This was a story I wrote for the America’s Footprints blog in 2016. I kept the story anonymous and didn’t want people to know it was me. That’s why I refer to my ‘daughter’ instead of my son. But this story is about the times I spend with you Ryan, and about how I notice what other parents don’t do. Enjoy!
When I became a parent, I was introduced to a whole new world. I went from hanging out with friends at 2:00 AM to getting no sleep while changing diapers. Instead of enjoying lunch in the city with my co-workers, I was watching Dora the Explorer on every television in the house.
Most parents will agree that having a child can turn your life upside down. For me however, it has been a very good thing.
There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t smile and say ‘thank you’ to the angels above for giving me such a blessing. We laugh, we play, we learn, and we live. I savor every minute I can get with my pre-teen, and forever cherish the good times (and bad times) we enjoy together.
But over the past 10 years, I’ve noticed something else. Not all parents seem to feel the same way.
When you become a parent, you see things you’ve never paid attention to before. You get to know other parents through school and extracurricular activities, and observe them interacting with their own children.
Boy has that been an eye opener for me.
If we are in the park or at the playground for instance, I am the first one to join my daughter on the jungle gym. I squeeze my way through the crawl spaces meant for toddlers, climb walls and ladders that make the adrenaline start pumping, and I reach new levels of exhaustion from the nonstop running and swinging.
But 9 times out of 10, I am the only parent doing so. It doesn’t matter if there are 2 families or 40 families on the playground. The kids are busy running around while the parents sit on a bench looking at their phone or chatting it up with friends. Completely oblivious to the memories they aren’t making with their children.
Other times we could be at someone’s house. Perhaps it is for a get together with some of our friends, or a birthday party celebration with people we have never met.
I am always the first in line to see what my daughter is up to, and to participate in the games they are playing. It could be hide and seek, video games, jumping in the bounce house, or a simple game of imagination.
Without smothering her, I am always ready and willing to join my daughter’s side as opposed to sitting with the adults who do nothing but drink and complain about life.
In my observatory travels, once in a while I will overhear conversations while waiting to pick my daughter up from school. And it never fails – every single time there is at least one parent who isn’t ready to pick up their kid yet.
These parents are yapping about how much they can’t stand having their children at home. All they talk about is finding ways to keep them occupied, be it through play dates, full-time summer camps, or sending them to the grandparent’s house.
I am shocked! Is your child really that much of an interference in your life?
Then there are the observations I make when we take a vacation. For example, we recently went on a trip to a family-friendly resort in Florida. And every single day, we were together. Whether it was hunting for shells in the ocean, going on a scavenger hunt around the island, or looking for shooting stars, I can definitely say it was a memorable vacation for ALL of us.
But there was one thing missing at the resort that continues to baffle me: other families!
hands off parentingThere were easily over 200 people at this resort, most of them parents and their children. But there was a clear divide in the ranks. Adults were lounging by the pool or sipping drinks at the bar, while the children were sent to the resort’s day care facility or a full day camp for the older kids.
It’s like the parents wanted a vacation separate from their kids, and had no problem passing them off for days on end just so they weren’t bothered.
I even noticed that sometimes the kids would get back early from camp, and jump into the magnificent pool for a swim. But for the most part, the parents never got up from their chair to join them, or even acknowledge them.
Now let me be very clear about certain things:
- I know very little about most of the parents and families I see. Therefore I am not implying how to be a good parent, nor am I making assumptions or judging anyone for their behavior. These are strictly observations that cause me to ask these types of questions to myself.
- I am well aware of the need for any parent to have their alone time. We are tested and stressed every single day. So there is nothing wrong with wanting a little R&R.
- I realize that children need their space too. I make a very conscious effort not to smother my child, and have no problem backing away if she seems to be enjoying her time with her friends more than me.
- I don’t spend this extra time with my daughter just to keep a “watchful eye” on her. Even though she is only 10, I trust her to make good decisions, regardless of whether or not I am present.
- I also understand that adults need their “adult time.” It could be a drink with friends, or conversations meant only for adult ears. Sometimes we need to vent a little. And I am all for a night out on the town to let loose.
- I believe in introducing children to new things in life, and letting them experience life on their own. Lessons are learned and friendships are formed when the parent isn’t there to observe it. And I know the only way to do that sometimes is to send our children away (e.g. to camps).
But after observing so many parents over the years who don’t seem to give a crap, what blows my mind is the same recurring pattern: they are completely absent from their child’s life!
Don’t you want to play with your child and create new memories with them?
Don’t you want them to look back at their childhood saying: “the best times I had were with you, mom”?
Don’t you want to be a part of the learning process, helping to guide them down the right path while showing them what it means to be independent?
Do you even look at parenting as a reward, or is it an obligation that you would rather not be bothered with?
Obviously these are questions I’ll never have an answer to. Every family dynamic is different. Every parent interacts differently with their children. And again, I readily admit I know next to nothing about most of them. For all I know, they will go home and spend the rest of the day playing board games and reading books together.
But there is no denying what I see. The parents I observe in my daily travels are hands off. They would rather sit, watch, and gossip then to create a new memory with their children.
And all I can say to them: “you are missing out in the moments that your children will remember forever. Don’t lie in your death bed wishing you had just one more day with them. Today is that day. Live it up and create new memories together…while you still can.”