As I am growing accustomed to life with five children aged eight and under, one being a newborn, I find myself wondering about spreading my time around to each child. Am I giving each child exactly what they need at exactly the moment they need it? Are the older children going to resent their new baby brother because I am constantly pressing "pause" on our daily activities in order to feed/change/burp/dress/soothe the baby? Do each of my kids feel that they are special, loved, and understood?
I remember back when John-Paul was my only child. I was able to jump up and attend to his every need and desire because he was my whole life. I was a stay at home mom, and John-Paul was the only person I was responsible for besides myself. Then when Andrew came along, I felt so sorry that I had to make John-Paul wait for his lunch because I was tied up with helping Andrew do something else. I quickly realized that these were teachable moments for John-Paul. These were the opportunities that he could learn about sharing, waiting and patience. And the following children would grow up with these lessons as well; lessons that would have been much harder to teach had they not learned by example.
One of the most common reasons I have heard people give as to why they don't want more than one or two children is that they want to be able to give their children "everything". They want their children to have all the material possessions they drool over, to be able to afford to send them to their first choice of college, and to give each child enough "quality time". Because, as we've all heard, quality is more important than quantity, right?
Wrong! I truly feel that the amount of time you spend with your children is more important than the kind of time you spend with them. I think that the whole quality time argument was conjured up by psychologists to appease the guilt felt by busy parents. Being a working mom myself, I have often used this reasoning to excuse myself of the guilt I have about not spending enough time with my children. I tell myself that even though I only get to spend 30 minutes a day with my kids, I would make those thirty minutes count, and my kids would understand that. Guess what? They didn't understand why mom was always at work and missing activities and family dinners. They didn't care that the half hour I had with them at night was spent talking and cuddling and gift-giving. They want me around MORE. They wanted my time more than any gifts or treat my guilty subconscious persuaded me into buying.
Luckily, I was able to leave the job that was keeping me away from home for eleven hours a day, and found a new one that will allow me to be home with my kids in the afternoon and evening. And they couldn't be more excited that Mom gets to pick them up from school, and Mom gets to make dinner (no offense Dad!), and Mom can come to their sports practices. In a perfect world, I would love to be able to stay at home with them all the time, but our situation doesn't allow that, and that's ok. That is the hand we've been dealt, and we are so blessed in every other way possible.
I realize that many parents (especially in situations of single or divorced parents) can only spend limited amounts of time with their children. But I think that the focus should be on spending as much time as possible with your kids, no matter what you do with them. If working one less part-time job means your kids can't take dance classes anymore, but allows you to see more of them, then I think that is a family decision that needs to be discussed. What's the point of making money in order to give your family "the best" when in fact you are just giving them less of yourself? I think the majority of kids would rather have a parent that spends time with them rather than money on them.
I hope that no matter what we can afford to give our children in this life, they will always feel that we were never cheap with our love, understanding, and patience. I hope they realize that we gave them as much as possible with our time, that no matter what we were doing together...we were together.