Your attention is a gift. Who’s getting it?

“Child’s time.” The name of the activity I’m being introduced to, during the Strengthening Families workshop, is so bad that I’m tempted to dismiss it outright. (I like to imagine myself as being too cool for schmaltzy, Hallmark-y things, and my partner has an every stronger aversion to anything vaguely contrived.)

And yet, the more the (down-to-earth, super-awesome) course facilitators speak about the power of “special time” or “child’s play,” the more I feel myself being pulled closer.

Their anecdotes, as parents, about how this worked in their families, with their kids, even as teenagers, lands in my body like drumbeats reverberating deeper and deeper.

The practice is simply this: Set aside 10 dedicated minutes a day to spend one on one with each child in your family, and let them direct it. Let them know that it’s their time. Their window, to enjoy your undiluted attention, to not have to share it with a book or an agenda or your phone or the other chores you’re doing or other people who are talking to you. To direct it themselves, to be in charge of it. And for it to be free of any advice or improvement. No coaching. No rules. Kid in the drivers’ seat.

That this gift of your undiluted attention – for just 10 minutes a day – could change your relationship or your kid’s behaviour is kind of radical to me… but we experiment with it.

Because there’s something in it that makes deep sense to me.

I believe in the power of attention. I read obsessively about the attention economy. I explore the idea of how paying attention to nature, turning our attention into a kind of offering, might serve as a healing force.

Why did I miss the most obvious fact? That this is important to my kid? I mean, I know he thrives on attention. I’ve often thought that parenthood is exhausting primarily because kids need attention almost more than food, in order to flourish, and for large chunks of time (infancy, pandemic time), you are the primary source. You are just pouring it endlessly into them. I might resent that a tiny bit, even as I am in awe of it. Because there are other things, personal projecs, I want to direct my attention towards, but it seems to be mostly exhausted by the time I get to a computer or an opening in the day planner.

I feel as though I’m constantly giving my kid attention, because he’s constantly interrupting me, trying to talk to me while I’m trying to do other things… so the idea of giving even more, initially, makes me flinch. But when I reflect on it, I’m rarely giving him my full attention, my undivided attention, with no agenda, no hassling, no attempts to improve him… Could 10 dedicated minutes alleviate his constant badgering for my attention? WOAH.

After the first week of the Strengthening Families course, it occurred to me that maybe we have the idea of parenting all wrong. What if the essence of being a parent is not improving our kids, guiding them, protecting them, teaching them… what if, what we’re most meant to do, is to enjoy them? How radical. And how would this change our interactions? How would this change our energy or the quality of our attention or how it filters to them?

Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly that one of the most important things she learned from Maya Angelou is that your kids will remember whether you lit up around them or not. They remember whether your face was alight with joy at seeing them, or scowling and criticizing and looking for things to tidy up and clean away. When she heard that, and the tone of regret from May, she knew that she wanted the light to be the first thing they saw, when they saw her, so she put her perfectionism and desire for a clean house and clean kids aside… fuss later. Light up first.

What if our most important role is to enjoy them?

And what if, the seed of that comes in 10 minutes a day.

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