Time well spent
While Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are now past us, this guest column reminds us about how we should celebrate—and wisely use—our time with (and as) both parents and children.
It’s as if a mirror is being held up.
That’s how I often describe the early days of having our foster daughter. Similar to when you invite a guest to, well, anything—you become hyper-aware of how things look through their eyes (if you’re of the pious persuasion, try taking a friend to church—you’ll see what I mean).
Every decision from meals to church to candy to discipline—I could more clearly see what we did or didn’t do.
With our foster daughter, for example, the mirror inspired me to find more time for “hands-on care.” In other words, getting out to that swing set and putting in the pushes.
I could see this was an area in which I was lacking. For fathers, I think there is a provider’s instinct that sometimes serves as excuse as well. It’s easy to be absorbed in the urgency of bill deadlines and assume next week (or year) you’ll find more time for family. You’ve heard Cat’s in the Cradle—“Not today; I got a lot to do.”
The Roman philosopher Seneca fleshes out the thought further:
“People are frugal in guarding their property; but when it comes to squandering time they are wasteful … as though they have a full and overflowing supply.”
Now, among squanderers, I am chief. I remember leaving for work at 7 a.m. and getting back at 8 p.m. I’d be lucky if I could put our firstborn to bed. This went on for years. Maybe it was good for my career, but frankly I felt as if I had missed a third of my daughter’s childhood. A third!
I knew I had to make some changes with the short time I had with my kids.
To help extend this thought, use the mirror idea: Childhood may be short, but think back to summer vacations—they seem to last for years. Think of how significant your childhood was. What breakfast was like. What weekends were like. What religion was like. Now look around at the children and youths in your care—now is their childhood. You’re going to define a lot of it.
So realizing this, what should we do? Is there a correct number of minutes per day to spend with your child? Or is it more quality than quantity?
I think the answer lies in simply taking your job as parent seriously. Find that balance between selfless and selfish. Think “proactive custody.”
An example from the foster-care system comes to mind. I heard about a case in which a biological parent was struggling to get life reordered to regain custody of children. Two years passed while the children were living in foster homes, group homes, and so on. Still, the parent requested more time to make things right. A fair question perhaps considering the challenges faced.
But the judge addressed the situation directly: “How much longer should your child have to wait?”
No response was given.
All parents could take that question to heart.
If we’re not taking our job seriously, how long should our children wait for us? Maybe we’ll get 18 solid years to care for the children under our roof. Sometimes far less.
Let’s look in the mirror, examine ourselves, and try not to squander the time we have with our kids as if we have an unending supply.
Right now is their childhood.
By Andy Gaskin
A Diakon Adoption & Foster Care foster father
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