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How Will Your Kids Remember You?

by on Mar.11, 2013, under Adolescents, Attachment, Character traits, Communication, Elementary School Children, Parent modeling, Parenting, Relationships, Sensitive Topics

I’ve just returned from a funeral. A friend’s husband, father of five, died way before his time was up.   And it was a five Kleenex affair.

My mirror neurons, the ones that make you match the emotions of others, were hard at work. (You know when someone yawns, and you yawn? Those are your mirror neurons.) But the tsunami of tears I experienced went beyond my sympathy or empathy.

They started when his children then his wife spoke about their father/husband. Each of the kids, now grown and launched, shared what she/he would remember most about her/his dad. Each echoed the same sentiment: Their dad modeled for them how to be a person of character; he walked the walk, even when no one was looking.  (He penalized himself for a golf stroke even though only he knew about it.) He lived a life of integrity, caring, action, love, and devotion. He didn’t preach it; he lived it.

But the thing expressed by each child that brought me to my knees, was that this dad was genuinely there for each of kids throughout their lives. Each not only felt but experienced his/her dad’s concern, support, and encouragement. He was an ongoing, constant, day-to-day presence in his kids’ lives. They knew that he put them first not by his words but by his actions. This was a dad who showed up. He “posted,” as my own kids would say.

There are lots of scheduled ways that parents “show up”–performances, culminations, sporting events.  And there are more basic demands that require a parent to show up—carpools, doctors’ appointments, parent conferences.  It was clear to me that these five children who lost their dad were talking about another kind of showing up, not the have-to’s and not the splashy vacations and trips to Disneyland.  They remembered their day-to-day, every day dad.

There are lots of competitors for a parent’s attention in today’s world. Everyone has obligations and distractions that tug them away from their children.  A client and I recently shared the  head-shaking reality that young children today must compete with their parents’ ever-present, iphones for attention.  Whether waiting in carpool, in the ball park bleachers,  or standing in line at the grocery store, parents check emails with child in tow.  In the days before cell phones, parents actually watched their children in the park, witnessing the first real cartwheel or free throw, tiny events they would have missed had they been glued to their email.  It takes pleas of “Watch me, Daddy!” to grab the parent’s attention away from the iphone these days. Do you think your kids don’t notice what is most important to you?

On the way home from the funeral, I listened to a radio show psychologist as she talked about a teenage boy who was acting out, mainly with his dad, as reported by the mom. Mom handed the phone to the boy, as per the doctor’s request. After some noodling around, the doctor asked him, “What do you want from your dad?” A pregnant silence was followed with,  “I want him to him to like me.  I want him to care about me and pay attention to me”  very quietly spoken.  How timely that I tuned into that segment of the radio program, on my way home from the funeral.

How you will be remembered? What your children will declare about you is in your hands.  Take the time now to watch their cartwheels and post every time you can.  The time to show up for your kids is now.

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13 Comments for this entry

  • Jill K

    Betsy,
    A lovely, heartbreaking piece. I am in the process of changing my Saturday morning art class with the middle school-ers. Both of my kids are now playing soccer and I want to be there for every game…even when it’s not my weekend.
    Thank you.

  • Sonya

    Thank you for this reminder. So funny that today as I was throwing my first load of laundry in, I was thinking about this very same thing. In fact, I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Maybe it is because my kids are growing up faster than I care to think about. More likely it is because I notice how my attention seems to be diverted from giving my kids the true connection they need every day to get their core needs met. The needs that every human being strives to fulfill; to feel important, to feel heard, to feel loved and to feel they have some power in their world. I think I may try to read this blog every morning to remind myself of what is truly important during this fleeting time in my life.

  • Betsy BB

    That this blog touched you so deeply and that you are such a conscious parent actually gave me chills. I so agree with you about the needs of all children.

  • Rikki

    This is how I hope my daughter will remember me, and it is the kind of parent I strive to be every day. Thank you, reading your words brought tears to my eyes.

  • Jeanie Engel

    OK Betsy, I loved your blog about this and yes, it brought a tear to my eye reading it . I, the techno Granny, am often guilty of, “let me just finish this email/iphone call honey” to my grandkids! I’m guilty of the very thing I often say to my daughters, “you know, the kids/ourgrandkids, really don’t require a giant chunk of your time, they’re really content with just 20 minutes of your UNDIVIDED attention.” You always say the things I’m thinking, Betsy and God bless you for being there.

    Loving you,

    Jeanie

  • Sarah

    Hi Betsy,

    I think this is a great point. However, I struggle with a part of this and I know I am probably not alone in this new age of technology and working stay-at-home moms. While I am privileged to be able to be home with my kids, I help run a business and I work on dissertation for my doctorate. As we speak I am at Charlotte’s swim class and while taking breaks to congratulate her on strong arms, I am working. It is rough to hear that you shouldn’t be checking your emails when you are with your kids but what if that is the part that allows you to be with your kids full-time and not a nanny? I understand about “being in the moment” and giving your children your attention but is this okay in moderation? Because otherwise I could not play both roles simultaneously. erynwil satue

  • Betsy

    I hear and understand your dilemma. And, believe me, I want to support all moms (including those who work from home in addition to their work as moms!). My advice to you is to compartmentalize your “work” time. In other words, if you can, create dedicated times throughout your day when you ALWAYS check your email. Call it that, “work time.” Not only will you get your work done, but you child will better understand, process, and tolerate what you are doing. Make sense?

  • Hedi

    Thank you Betsy for this incredible blog post~ It is always amazing to me how timely your topics for lecture and blogs are (as if you can read my thoughts). Time is flying by ,way too fast, and I live in search of the pause button on my life! I aspire to be present, and to truly live in the moment- and sometimes “life” does get in the way. Thank you for this eloquent reminder to focus on what we all truly value- our children, and every moment spent with them.

    I am grateful for your insight and wisdom.

  • Betsy BB

    I am deeply moved by your post, Hedi. That I can help you to be the parent you want to be and to be PRESENT in your kids’ lives…is my reason for doing what I do.

  • Janice

    I found this blog heart-breaking. I was a parent who didn’t yell at her children, provided lessons they wanted whenever I could, went to their swim meets and games, volunteered to chaperone on their school trips when they wanted me ( not all of them did). I short I tried to be the best possible parent ever. We had a poor TV, so I seldom watched it, didn’t even have a computer for most of their lives. I talked to them, told them I loved them, etc. Unfortunately, I have some extended family members with mental health challenges which some of my children seem to have inherited. It means that I will get criticism about not doing enough or being fair for the rest of my life. Sometimes you can do all you can do and it still will not be enough

  • Betsy BB

    And I find your comment heartbreaking. You can only do the best you can do, and it sounds like you certainly did your best. Beyond that, you have to count on the help of professionals. I hope you have sought that help. Mental illness is so very tough. You can put your head on your pillow every night and feel good knowing you the the BEST YOU COULD DO.

  • Aimee

    I am so blessed to have a husband just like the one in your article….he loves his kids and his kids know it and love him in return…YEAH to the awesome men out there who are not only good dads but are “being” good dads in word and deed!

  • Betsy BB

    Yes, you are blessed. But YOU must be pretty terrific to attract a man like that! He’s a keeper!

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