attending their games, recitals, and performances is very positive, it is not a substitute for one on one quality time. Talking and listening to your child in a quiet setting is one of the single best parenting moves you can make. Something as simple as a monthly date night with each child will give you (or your spouse) time to show you are invested in them. And this gives the child a special time to connect with you and have a real conversation that is about more than just tomorrow’s after school schedule. Teachable moments require true dialogue.
Take a look at your schedule and find a place to include quality time with your children. If time just isn’t available, consider what needs to be cut for the greater good of your family. The time you have to raise your children is finite. If being a soccer dad takes so much time that you can’t also be a father you may have to make some unpopular decisions. The good news is that as the parent you get to make the call. They may not show their appreciation right now, but investing time in your children will make a lasting and positive impact that your family will enjoy for years to come.
You may even consider buying a jar and some marbles. If you have come late to the party like I have you will have to do some math to figure out just how many weeks you have before your children will leave the nest. And, of course, by the time you finish raising the children you really will have lost all your marbles.