Raising a child in today’s world can be like running in a hamster wheel. Tie shoes. Pull on backpacks. Pack lunch. Drive to school, work, lesson, practice, home. Squeeze in homework, story time, and don’t forget to floss. Repeat. Parents and children sweat on this daily journey, hoping to reach some final destination called success. After all, we live in a competitive world. For Jane to attend Harvard on a full-scholarship, slide into her desk 10 minutes early, organic lunch in tow, she’s going to need a lot of help and support along the way. It takes a lot of doing to raise this child.
Contrast this image with my experience in the play therapy room, where my primary purpose is to be with the child:
“My racing mind slows down. The run forward, look back halts to a peaceful stop and I am here. In that middle space called now. My eyes soak in the brown curl hovering over his left eye. A pale, freckled arm stretches long to reach the top shelf. Blue eyes with long lashes gaze as he tugs on the truck. The sand feels cool. We sift and pour, moving our toys in and out, over and under it. I smell the playground dirt on her socks. Our stomachs flip and flop as we feel her worries. Time is up. The door opens. Shuts. I sit, alone, on the tiny red chair, my knees higher than the table. The colors in the room are more vivid. I feel connected, grateful, alive.”
Experiences like this are common for me in the play therapy room. Why do I rarely feel this sense of well-being at home, with my own children? The answer is simple: I am too busy trying to hold the juicebox just right so it will not spill when I pass it over the back seat. You know the struggle. We can become so preoccupied with providing for physical needs, intellectual stimulation and talent development, we forget to give our children and ourselves one of the greatest gifts we can offer: our full presence.
To do this, carve out space every day to be with your child. We’re talking 5 minutes to start, nothing too ambitious. During this time, notice your child’s physical features, his rate of breathing, how she moves and smells. Hear the intonation of her speech. Soak her in, non-judgmentally, using all your senses. Does this sound odd? It may be helpful to think back to when your child was an infant. It may feel more natural to fully notice a newborn baby’s sound, appearance, smell, because you were seeing her for the first time. Why must we stop feeling that joy when our child is older? Give it a try tonight between teeth brushing and bedtime or while you wait for little sister at dance. The time of day does not matter. No special handbook or instruction manual required. 5 minutes is enough to start. All you need to be fully present with your child is the one thing he wants most: you.