Get out of the middle of the parenting road

It’s summer and my daughter and her friend want to go to the pool to play. I fantasize that the girls will occupy each other and I’ll be able to read or at the very least get some knitting done.  

Turns out, they want me to join in their amusement. They plead, watch us, watch us as they scheme to perform synchronized, dramatic water jumps and dances.

Quickly it’s apparent that I’ve got three options in how to respond to their pleas:

  1. Go old school and brush them off saying “No girls, I’m reading.”
  2. Middle of the road it – “Okay girls – show me what you’ve got” but meanwhile I knit or attempt to read in between requests.
  3. Go all in with the kids – book closed on the ground, knitting tucked away in its bag – I sit up actually looking directly at them.

Old School

The thought of going Old School on them is familiar and slightly guilt inducing. I grew up with parents and children pretty much doing their own thing, all the time. Sometimes we’d watch football, 6o Minutes or Murder She Wrote on TV together on Sunday evenings (I loved this) but my brother, sister, and I wouldn’t dare to ask directly for attention from grown ups.

It just wasn’t part of the program 40+ years ago. It wasn’t the way our family operated.

There is a time and a place for old school. It’s not only okay, but it’s downright healthy for children to have time when they’re not getting direct attention from an adult.

Here’re two good articles on this topic:

Middle of the Road

Middle of the road is something I know well!

This is the lack of making a conscious decision.

I want to be reading, but my knee jerk parenting shoulding voice says you should be paying attention to the kids Lisa… at all times humanly possible. (Wonder if this is related to the old school way I grew up??? 🙂 )

Then, another part of me says Lisa you’re at the pool, for 3@!$ sake, read your book!

These competing voices are crazy making — nothing is done well with divided attention.

By not making a decision and by default, choosing the middle of the road, you literally split your attention and feel like you’re in No Man’s Land. There’s no upside for yourself or your kid. I see this as the unconscious back drop for many parents these days, particularly with the constant distraction created by our smartphones.

Going All In

Finally, the somewhat novel thought of going all in actually feels like a relief to me when it flashes across my mind as an option.

The me time to do’s (like writing, reading and even knitting) fall away and I feel light, even floaty.

The girls are asking for me and I decide to let go of the fantasy of me time and watch them like they are qualifying for the Olympics: with my entire being.

As I do this, my body unwinds into the moment and I feel a tremendous, relaxing sigh throughout my entire being. I only have one task at hand and I can do this and actually do it well.

(I use Headspace to support my on-going meditation practice – I recommend it!)

Having two, much older sons, I know the days of “watch me, mom!” will soon end.

During the next hour I had a singular, beautiful focus. Even now, a year later, it’s a rich memory for me. I can still see the girls’ lit faces, their determination, their playfulness.

Other days I’ve chosen to say “no” and that’s positive, too. It’s healthy for children to see you pursue your interests and to know that they can occupy themselves without your attention.

It’s not an either/or dilemma. We have time in our lives for both.

How often do you find yourself in the middle of the road with your parenting?

The next time you’re in this situation, take a moment to consider where you really want to be and BE THERE instead of staying in the middle.

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