Sunscreen, Lobsters, and Parenting

Heading out for an all day, multi-family excursion to the beach, I tossed a bottle of sunscreen to the back of the van and told the kids to lather up.  Twelve hours later my nine-year-old was crying in pain as I tried to soothe her lobster-colored skin with aloe.  I was really upset with myself.  How could I have missed the fact that she hadn’t put sunscreen on?  We were together all day!  The painful incident for my little girl reminded me that, as Christian parents, being physically present to our kids is just the first step.  Actively engaging with them is the real goal.  Unfortunately and for a wide variety of reasons, as it was with the sunscreen and me, it can be pretty easy to be physically present to our kids, but emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually detached. Examples of this – examples of which I have been guilty at one time or another – are chitchatting on the phone while playing with the kids, concentrating too much on house projects, house cleaning, and/or working at my computer, and the classic example, chewing the fat on the sidelines of a game instead of cheering on my athletes.  TV shows and shopping can similarity pull our attention away from our kids.

Some of the things I mentioned above have to get done.  It’s impossible, not to mention unhealthy, to dote on our kids 24/7.  However, if we review the time we’ve spent with our children and see that it contains more time than not spent putting them off, telling them to go play quietly, or plugging them into another TV show or video game, then we are kind of missing the point of being with them.

To help myself stay on task in this area of parenting, I have come up with different plans over the years.  The plan that has worked the best is to schedule five short periods a day when I am completely available and intensely present to my kids.  Obviously, these are not the only times I am engaged with the kids, but by being sure that I am engaged during these times, I am usually able to stay in touch with their needs and give them focused attention even on the busiest of days.  I scheduled these periods to coincide with times when we are either reconvening after being apart, going in separate directions after being together, or eating together. Basically what I am doing is called “starting off on the right foot” or “parting on a good note.”  Christian psychologist and author, Dr. James Dobson, writes in Focus on the Family magazine that, “when we have been apart from those we love, we have an opportunity to reset the mood.  It all depends on the first five minutes [of getting back together],” and the last five minutes of sending each other off I would add.  Here are the time periods I came up with:

1) Greet the Day is when we first see each other in the morning. We routinely hug and say, “Good morning, how did you sleep?”

2) Meet the Day is when we say or sing prayers at breakfast, and I bless those departing the home.

3) Embrace the Day happens around mid-afternoon over a snack (after naps or school). Here we pause to sit together and ready ourselves for an afternoon of co-curricular activities.

4) Discuss the Day happens over family dinnertime.

5) Close the Day is when we read books together, say or sing prayers, and bless one another before bedtime.

No matter what else I have to get done in a day, it is my goal to be engaged with each child physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually at these five junctures every day.  Sometimes things slip, and I get distracted, like the day my nine-year old got cooked into a lobster.  Over the years, however, having this plan has helped me get back on track fairly quickly, and without experiencing too many whole family lobster bakes.

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