Find out how the kids we say we love spell ‘love’.

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dad and baby holding hands

As Julie walked down the aisle, I was sure I’d never love another like that.

I was wrong.

Five years later, when I first glimpsed all 3 kgs of Eli, my heart fell in love all over again. In fact I’d fall in love a further 4 times – Fynn followed 2 years later, then Ivy (the second woman in my life) 2 years later, then Charlie and Sam (surprise!) 2 years after that.

As I held their fragile bodies in my hands, I whispered my unfailing love to them. I knew I would give anything. Anything to make them happy, to see them flourish. I’d provide for them, I’d even die for them. No doubt about it.

Which begs the question: ‘Why do I find it so hard to give them my time?’

In my next post, I will explore this question more fully.

But the best place to start inspiring myself to actually give my kids more of my time is to rehearse why. (It’s along the lines of Simon Sinek’s breakthrough advice in his book, ‘Start with why.’)

I will share 5 ways I get motivated to spend more time with my kids.

(And the reason I share it with you (a fellow dad or mom or maybe even a grandparent or guardian or uncle/aunt to a single-parent child) is not to make you feel guilty, but to positively spur you on to get with those kids more.) Here goes…

Why spend more time with my kids?

1. It’s the only way for my kids to feel loved.

For the kids we say we love, love is spelt T-I-M-E.

Diamonds are valuable because of their rarity. Well, time is the most limited resource we have, and is thus the most valuable. (I have written before of how our kids need our time more than they need our money, and more than they need me to pressurize them to achieve in school and sports.)

Words are cheap. You can tell people you love them 100 times, but you measure that love by asking yourself how much time you spend with them. Being with them says something: “You are important. I like being with you.” There’s no more securing and satisfying message that we can send our child than, “I am here for you.”

By time I mean both being in the same room or place as them – even if we’re doing different things. Let’s call that quantity time. But I also mean – and this is more important – giving them focused attention, being present to them. That’s quality time.

I have learnt that hard way that if I deprive them of either quantity or quality time, my kids experience a gnawing uneasiness that I don’t really love him.

And the first sign of this is not them saying, ‘You don’t love me.’ Although Eli got those words out a few times, emotionally intelligent little dude. Far more commonly, it’s them playing up, acting like terrorists. Kids who feel bad tend to act bad.

I regret how many days and weeks all I offered my kids was whatever time was left over after life’s obligations – work, paying the bills, other commitments and pursuits. The problem is that if we treat our relationships—which are like orchids—like a cactus, and then the orchid starts to wilt or have problems, I tend to think that there’s something wrong with the orchid. The real problem, however, is my neglect of the orchid.

2. It’s the only way to get to really know my kids.

The gift of time with anyone is the gift of witnessing their life. It’s one reason Julie and I married. It’s also something our kids hope for from parents. They hope we’re interested in who they are, what they are like, what they like and don’t like. It spares them from the deep sense of isolation that so many people feel when no one really cares who you really are. We, all of us, have a desire to be known.

Do I really know my kids? Today? Sure, I might have known them 6 months ago, but so much is happening in their developing minds. There is a rapid evolution under way. Life is coming at them at mach speed. The only way to know my kid – is to put in the hours.

Hours of observation – watching how they deal with situations, watching how they interact with my spouse and their siblings, trying to discern the emotional climate they’re presently in, and the emotional climates that tend to seasonally come over them.

Hours of interaction – asking them questions, taking questions, talking freely about this and that, being curious about their thoughts and feelings.

My buddy has kids who’ve just become teenagers. He’s a great dad. He tells me that when they were tykes and tweens, he could barge into their inner world with questions. But now that they’re teens, he can’t do that. He has to just be around enough that when they do want to talk, he is in the room. According to him, more, not less, time is needed as they get older.

3. It’s the only way to build a strong family.

Time is the glue that holds a family together. In the book, Fantastic Families – 6 Proven Steps to Building a Strong Family, Dr Nick and Nancy Stinnett reveal the results of 25 years of worldwide research involving over 14000 carefully identified ‘strong families’. As you can guess, one of those 6 qualities is ‘Time Together’ –  which they define as ‘quality time in generous quantities; structuring lifestyles to make the time together happen.’

But to give that kind of time, we might have to redefine success.

In his book, Untamed, Cape Town-born (but now in the US) Alan Hirche writes, ‘How many parents of suburban nuclear families pursue the idealized vision of the middle class home created by late capitalism. People, both mom and dad, now work both day and (through the computer at home) in the night too, as they pursue the materialistic vision of the good life created by marketing. But as they try keep up with the Jones’, they come home exhausted to a house full of appliances and alienated relationships. Our teenagers are now raised and mentored by screens – they’re screenagers – all in the name of a wrong definition of success, which we sadly see as keeping our means of productions at peak capacity.’

4. It’s the only regret-free way to age and eventually die.

Who did the people in the burning Twin Towers call?

Did anyone ring clients or customers? Did anyone call the car shop for a new car? Or a colleague to put the final touches on that presentation? They did what people the world over do when they realize their time is limited – they called their families, their spouses, their children.

It’s a generalization, but I have noticed most men in their 20s through 40s chasing their careers and giving leftover energy to their kids. Far more women of this age, including working ones, tend to be more family-focused. What fascinates me is what happens in their 50s through 70s. As men begin to wrap up their careers, they begin to wither and wilt. They get smaller, even unhappier. Women on the other hand tend to blossom. The person who puts career first doesn’t send down a sufficient root system into their relationships with their kids. The result is a shallowness of relationship with their adult kids. But the person who ploughed deep with their younger kids, tends to reap the depth of closeness when those kids have come of age.

There’s statistical evidence for this: in the longest study ever conducted on happiness and longevity, researchers studied the same people for 75 years and found that the biggest predictor of how long they would live, as well as how happy they would be in the final decades of their lives was the strength and number of their life-relationships by the time they were 50 – in particular with their spouse and kids.

Based on that study, maybe it’s not genetics after all, but this simple super-investment in kids when they’re young, that causes so many women to later outlive their men? Sure, investing in kids in the decades they are at home might give less apparent reward than putting in extra hours at work, but the rewards come furiously in later decades – in the form of deep relationships and freedom from regret, and along with them happiness and longevity.

5. It’s likely the only area in my life where I can achieve legend status.

I don’t know if it’s a guy thing, but I’d love to achieve legend status. But I have my doubts it will come to me in my surfing, or my work. How to find it then?

The other day I read about Lo Scalzo, a US photojournalist who covered assignments in more than 60 countries, winning countless awards and accolades from his peers. He just couldn’t stop moving. “I’m something of a travel addict,” he admits in his memoir Evidence of My Existence, and photography was his way to satisfy that addiction. But his addiction came with a price. His frequent and compulsive travels abroad left his wife a stranger to him.

But something broke in him. While he was in Baghdad covering the invasion of Iraq, his wife was heading to the hospital with her second miscarriage. He hated himself for what he felt was desertion. He decided to make a change. He declined the next great, but consuming, opportunity to cover a presidential campaign.

He tells in his biography how that was the start of putting his family first, a conviction which only deepened when his son came. He writes, ‘How to stop moving? It was about accepting a simple truth: in the world of photojournalism I would always be a man of minor accomplishments. But in the field of fatherhood—to one little boy, at least—I had a chance to become legend.’

Lo’s a legend in my eyes too. He challenges me to succeed at home first, to cherish the children who share my name. He reminds me that they are not just my responsibility. They’re my calling.

In my next blog, I’ll try identify what inner and outer resistance there is to spending more time with my kids, and in the one after that I will share some ideas for spending more time with kids. (if you haven’t already, please like my Facebook page to get that in your feed.)

But for now I super-motivate myself (and you) by rehearsing the 5 reasons to grab all the time I (and you) can with them:

Time with my kids is the only way …

  • for them to feel loved.
  • to really know them.
  • to build a strong family.
  • to age and eventually die regret-free.
  • to quite probably be a legend in their (or anyone’s) eyes.

Try it. Read the above list aloud yourself. Go for it.

And if that doesn’t boost your desire to invest more time in your offspring, I don’t know what will.

This post first appeared on The Dad Dude


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