10 Feb Making Space
by Evan Butler
I don’t have to tell you that being a parent can be one of the most exhausting jobs that exists. Taking care of our little ones emotionally, educationally, mentally, and physically definitely adds up when it comes to our parental stamina. When you throw in the exhaustion that comes from the world around us through our jobs, social responsibilities, and errands, I still have trouble reasoning how parents are able to do it all. My wife and I have two daughters: one in kindergarten and one that is an infant. Between bus rides, homework, late-night bottle feedings, and the all around work to keep our house going, I don’t think I’ve ever been as all-around tired as I am right now. And, with exhaustion, comes many ugly symptoms, such as irritability, disassociation, or even physical side-effects. Where does the reprieve come in?
I work two jobs (one full-time and one part-time) that are both big consumers of my time and my wife also works a full-time job. There are many days where we only get to see each other in the chaos that is our morning rush out of our house and a few brief minutes before we go to sleep. Along with that, there is at least one day a week that I don’t see my kids except in that early morning chaos. Often, in that early morning time, we are all scrambling to get everything together, get everyone ready for their day, and get on the road at the appropriate time which leaves my kids with a picture of an anxious, fumbling, and not-present dad for their day. Is that the picture I want my kids to see me with for a full 24 hours? Absolutely not. But, again, where does the reprieve come in?
Reprieve comes in the form of taking back our family space. It comes in the form of making the most of the little. It comes from putting our kids at the forefront of our attention and focus while we are able. If you haven’t guessed yet, you aren’t reading a master-parent’s perfectly-crafted word of advice. You’re reading the words of a dad who has always felt the need to prioritize work over family… for the family. But, recently, I have decided to make steps in the right direction (or at least so it seems so far) that will help me be here as much as possible for my family and for my kids.
Taking Back Our Family Space
We all have things. Things that fight for our attention Things that we want to do and things we don’t want to do (but still have to do). These could be jobs, book clubs, athletics, extra-curriculars, religious obligations, etc. These things fight for our attention and, if you’re like me, they win it. I’m a person who likes to be on the move and doing something. I like getting things done and checking them off the to-do list. I like seeing things progress in my life. And, when I can’t do that, I like to escape reality via technology, such as social media, TV shows, or movies. So, I found that I would be gone from the house 2-3 nights a week and then, on the 4-5 nights that I was home, I was spending a lot of time scrolling through various social media. My kids weren’t getting the attention they deserve because I was feeding my need to get things done with distraction. I was at home, in our physical family space, but I wasn’t mentally or emotionally present in our family space. I noticed this trend happening over and over, week after week.
So, I decided that I had to take back our family space. Most nights, when I’m at home, I immediately go and put my phone, watch, and headphones on their charger in the bedroom and (get this) leave them there. I do leave the ringer on and turned up, just in case of emergency, but I only check it if absolutely necessary. I’ve noticed that not having my phone has given me so much more room to put my attention on my kids and my wife. Are you coming home physically but not mentally? Is there something that is still holding your attention, even when you’re looking right at your family? This is me. I have to put technology aside and let it stay there or else it typically wins my attention. And, the scary part is that now I see the same things in my kindergartener. She brings home her school computer every night and we have to set limits or else she’ll try to spend the whole night on various websites or games for kids rather than with us. Do what you can to get the distractions away, especially when there’s nothing from which you need to be distracted.
(Quick side-bar: I’m definitely not a technology-bashing, let’s all go back to land-lines and throw out the TV’s, kind of guy. I love technology and I love what it does for progress in so many fields. This is just something I noticed about myself. Maybe a phone or screen doesn’t captivate your attention and you have something else that does. Just insert that into these last few paragraphs).
Making The Most of Little
On the average weekday, I get 3 hours, at most, with my infant and 4 hours with my kindergartener. One of those hours is before work, which I nicknamed “the early morning chaos” time earlier. The others are filled with cooking, dinners, baths, and other various evening activities. It’s really easy to let the little time that we have with our kids slip away, knowing that we’ll be back at it again the next day. I always think, “there’s always the weekends, right?” But, no. There’s not, because those can fill up just as quickly. So, we have to make the most of the little time we have.
I love sports-talk radio here in Louisville. I listen to it on the way to-and-from work. But, I’ve realized that, when I’m driving the kids around, I get drawn into the conversation on the radio a lot more than the conversations I could be having with a 6-year-old in the backseat about her day and her friends. It’s those moments that we have to take a step back and remember what is most important. The same goes in the home. While my kids are awake, I’m trying to be better about figuring out how to give my kids my attention and focus when I can. “Reading books with them, playing games with them, and just being a present dad have to become priorities over other forms of noise.” That’s a line straight out of my journal from just a few weeks ago. We, as parents, only have a little amount of time with our kids and it goes by so fast. We have to make the most out of the little.
I hope this blog post has helped you in any way. Trust me, I’m not the guy that has anything figured out. My critically-acclaimed parenting book is not even close to being written and this is not one of those “do these 3 simple things to make your parental life easier” blogs with evidence-based practices. But I do know what it’s like to be a dad whose attention is being fought for between his jobs/outside life and his family. Our families have to win this battle for our attention as many times as possible. I know it’s not easy. I know because I’m there. But I promise that reprieve comes when we take time to make space and make the most of the little.