The hands on my watch don’t move anymore, but the watch is not broken. I have purposely disengaged the mechanism. I did this as a reminder to myself.
The decision to disable my watch was a result of a morning that didn’t go as smoothly as planned. I was running late for work, and I needed to take the kids to school on the way. When it was time to leave the house, I called for the kids to come down the stairs. My daughter, then four-years old, came down wearing her pajamas.
Why, I demanded to know, was she still in her pajamas? She was taken aback by my accusatory tone. Her feelings hurt, she left a piece of paper on the table and ran back upstairs. I picked up the paper.
It was a page from a coloring book. The picture was of a little cat kicking a soccer ball, with the words “Love Dad” scrawled in pencil underneath.
She hadn’t changed into her clothes yet because she was coloring a picture for me. While I was thinking about getting to work, she was thinking about me.
Reflecting on this later, I asked myself two questions.
If I had been a couple minutes later to work that day, in the long run, would it have mattered to anyone?
The answer is of course not. In twenty years, or in one year, or even in a week, no one will have remembered that I showed up to work a couple minutes later than usual.
If I had taken the time to get down on one knee, comment on her choice to combine yellow and red to make the sun, and ask what it felt like to color that bright orange bow on the cat’s head, in the long run, would it have mattered to anyone?
Of course it would have. It would have mattered to that little girl, and to the grown up she is to become. And sharing that moment with her would have mattered to me, too.
Life can get in the way of those little moments. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but sometimes we let life get in the way. It’s important to take charge, and make time for these little moments.
If a walk to the car is derailed by the sounds of a woodpecker, even if time is pressing, sometimes it’s okay to spend some time with your child listening to the woodpecker and trying to spot it. If your son brings you a book when you are busy cleaning the house, sometimes it’s okay to stop what you’re doing and read with him. If your daughter wants to show you a picture but you’re already running late, sometimes it’s okay to enjoy the picture with her.
Nobody can make time for these things for us. We, as the parents, have to prioritize for ourselves. We can make choices that will allow us to someday look back on our parenting experiences not with regret, but with satisfaction. We can choose to be the kind of parent who is in the moment, not thinking about what else we need to do later, but about what is happening right here, right now. We can choose to make time for our children.
I am now reminded to be that kind of parent every time I look at my watch.
Brian Vondruska is father to two children. He is the founder of www.thekindofparentyouare.com. His first book, The Optimal Life Experience, will be published in September 2017, to be followed by The Kind of Parent You Are in 2018.