Okay, I just realized: when it comes to my kids, I have to seriously curtail my use of the word “later.”
I’m quite sure that many moms fall into this trap, but it seems especially quick-sand-ish for working moms like me who usually work from home. We seem to be available—we’re sitting in our home office, 10 feet from the kitchen, after all. But we’re not. We’re working. We’re on deadlines that will pay the utility bills or buy the kids’ schoolbooks, or help put food on the table, so when we’re in the middle of something that needs to get done, “later” becomes the default.
Today, for example, my 10-year-old son wanders in, wanting to tell me about his latest conquest on Minecraft. I listen for a second, hardly looking at him. “Uh huh, cool… yeah,” I say, without turning and giving him my full attention. When he wants me to come look I say, “Um, a little later okay? I’ve got to get this to my editor by 5:00.” He gives me a hug and heads back out willingly enough. But what is he thinking, deep down inside?
Is it, She’s just busy right now? Or is it something more damaging? Something that I hate even putting into words. Something like, She doesn’t care about what is important to me.
My middle-school daughter comes bouncing in to show me a beautiful pencil sketch, where she’s finally captured the look of a flower growing in a shaded glen. And I look at it, and exclaim over how pretty it is, but when she wants to show me the next one… and the next… I say, “Honey, I’ll need to do it a little later. As soon as I turn this in…” And she is used to this answer, so she’s cool. She rolls with it. But what does she think? Deep down inside?
Thankfully, I’m able to recognize when there is a real emotional need, and I don’t say “later” to those. I stop, and turn, and walk, and wipe eyes, and listen. But what about the other stuff? The day-to-day non-urgent things?
I realized today, I need to stop using the word “later.” At least I need to stop saying it so quickly. Yes, there are times when there really is a work-crisis mode and I simply have to hit it hard. But most of the time, even when I’m on a tight deadline, I can take the one or two minutes to get up and go look at the computer screen and the Minecraft victory; to show my son that what matters to him, matters to me. I can take a minute to look at the other sketches, to encourage my daughter’s interest in something that she might be pursuing for years. I can give a hug and listen for a few minutes to something that isn’t earth-shattering or urgent.
I have talked to enough kids in my research to know the real answer. I can see in my own kids’ eyes the answer. That listening for those few minutes here and there… on that day-to-day, non-urgent stuff… the stuff that is easy to say “later” to… will, in the end, be just as meaningful.