Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Will someone please play with me?"

NiNi is feeling underattended to. SiSi is off playing by herself, and doesn’t want the company of her little sister. Mama is in the kitchen making French onion soup for tonight’s Community Dinner (and SuperBowl©®™ shindig). Karla is recovering from a bad night of doing battle with her illness. Papa was making pancakes for breakfast, but he’s finished now, so he’s offered to play a game with the little one to appease her feelings of isolation.

Every so often, and in no predictable manner, it comes about that my kids will tell us they don’t feel like they’re getting all of their parents’ attention. Sometimes this communication is direct (“I need some special Mama time”); sometimes it comes through in ways somewhat more irritating. While I should make it clear that the younglings in this house are far from ignored, anyone who has kids will attest to the fact that it is not the quantity, or even the quality, of attention that makes for those feelings of comfort and love that they need to be whole. It’s about the particular flavor of attention and, as mindful as we are as parents to the needs of our kids, we don’t always see it when they’re in deficit of it.

I don’t take it as a failure in our parenting, for as rarely as it occurs. Frankly, for as full as our world is, it could happen a whole lot more if we weren’t aware of it. With all the revolving domestica, working with Karla, full-time employment and the other commitments we take on, it’s easy to see how a little girl might question from time to time whether we can slow down enough to focus just on her. One of the reasons we promote independence and collaboration in our children is that it gives them a lot of outlets for play and attention, but it also helps them develop the confidence to say “I can ask for some one-on-one time,” when they need it. It solves a host of problems. Of course, it doesn’t work on its own. Wifeness and I need to be constantly mindful to make time for our kids (all of them) so they know and see by our actions that they are important and uniquely special to us.

Moments like these remind me that nurturing family is a complicated juggling act, and doing it takes an unwavering commitment to engage in the process. Children should not raise themselves and parents must learn to accept that, however independent they may seem or however much they may protest, their kids still need them to take a direct, active, supportive role in their lives. In my work with DSS, I see a vast number of children who have been victimized by parents who have not made this commitment. I see it as an important part of our work with the school we’re developing to address this problem.

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