‘My dad was a ghost in my home.’ These are the haunting words of a young parent I chatted to recently. I asked him what he meant.
‘I don’t remember my dad as a child,’ he sighed. ‘Leaving home each day before I woke up, coming home late, working on weekends at his desk, and always traveling. I think of my father as the family ghost – appearing now and then, but never really there, certainly not when I needed him.’
As a parent, I feel the same ‘ghost like’ pull to be consumed by work at the neglect of all other relationships.
I am guessing that his father never set out to be a family ghost. I speculate that he made the fateful mistake of believing 1 or more of these 5 all-too-common myths about time with our children.
Myth 1: Time with our kids is unproductive.
I am by nature ‘an achiever’. I derive a kick every-time I get something done. Us parents often feel a little like the Emperor penguin with the egg on his feet. Hanging out with kids, we feel like nothing seems to be getting done.
When Julie was very pregnant and hardly mobile, she’d complain, ‘I feel like a sloth – I’m achieving nothing’. I’d say, ‘You have never been more productive – you’re making a human that will outlive us!’
Our culture doesn’t help our impatience one iota. It teaches us – especially men – that our success is defined and proved by our career. Oh, we give lip service to how important our families are. But our actions speak louder than our words. ‘Results’ come faster when we leave the eggs at home and get some stuff done – make money, close a deal, or run 20km to train for that marathon.
The problem is that kids are not mainly impressed by our achievements and medals, or the fancier car our higher income can now afford our family. What impacts them is our love (spelt T-I-M-E) – our interest and attention. Us parents, like the Emperor penguin might be seriously slowed down but the warmth and closeness only our presence can bring, is the best environment in which a nascent life can flourish in its formative development.
Myth 2: There’s still a ton of time to enjoy with our kids.
Most of us decide we’re going to spend time with our kids later – later this week, later this term, later this year.
Families who don’t prioritize time for each other never explicitly put it like that. It’s just that life goes by a day at a time. Since there’s always tomorrow, the problem never seems critical.
Do the maths. 18 years with our kids is only 6570 days. If they’re 10, you only have 2930 left. Remember, the older they get the less hours you spend with them every week.
Myth 3: As it is, I spend plenty of time with my kids.
We’re under the illusion we spend more time with them than we do.
Sure, being in the same room or car as them counts for something, but how much time do we spend in focused attention on each of our kids?
This is what my friend, JP Kloppers set out to calculate. He sent me detailed calculations listing hours spent at work, in travel, asleep, at home, with spouse, with kids generally, with kids in a focused manner. He then honed in on ages 25-65. And this is what he found…
In our working years, on average, us men spend 10% of our overall time at home or with family, but we spend (you ready for this?) less than 1% of our hours in actual personal engagement with a child. Compare that with the amount of time we spend working – 73%!
(By the way, the reason I trust his calculations is that his company Brandseye are also the only social media analysts who predicted both Trump and Brexit.)
Myth 4: My bread-winning justifies my absence from my kids.
Yesterday, my friend told me that her dad, soon after she got pregnant, said to her, ‘My biggest regret is that I spent so much time working for the family, but – as a result – so little time with my family. But I promise to make it up with my grand-kids.’
I smiled, but she didn’t. She continued, ‘He died a month later.’
One of the shocking things about many ancient tribes is that they would sacrifice their children on the altars of their gods. But as I look around, I realize not much has changed – we now sacrifice the well-being of our kids on the altar of our career success. Only we don’t call it worship. We call it ‘bread-winning’.
I realize I need to tread sensitively here.
Julie and I know how expensive kids are. I know how hard both of us have to work to feed and educate them. We’re both bone-tired by 5pm every day.
I especially think of single parents. My mom would work whole days just to have enough money to feed Ryan and I a decent plate of food – and often she’d eat our leftovers and some bread. Honest. Her love is indelibly impressed upon me.
I guess I’m saying that, unless we are in exceptional circumstances (like my mother was) we might need to be willing to earn less money so we can spend more time.
If you do the long-term happiness trajectory of their lives, it is much better for children to live in a smaller home, drive in a less fancy car, have less mind-blowing holidays, and even a less sterling education than have them live in a big haunted house with a ghost for a dad or mom.
Myth 5: Time with my kids doesn’t seem to benefit them that much.
Our kids seldom say it, and we forget this, but time with us is worth gold to them. Let me make this point with a story.
Charles Francis Adams, an American president’s son who followed his dad’s political trail, read through his deceased father’s journal. One entry pierced him: ‘Went fishing with my son today – a day wasted.’
Charles then read his own diary entry for the same day, and found these words: ‘Finally, went fishing with my dad today – the best day ever.’
The bottom line?
Don’t be a ghost, leaving a life-long void in the heart of your child. Rather be a presence, and you will inject a life-long substance into their interior.
(Republished with the kind permission of Terran Williams)