Dear Flint Hill School Families,
When we talk about parenting, we often realize that the greatest challenge we face is time. We are so busy in our lives today, and depending on the age of your children and what you have allowed or encouraged them to do, they are also enormously busy. And when we deal with our guilt at times, we hear the refrain about “quality time vs. quantity time” or the value of multitasking and how that helps us and our children get everything done in today’s fast-paced world. It is a complicated and multidimensional issue, but not one we have the luxury of ignoring. Parenting is too important for that, for our children and ourselves.
The bottom line is that we need to be present. We need to find time that we can use to engage with our kids, and then take full advantage of it whenever we can. You may even need to put this time on your calendars. We all know that when things are on our calendars, they become a priority. They are real, and we have to stick to them. We need to treat this time with our children with the same level of importance as meetings and doctor’s appointments. We need to make our children our primary focus during that special time we assign to them. And when we are with them, we have to be both physically and mentally present. And by that I mean no cell phones, no texting and no distractions. There should be no question that they are the most important people in our lives. Time is racing by us all. Work will always be waiting for us, but our children, at their present age, will not. They will move on to become older, wiser and more engaged in their activities. And let’s never lose sight of the fact that they are learning how to parent by watching us.
Years ago, when I was in graduate school, I did a major research project on retirement. As part of it, I had to interview a number of retired people. We talked about their greatest accomplishments, their career paths and how they prepared for retirement. One of the key questions was, “What is your greatest regret?” Every single one of them replied by saying, “I wish I had spent more time with my family.” And every time, there would be an awkward moment of silence. I knew right there that they were thinking back, reflecting, and wishing they had given that parenting experience more time.
I’d like to share another personal story. When Emily and I were younger, we had our first two boys very quickly. We lived on a beautiful boarding school campus and were deeply involved in working in the dorms and being with the school’s students at all times. When our oldest son was going to First Grade — at a local public school — we learned that my salary was so low that he qualified for a “reduced lunch rate,” so he could have at least one hot meal a day. When we learned that, we were mortified and realized that if something were to happen to us, we would have nothing to leave to our children. It was at that moment that we decided we had to look ahead, move off campus, buy a house, and build some equity in our lives for them. Emily, who was staying at home with the kids, started to tutor many hours a day, seven days a week. I increased the number of classes I was already teaching at night, at a local college, in addition to a weekend class at another college. I also used my summers to fill up every available moment with more classes to teach and began to work with a local Children’s Developmental Clinic, running their parent education workshops. Everything we earned went into a fund we created to save for a house. Every spare minute was focused on meeting our goal. But we knew very well that it took time away from home for me; time that I used to grade countless papers and time to prepare additional lessons. All of this was done on top of my “day job,” which was counseling, teaching and coaching at a wonderful school.
One evening, after two years of running at this pace, I was driving home from a long day at the Children’s Developmental Clinic with my mind racing about some papers that I needed to get graded as soon as I got home. Suddenly, the song “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin came on the radio. As I listened to the words, tears filled my eyes as I realized that I was spending all my time helping other people raise their children, but I wasn’t spending enough time with my own wonderful boys. From that day on, Emily and I began to rework our plan and the timing of our dreams. We gained a new perspective on what was ahead for us and began to focus, in a healthy way, on our two boys and the precious time we had with them.
Later, when our boys were older, I shared this story with them at dinner time. And as you can expect, it soon became a bit of a family joke. Anytime we were rushed or in a hurry, one of them would start humming the tune the “Cat’s in the Cradle.” But I never forgot the lesson I learned that day. As each of our boys graduated from college, among the gifts that Emily and I would have for them was a framed print of the words to that song. Those frames now hang in each of their homes. And whenever I hear them talking about their fast-paced and busy lives, I still remind them of that song, ask them to look at those words again, and to please be careful. They don’t want to lose that precious time they have with their own children. They don’t take it as a joke any longer. They know and feel the need to “be present” in their children’s lives. It is a struggle, and it isn’t always easy, but they know it is important.
Parenting is a gift. Together, at home and school, we can work to take full advantage of this experience and enjoy the challenges and the ultimate rewards that are ahead for your children. Let’s all commit to being present as we charge through this second semester. Please know that we are always here to help in any way possible.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas