During my daily adventures to Starbucks for my coffee, I noticed a man with his daughter sitting adjacent to me.
I waited in line for about seven minutes and then sat at a table reading the paper for another 30. I couldn’t help but notice this little girl, with her blue uniform, eating her muffin and drinking her chocolate milk. Softly she asked, “Daddy do you think it will be sunny today?”
Without looking away from his iPhone, the man answered, “I don’t know.” The little girl continued to nibble away at her muffin and turned to me. Her smile brightened up my day. I wondered if, in that moment, her dad could put his phone down and see this smile.
I am sure he loves her and sees this smile all the time, but it struck me that it is so easy to forget how amazing simple things in life are. I still remember this little girl’s smile, and how it made my morning.
More and more we are attached to having technology with us in all events. It wasn’t until I began to separate from my young son that I realized the quality and importance of connecting in our time together. The priceless nuggets of a hug or a giggle or watching how he has frosting all over his face after a cupcake and doesn’t care.
After a divorce, everything changes. We learn to share in new ways. We sometimes miss when they lose their first tooth, or hit their first home run. We grieve. We move forward. We cherish. We recognize our own limitations, and seek to embrace things we never thought were possible.
Maybe it is a gift that we are taught—to not take time for granted. Maybe even though it is challenging and difficult, there are gifts underneath, providing a bigger picture we may not have seen before. It is what we do with our time that matters. This is easier said then done. I understand the daily dance of single parenthood: working, juggling life and responsibilities.
However too often, we as parents in this fast moving culture, miss those moments if we get used to having them “all the time”—or we become addicted to winning in custody battles.
Sometimes, it is in the acceptance of what is, that we carve out time to just be, and create this space for our kids too. When we resist what is, it creates a sense of stuckness. We feel alone and in survival mode. Accepting does not mean weakness; it is quite the opposite. Our children observe how we react to life, to divorce, to sharing and will soak in all that we do and are. Resistance creates pain. Acceptance and making the most of your life creates peace.
Too often people tell me that I don’t understand. That their situations are horrific and they are fighting still years after the divorce.
I am not them, nor can I fully understand anyone else’s situations. I do know, that kids remember the moments that their parents are present—moments that are not materialistic or technology based. It is usually just their parent and them, being. It is quite possible that just being there, as a parent is enough. What a great way to demonstrate this to our children.
As a team you carve out moments to not survive life, but to enjoy it.
Here are some ways to incorporate more joy in the quality time you do have with your kids:
1. Create house mantras. My child and I created how we would like our home to be—anything from “yes it’s okay to giggle and hug all the time” to “yes it’s okay to feel all of your feelings.” This creates an atmosphere of collaboration and connection, and also is something to look at each day when you are in your routine. Just remember to enjoy.
2. For those who are distant from their children like I am, you can create quality time in many ways.
3. Turn your cell phone off for 15 minutes.
4. Tell your child five things you love about them and tell them five things you like about them. Ask them what they enjoyed about their day. Listen without interrupting.
Creative ways to connect for parents that are long distance from kids (like me):
1. Skype play dates. Depending on the age of the child, use these tools to play. Do mad-libs, sing songs, play tic-tac toe, throw dance parties. Use play as a means to connect and laugh. This is a powerful way to use technology to harness connection. Use it!
2. Playful Pen Pals: send two or three cards per week to your child. Write simple, fun letters. Here’s a sample of what to write: “ I love you more today! Did you play today? Do you know how great you are? I saw a rainbow today and thought of you. I heard this song on the radio and thought of you! I look forward to seeing you.”
3. Keep it simple.
4. Keep it positive.
5. Your feelings are not your child’s feelings. Remember if you are feeling sad, own that, but do not tell or ask your kids to feel it too. Keep it separate.
6. Create rituals. For example, I say goodnight to my child each night before going to bed. I close my eyes and tell him I love him and all about what I did for the day and how grateful I am to be his mama. This keeps you connected in ways that you would not believe.
7. Create fun ways to play together. Put beads in a jar and each day closer to seeing each other take a bead out. It is a fun way to count down to seeing each other.
Most importantly, the only person that can make it either positive or negative is you. Take time to feel your feelings out side of parenting. Use the time away from your kids as an opportunity to get to know yourself again.
Surround yourself with life affirming people, not Debbie-downer martyrs. Try something new. Be alive in your own life, all of it. This counts more then you think, and your kids will thank you for it.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Jenny Ward
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own