"Give him lots of love and all of your attention. Whenever he wants it."
I had planned to write about “X number of Ways to Make Transition Days Smoother”. About ways to keep your sanity while dealing with a kid who greets you after 3 days of no communication with, “Why can't I stay at Daddy's house? He let me play video games all weekend.".
Last night, instead of sitting at the computer, typing away after tucking Agent M into bed, I was responding to his urgent, panicked cry of “Mama!” that came down the hallway moments after I had sat down.
Thinking the worse, I had jumped up quickly and hurried down the hall, trying to not sound panicked also as I asked him what was wrong.
When I got to his room, he grinned like the Cheshire Cat, patted the sliver of space next to him on his twin size bed, and asked me to lay down with him. No monsters outside the bedroom window, no giant spiders attacking, no pea soup being hurled at me. Just a sly little boy who knows exactly what tone will get his mama up and running (and when did he train me so well?).
The inviting idea of laying down for a minute and his cheeky grin were more than any parent could pass up. As I pulled the blanket over us, I told him I really needed to work on my homework, and asked if he would like to know what it was I was working on. He nodded, rolled over and spooned his back up against me, pulling my arm around him and molding us into our usual snuggling position. I told him my topic idea and asked him what he thought.
He replied first with, "Let me play video games all night!", of course. I reminded him that I don’t own a t.v. nor game system. Then, taking the chance to peek inside his head a little, I explained that I was meaning more along the lines of things mums could do with their little ones on the first day back home when they are feeling grumpy because they miss their other parent and don’t like going back and forth. To which came the best advice I’ve heard, "Give him lots of love and all of your attention. Whenever he wants it.".
The honesty and wisdom in his answer hit me. It’s not making sure I have a new toy to bribe him into being happy, or planning dinner in advance so that it’s ready to be consumed the moment he walks in. Just love and attention. Simple as that.
That’s all the panicked yell was about, and when it really comes down to it, that’s all any of our kids want. They want our time. Our acknowledgement. They want us to be there to show them that we really did miss them, even if we had a great weekend without them being home. They just want to know that they are not alone in feeling frustrated and split in two. Is it easy to lay it all aside and put off the piling laundry, dishes, and ever growing to-do list? No, but it will all still be there, patiently wait for you to finish reading Where the Wild Things Are and discussing what the snail in the fish tank dreams about.
Kids will quickly get to the point where they don’t let you in on their thoughts and feelings if you don’t encourage that closeness early on. Just like the song “Cat’s Cradle”, they will take what we give them and mold it into themselves. Do we want to raise kids who constantly focus on work before family? Or do we want our kids to remember the night we said the dishes could wait and played card games on the floor all evening?
It sounds so simple, so why is it so hard to just spend time with your kid? As a single parent, time is already divided more than a two-parent household and packed with the demands of work, school (sometimes for both parent and kids), after school activities, housework, and for the lucky few, sleep. Maybe it’s because as a society, we place value on getting things done. The more we can say we did means the higher we can place ourselves and the better we are told we are. Let’s face it, most single parents have to wrestle with the “Not Good Enough” issues enough as it is. Being told to just put things off, let the laundry sit another day, and go make a fort out of sheets is enough to cause a Little Red Hen style panic attack in many a single parent. (If I take 5 mins to sing a silly song, who will help me and make that important phone call for me? If I sit and watch Scooby-Doo with Agent M, who will help me catch up and put the laundry away before it wrinkles? If I pretend to be a Evil Creature from Mars for 30 mins, who will help me catch up on the blog I am supposed to be typing?).
And the simple fact is – you don’t catch up. There will never be enough time in the day. The dishes and laundry will always be there (unless you move to a nudist camp that has personal maids to do the dishes for you). At the end of the that first day back home, that Transition Day that has so much potential to be either fabulous or gray-hair inducing, what do you want from your kids? Love and attention. The same that they are wanting from you. Let the details wait and just go be with your kid. Then while you fold the laundry, at least there will be a smile on your face while you think of all the fun you had.