I hate parenting books.
There's nothing like reading the words of an "expert" to activate my neurosis about the innumerable ways I'm failing and warping my kids.
While I don't spend time or money reading those expert's opinions anymore, I devoured so many in my younger years, their admonitions and advice just kind of float around in my brain, even when I don't want them too.
I can't escape the rhetoric.
It's terrible, actually.
One of the recommendations from those parenting books that haunts me the most is the idea that spending quality time with your kids, one-on-one, serves to deepen the parent/child bond.
Doesn't one on one time with each kid just sound like a good idea?
What parent doesn't want to have a good relationship with their kid?
What parent doesn't want their child to feel important and special?
If spending a little QT with your kidlets ensures a positive relationship, why wouldn't parents try to make it happen?
I'll tell you why: because life gets in the way. Because in addition to the daily goal of keeping six children alive, I must also feed them, educate them, and make sure they get to the places they are supposed to be. My relationship with my husband, is also supposed to be first priority, so sometimes those one-on-one kid dates don't happen.
Oh I know, we parents are called to be intentional, to make sure family bonding and cultivating deep relationships is a priority. But, if I'm honest, right now one of my main goals is to survive parenthood so....yeah.... sometimes date nights with my kids slips off my radar.
The other night, John and I were walking out the door to go to an event and my seven-year old, Christopher, had a meltdown. He didn't want us to leave and in between a series of sobs and a long, drawn out good-bye, he announced he doesn't get enough attention.
Cue the motherly pangs of guilt for failing to meet the needs of my offspring.
Cue the self-flagellation for vocational failure.
As we backed out of our steep driveway, John, who is ever the voice ofpeaceful serenity, said, "No problem. We'll let Christopher stay up a few minutes later than everyone else tomorrow, with just the two of us. We can fix this in a jiffy."
I stared out the window and mentally calculated the bill for how much therapy my kids would require as adults because of my negligence. I then spent the remainder of the drive berating myself for not scheduling more dates and focused one on one time.
The next evening, after John put all the kids to bed, he and Christopher popped some popcorn with marshmallows. They poured tall glasses of Ginger-Ale and added ice cubes that made the cup sweat. And then we all piled into our bed and turned on a silly show. We snacked as we watched the program and after it was over, we sent an effusive Christopher off to bed.
The next morning, as I loaded all the kids into our passenger van to drive them to the homeschool academy they attend twice a week, Christopher pulled me aside. He grabbed my hand, looked into my eyes and said,
"Wasn't last night great, mom?"
"It sure was," I replied.
And in that moment I realized something that those parenting experts forget to tell you about one on one time with your kids: they don't tell you about the importance of the oft neglected, but insightful nonetheless rule of Keeping It Simple, Stupid. They don't remind parents that less is actually more. They don't say, for instance, that kids don't need expensive lunch dates or elaborate trips to the spa with mom to get manis and pedis. They don't need a bookmarked calendar date to go to Disney World or go sledding or tobogganing or cross country skiing (though none of those are bad things in and of themselves).
But last weekend, in between the mounds of blanket on my bed and the popcorn kernels on my lap, I realized what kids do need is a present and attentive parent, a parent who is able and willing to communicate without using any words, "I'm glad you are alive and that you're mine."
And that message can be issued to your children while you cook or grocery shop or fold laundry or sit in bed with a big bowl of popcorn while Steve Harvey makes a fool of himself on national television.
Cue my maternal sigh of relief.