“We are always getting ready to live but never living.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
On a cloudy afternoon recently, I had an experience that ended up having a huge impact on my attitude as I approach the upcoming holiday season. My young daughter was playing nearby, as she often does, and for some reason, I decided to get down on the floor and play. I mean really play with her and do nothing else. I put the phone away, no TV on to keep us company, just her and I. After an hour or so, she looked at me and said, “Mama? I’m really having fun with you. But, why are you playing with me for so long? I really like it.”
Ouch! If you asked me how often I play with my children, I would say “everyday.” But in this technology driven age, with an abundance of distractions, literally at my fingertips, the honest truth it that I don’t really play with them (sans distractions) as much as I would like to. I have been guilty of saying “no,” when I should have said, “yes” (and I can still picture the disappointed faces). To multitasking when I should have focused. To missing out on special moments, because I simply didn’t see them.
The holiday season seems like the hardest time to start to be more present with the ones we love, with its overflowing to-do lists, and overbooked calendar, but I can almost guarantee that children will be far more impressed with our presence this year than the presents under the tree. With breaks from school and forced time indoors, this season can be the perfect opportunity to form a few habits that will hopefully result in more fulfilling relationships and shared moments in our homes as we start a new year.
Make a plan for how you will spend meaningful time with your family this winter…
- Limit phone and device time. Turn off your phone or put it in the other room for a planned portion of each day. Ask older kids and teens to also put away their devices during this time.
- Fill a jar with ideas of shared activities that are easy to do. Encourage children to add their own to the jar. Pull out an idea at least once a day and do it! Some ideas are: look at family photos, read together, play a board game, build a fort, play outside, dance to music, make some art, or play on the floor together.
- Plan a one-on-one date with each of your children at least once during the holiday season. This doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. Maybe a quick date to sip hot chocolate or a visit to the book store. The only rule: no distractions.
- Pick one night a week to spend together as a family and commit to it.
Less Presents, More Presence
Our children will most likely not remember all of the gifts they were given throughout the years, but they will remember the time spent together…
- Make the focus of at least a portion of your gift giving be on shared activities or experiences. Plan a road trip for later in the year and let your children help you plan it. Sign up for a class together for the coming year, or purchase tickets to a concert or event. Buy a new game that everyone can enjoy together.
- Encourage Grandparents and other gift givers to do the same. A toy is nice, but an afternoon alone with Grandma at the zoo will become a cherished memory.
- Create simple traditions your family will remember. Make brunch together on Christmas morning, read the same books every year, look at Christmas lights, whatever your family likes to do together.
Let it Become a Lifestyle
The truth is, you can’t predict when your best memories will be made, but focusing on being present will give you eyes to see those moments coming…
- Incorporate time with your children into the day. We are busy people with things to do-involve your children in your activities, chores and errands instead of waiting to spend time with them when your list is all crossed off (because when does that actually happen?).
- Be willing to be spontaneous. Some of my best memories are of times when my parents shirked their normal pattern/responsibilities to spend time with me. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but be open to the chance. The laundry and emails will still be there when you get back.
- Try to say “yes” to their requests for attention and time as often as you can.
- Build habits that naturally lead to more quality time: controlled screen time for everyone, regular weeknight dinners at home together, finding hobbies to enjoy together, etc.
- Say “no” to over commitment as a family.
- Say “no” to the ideals of perfection as a parent. You really can’t do it all, but you can choose what you will focus on and prioritize everyday.