I was asked to write an article for the Back to School edition as an ‘expert’ in my field. I did have a cackle at this as I am the furthest thing from an ‘expert’, in any field (except maybe pie eating?), but what I will gladly do is share my experiences I’ve had with Charlie and how it has changed and shaped my version of the world as I see it today and how I want to guide Charlie to be a strong, resilient and self- assured human.
Love, simply is ‘The Quality of Attention We Give to Others’
We all have competing demands in today’s hectic life, but the one thing that is within our control is the quality, if not the quantity of the time we have with our children, in fact there is often an inverse relationship between quality and quantity. When we place a premium on the scarcity of any resource its value naturally increases…. For those that think that is just too wordy let me try to make it VERY simple; every day there are amazing moments with your children, pay attention or you will miss them. This is where we can make the biggest impact, have the biggest influence and ensure the biggest connection that will form fond, firm and lasting memories for them to carry with them through life.
I want Charlie to question most things in her life EXCEPT her importance, self-worth or my love.
As parents we all wonder and all doubt ourselves, whether we are enough, doing enough and being enough. These insecurities add to an already stressful life of school commitments, sports, social commitments along with the usual daily work grind and stresses. The ones that make your left eye twitch and makes you want to find a quiet secluded spot for your head to stop pounding and to just be still for a moment. But then there is supper to cook, dishes to wash, shopping to do, house to clean, homework to supervise and the dog needs a walk!!!!!
I went into fatherhood without the curse of knowledge, without any expectations and without any societal KPI’s, fatherhood has been nothing but fun for me and fortunately I’ve got the easiest kid in the world, there was no parenting brilliance, no special skills, no secret sauce, just pure luck. Since I have started studying Developmental Psychology, retrospectively I have noted that we had hit all of the required milestones and variations in development that are considered usual without any of the pressure, worry or expectations because I was a blissful, know nothing parent!
At a recent talk I had a parent ask me what my coping mechanisms were when it comes to dividing my time and balancing a career and being a solo dad.
My response, my mantra, my belief is, The Quality of Your Attention Is Love. Especially important for those parents possibly distant from the daily contact with their children for whatever reason.
So, I have five opportunities each day where I aim to really focus my attention for the greatest impact with Charlie.
The absolute worst way to set the tone for the day is with a stressful, mad rush to get out the door. Again, and as I have said before: routine, routine, routine. I make an effort at removing the rush by preparing as much of the morning’s routine the previous evening. Charlie is included in this by making her own lunch, laying out her uniform and packing her school bag, while I wash the dinner dishes. She loves to feel that she is contributing to the family and she embraces the responsibility.
Nothing beats long summer days in Melbourne, and in the Ray family this means unscheduled adventures to the swimming pool after school. It’s turns into who can make the biggest water bomb, see who can dive off the highest diving board or how high I can shoot her in the air before she pirouettes into a back flip. Then its ice-cream and home for fish and chips in the beach tent in front of TV. Some afternoons just drawing on the driveway with Charlie or sitting on the front step hand feeding our magpies and chatting.
It is family tradition to have dinner at the table, except of course on special occasions. Charlie absolutely loves helping me cook, and it takes forever (insert eyeroll here), I sometimes feel that there should be another word for HELP when the help is provided by an 8-year old. Sometimes it is most definitely the opposite of help! But it is her intention that is appreciated and even better is her sense of having contributed to our dinner that is my reward.
Routine, routine, routine, routine, children thrive on routine. Children find great comfort knowing exactly what is expected from them and still being given the autonomy to get it done. This is the cornerstone or the rock-solid foundation for successful parenting, in my humble opinion known as authoritative parenting.
This is why I feel that bedtime is so important, we discuss the day, good, bad and confusing. I feel that this time that we have carved out together is the perfect platform for her to feel safe and happy to discuss any issues that she has. We discuss everything from friends made and lost, work done in the classroom, things that happened on the playground, there is no topic undiscussed. We finish the night with her gratitude journal, which ALWAYS has animals featured in some way or form.
Out of these five opportunities, sometimes when the stars align, work commitments are easy and the house does not resemble a black ops training ground hitting all five seems like the easiest thing in the world. Other times, one out of five is all that I can manage, except the Non – negotiables, and this and always will remain: SUNDAYS
Sundays started off as Charlie’s day while navigating the divorce, as I did not want to waste a single minute of my limited time with this kid. Charlie gets to pick and choose everything about the day: what we do, what we wear, where we go and even what we eat. I’m constantly amazed by Charlie’s choices and her self- restraint, that I definitely would not have shown, given this amount of freedom at her age. In fact, I STILL can’t be trusted at an all- you – can – eat – buffet. It is also a great opportunity for Charlie to learn to make great choices, as I believe that she won’t learn to make good choices by following orders.
Charlie might not hear everything I tell her but she see’s everything I do! She looks to me for how to respond to life and its challenges, what to value and what to dismiss, she looks at me for examples of love, honesty and empathy and she looks to me for what is important. She must know without doubt, without question and without hesitation that her time with me is HER time.
I often ask: who is getting the best of you? Is it work? Is it colleagues, or is it your phone?
I’m not saying I have all of the answers or this will work for you however I believe that what we as parents need in 2020 is to reset, refocus and hold ourselves accountable. We all have fears, hopes and dreams, some based in reality, some from experience and others from possible from eating a spicy pizza before bed!
Charlie and I would like to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.