In this age of a pandemic with working from home and schooling from home and daycare from home, and cleaning our homes, not to mention taking care of repairs, pets and yards if you’re lucky enough to have one, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to juggle all of these things. My kids are grown and out of the house now, luckily for them, because homeschooling my children would probably have been their worst nightmare. Ostensibly, I was not good at overseeing even the humble homework assignment.
My son recently had the audacity to suggest that I should have made more of an effort to oversee his schooling. I shot him a look and reminded him that every time I tried to help with his homework, he climbed under the table. Okay, hindsight is 20-20 and I definitely could have been more patient, but I wish at the time I had known what I know now about preemptive action and my children.
In thinking about this extraordinarily difficult and challenging time we all live in, I am reminded of a little morning routine with my dog. After he has eaten his breakfast and returned from a brief visit outside to take care of his business, he runs upstairs and stands in front of his bed. That’s my cue to spend a minute petting him. I start with his ears, then I pet his chest, then I gently massage his back and pet his stomach. I put his blanket on him, he steps into his bed and falls asleep for another couple hours.
This whole process beginning to end lasts not more than a minute, just one minute. (I timed it.) This little bit of attention is all he needs so I can finish drinking my coffee and reading the morning news.
Without comparing children to dogs, because as someone who raised four children I am not that person, I do think there are some similarities. Sometimes children just need to connect with their parents in a small, yet meaningful way.
Be aware of when your child needs some attention. My dog is crystal clear about it. He usually stands next to me and stares, or gently paws at me. When you think about it, kids are even more obvious when they need some attention. Depending on their age, it sometimes entails them acting out, fighting with their siblings, crying or interrupting, often during a phone call, or these days a Zoom call.
It seemed that every time I started talking on the phone, my kids would, without fail, pester me. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same thing.
What if we took the time to give our children a couple of minutes – just a couple – of our full attention and concern right before we log onto our next call? Try staring into their eyes. Ask them how they are doing. Start with yes or no questions so they don’t clam up. Listen when they respond. Smile. Maybe give them a little shoulder and back massage. Perhaps they need a little snack, or a short walk around the block. Just spend a little time on it before sending them back on their way.
I am not talking about the general taking care of one’s child – dressing them, cooking for them, bathing them, playing with them – obviously, the larger commitment of parenting, but the little times in between.
There are many studies pointing to the virtues of giving our children positive attention. Catch them when they’re being good, was one of the first pieces of advice I received after having children. That always felt disingenuous to me. When? How? But it’s really not about that, is it? It’s about those neutral moments. Not necessarily good, not necessarily bad.
According to the Urban Child Institute, it is impossible to give young children too much attention. People are still under the misconception that they will “spoil” their children. In fact, research has shown that parents should be more concerned with whether they are being attentive enough rather than being overly attentive.
My suggestion is, don’t wait. Don’t wait until they are acting out. Or don’t even wait until they’re being good. Give them attention preemptively. If you did that five times a day, for a few minutes each time, that would only amount to twenty or thirty minutes out of your day. If they are still acting out, try giving them five minutes more of attention.
There is power in acting preemptively. Think about healthcare. We have a physical once a year. As women, we have mammograms every year after forty. As a diabetic, I have a full retinal eye exam every year. We should have a colonoscopy every ten years starting at fifty. By doing these things we can catch potential problems preemptively, before they advance too far, before we are too late.
As a CFO for much of my career, the job entailed preemptively making decisions to protect the company. I have actually read the fine print on insurance policies to make sure proper protection was included. The same goes for loan documents. I’ve always set up lines of credit when I didn’t need them (everyone should do this) in case some big awful thing happened in the future that would require a lot of money to fix. Software and server protection programs were always installed including backups. Firewalls were established against hackers. Procedures and processes were implemented to defend against embezzlement and theft. Any and every business must rigorously prepare and preemptively protect against potential problems.
The other thing I did was to speak to my staff regularly and frequently. Relationships were fomented to head off any problems at the pass. Sometimes, I would just pop into people’s offices to chat for five minutes. See how they were doing. Were they running into any problems?
This is exactly what I am suggesting with your children. Think of yourself as the CFO of your family. Try it this week and let me how it goes. Finally, this is my mea culpa to you, Alex. Apologies for dropping the ball on the homework oversight.