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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Don't blink

You know the saying: "Don't blink or you'll miss it."  It can be used literally in the event of an anticipated quick moment.  It is more often used as hyperbole to emphasis the fleeting nature of a situation, such as how quickly children grow.

Experts say our eyes are drier in this digital age because screens keep us from blinking enough.  The irony is those periods of not blinking are actually making us miss the small but important moments in our lives.

I have this illusion that sitting in the same room as my kids, looking up from my computer frequently, is going to keep me from missing those moments.  I know I still miss some, but what's worse is knowing how I'M KEEPING THEM FROM HAPPENING.

There is the obvious lack of my participation: games I could play with my children, moments of cuddling and stories we could enjoy.  Then there's the part I feel lucky to have noticed early on, before it became habit.

My children, as most children, have a certain (somewhat irritating) phrase at the ready at all times.  That phrase is, "Mommy, look at me!"  Some might argue here that of course my children are literally crying out for my attention; I'm on the computer.  Most parents know that children will use this attention-getting technique in any situation, even when you are right there interacting with them.

So what does it mean when your kids stop saying, "Look at me?"  They must be secure enough playing on their own that they no longer need your constant attention, right?  Maybe they have grown out of that phase. It's just a toddler and preschooler thing, right?

What if they stopped asking because you weren't responding?

Does that mean they don't need or want your attention?  Absolutely not.  It means you've lost their trust.

Now here is where someone is going to say I'm blowing this way out of proportion.  How can "look at me" be compared to safety and fulfilled needs?  IT'S JUST BASIC HUMAN PROGRAMMING.  Search the Internet.  You'll find all sorts of reputable experts and institutions stating this and the proof.

Lucky for me (or should I say "Thank God"), I put this all together and realized I need to be not only responding to my children when they say, "Look at me!," but I need to be responding immediately.

Since I discovered this, I've been working on training myself to immediately drop everything and look at my child.  What have I noticed?  My children are happier, nicer to each other, nicer to our possessions, and MORE WILLING TO WAIT when I need them to.

I definitely have moments and even days when I am too busy or not in the mood to be at my children's beck and call.  Through these moments I've learned something else: my children can accept this IF I EXPLAIN IT TO THEM.  What a concept, eh?  "I have to make some important phone calls, so I can only help you if it's an emergency, okay?"  "I'm not feeling well, so I need you to help me out and give me some space.  Do you understand?"  They are happy to entertain themselves (once in a while) if I just ask.

I can't take the credit for these moments of enlightenment.  Elizabeth George, in her book A Woman After God's Own Heart, talks about creating Five Fat Files, five areas of expertise for your life on which you spend most of your time and brainpower.  This concept was liberating.  I wanted to read mostly books on marriage and parenting and a few other limited subjects, but I was afraid I was going to miss something important.  She said it's impossible and impractical to read everything, so we should focus on that which will most affect our lives.

One of my five is parenting.  I've been reading books and blogs and articles and websites...everything I can find.  I even have an Internet bookmark folder called "Five Fat Files," in which I place websites and articles I've found useful.  I've been practicing scripts to use in - and adapt to - certain situations.  Boy, has that been a good use of time and brainpower!

Now I can hear someone saying that I'd be better off spending less time reading about parenting and more time doing it.  That's like saying you'd be better off throwing ingredients together instead of learning to cook or at least reading a recipe.  Or hammering pieces of wood together instead of learning the necessary construction skills or at least watching a YouTube video of how to build whatever you are building.

It's not like there are specific instructions or techniques for parenting, but there are tips and tools and ideas that you can store away for when you need them.  A chapter at night before bed, a few articles while the children are happily playing or a blog delivered to your email daily that you can read on your phone whenever you have a spare two minutes are all ways to expose yourself to this invaluable knowledge.

It is this research that has helped me become more aware of my children, their needs, their wants, their love languages, and so forth.  Constantly pumping myself with these parenting ideals is changing my instincts, my reactions, my reaction time.  It's making me more aware of my areas of opportunity, in all areas of my life!

(Please, if you use the terms "weaknesses"  or "shortcomings" or the like in reference to anything animate, especially people, please, please change your way of thinking to "areas of opportunity" or anything else more hopeful.  This change of heart will affect you and everyone around you - your spouse, your children, your friends - in a positive way.  It completely changes your attitude.)

Our children are only children for a short while.  Why not work as hard as you can to be the best parent you can be by learning all you can about how to be the best you for your individual child?  Be knowledgeable and be present.  The rest will fall into place.

So I'm not asking you to not blink but rather to blink.  Blink to break your focus on the screens.  Blink to change your view of your surroundings.  Blink (and take a deep breath) to remind yourself to look inward as well as outward.  Trust me when I say the blinking will open your eyes so you don't miss a thing.

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