The last week of school holidays really brought home to me that what children want from their parents more than anything else is time. Lots of it, and on their terms.
Today the children collected on the sofa like a flock of pigeons after crumbs when I sat down and announced I was going to read a story of their choice.
The highlight of their day was being taken to a fairly new (to them) park and having their dad watch them on the play equipment.
(It’s not always easy watching them play. If we say we’re watching but they catch us looking at our mobile phone or talking to another adult they get very cross.)
We can organise all sorts of fun activities for the children, and I had planned various things for the school holidays, but what they enjoyed the most was one-on-one time with us.
At dinner we usually tell each other our most and least favourite parts of the day, a practice that I think is loosely based on the Ignatian method of examination.
It’s a great way for the children to practise conversation and empathy, and for us parents to gain insight into their day.
Last night it was all about the visit to the park, which was the main activity, but then Hannah lit up.
“Naomi and I had a very nice talk with Mummy last night,” she said. “Oh, yes,” agreed Naomi, nodding soberly.
I’d forgotten all about it. It had been their bedtime and I’d only gone in to kiss them goodnight and turn off the light.
But Naomi had asked me one of her curly God-questions, frowning deeply.
“Mummy, people say that when you pray to God that God will always answer your prayer. But he doesn’t say anything at all.”
I realised I had plans for a family prayer box and more formal prayer times, but forgot to explain what the extra prayer was actually for, and how it works.
I assumed she was being sincere and not just trying to get me talking on a favourite subject, thereby postponing lights-out. So I took a deep breath and launched in, trying not to show how closely I was watching the clock above Hannah’s bed.
It was already late, and we’ve had difficult nights with Isaac teething and a bit sick lately. I needed to get them and myself to sleep.
But they really needed to talk. One a dear little deep-thinker and the other a dear little heart-keeper, and I keep forgetting that they each have this dense interior life, which absolutely needs feeding.
We can only feed it with bits of ourselves, with time to listen prayerfully and give answers that show we have been listening. By being completely available to them, and not judgmental, dismissive or patronising. And I realised that I hadn’t made any time for this kind of feeding them for ages.
I was surprised by some of the things they had been thinking and worrying about. Important things; such as they wanted me to confirm a list of trusted adults they could talk to about sensitive topics. And I was asked to go over good, evil and free will, using examples.
The girls were so hungry for this talk, mainly I think because they were enjoying my undivided attention, but also because they liked me talking to them about more ‘grown-up’ things.
I had gone into their room thinking I couldn’t afford to spend any more minutes on the girls that day. I was so wrong. It was a perfect investment of time, and I can see they are going to want much more of it in the near future and as they grow older.
Sometimes I will feel I can’t afford to give them any more of my time, at least when they want it; sometimes I really won’t be able to afford it.
But I just have to give it when they need it anyway; it’s my job as well as my privilege.