The Center of the World…for a limited time only
Disclaimer: If you’re reading this post for advice on how to make yourself the center of the world, then, unfortunately, your search must go on. This post is for people who have young kids or envisage a future where they might like a child or two. This post is not for people who have no desire for kids, you may scroll swiftly past smirking as you do so. Or people whose offspring are already teenagers or grown, you can send us your advice, smirking as you do so.
10 Good Years
I was going to call this post ‘12 Good Years’ but my sister-in-law told me it’s more like 10. And ‘good’ is the wrong word.
For 10 years, you are the center of your child’s world. 10 years. Maybe even 8. Maybe 12 if you are exceptionally lucky. But definitely not more than 12.
Thereafter it’s highly likely you won’t get a sideways glance. Or if you do, it’s with a roll of their eyes or an inappropriate hand gesture. Where your company and advice is neither sought nor heeded. At best you might be tolerated. Occasionally.
I may have exaggerated, perhaps it won’t be that bad…
From the Beginning
The moment babies are born, they can recognize their mom’s voice and often their dad’s as well. From that moment, you are the most important thing in your tiny human’s world.
Occasionally you share that center spot with milk/chocolate/tv, but you are always one of the frontrunners.
You are the person that they run to when they are sad, happy, scared, anxious, alone. The hand that they reach for. The one they want the most. A spot on a golden pedestal.
The center of your child’s world
I should highlight that other than creating/obtaining said offspring, you actually haven’t earned that spot, it’s just yours unconditionally. And in fact, you can actually monumentally screw up and still, they will continue to give you the top spot.
It’s generally a nice gig being the ‘center of someone’s world’ but it won’t last.
I say generally because there are some small downsides i.e. like never being able to shower or go the toilet by yourself, but I digress.
How do I know that it won’t last?
If you have read the ‘about us’ section you may know that we are still
drowning reveling in the offspring-glory-years, and so have no actual experience of kids older than 8. Therefore, you obviously need to take everything I say with a pinch of salt.
But I have heard enough horror stories from
my own parents friends to draw some conclusions about what is to come. In fact, I am 99% certain that ‘no longer being the center of anyone’s world’ is our current family trajectory.
The dark side
Raising a kid is like sending a rocket ship to the moon. You spend the early years in constant contact, and then one day, around the teenage years, they go around the dark side and they’re gone. And all you can do is wait for that faint signal that says they’re coming back.Claire Dunphy
Why all these apocalyptic thoughts regarding teenagers… well, it recently dawned on me that since we now have an 8-year-old, we have 3-4 more years of being circumnavigated by our little rocket ship.
3 years. Maybe 2. Maybe 1. Time. But not much.
But then that rocket ship gradually creeps further and further out of orbit, out of range. On an independent journey all of their own. To the dark side. Of the moon. Not that actual dark side…
And I don’t want to fight that journey or process. I believe our role (as Mr & Mrs Chaos) is to teach our kids to be independent. To build their empathy and confidence. To foster their skills and tools to make good choices.
But I also am hoping against hope that at some point on their journey to
exert discover their independence that I might occasionally be consulted. About life. Not just about food and laundry.
Can we avert the crisis?
What can we do with this crucial time where we are still the center of our child’s world? Can anything be done to ease the journey around the dark side?!
Leia has been showing various signs since she was 2 years old, that the teenage years will not be an easy ride. I am under no illusions that the combination of hormones and middle school are a hot mess and difficult to mitigate against. But I do
believe hope that there some steps that can be taken now that may make that ride a little smoother.
We all know that time is what kids want most. Don’t we. And food. And hugs and toys. A lot of toys. And candy.
But time spent with my kids intuitively feels like the thing we should be focused on at this age. Time spent with them now will surely create a depth of relationship that will withstand the challenges later.
And yet this time in our kid’s life often coincides with significant expectations from work, middle management responsibilities, career climbing and long hours.
That song, ‘The Cats in the Cradle’ originally by Harry Chapin, has always freaked me out regarding my own parenting responsibilities.
But maybe time is not the thing they want the most…
Less tired and less stressed
There was a study called Ask the Children, where over 1000 children aged 8-18yrs with working parents were given a “one wish question.”
“If you were granted one wish and you only have one wish that could change the way your mother’s or your father’s work affects your life, what would that wish be?”
The majority of adults guessed that their children would wish for more time together. But for the majority of children, their one wish was that their parents would be less stressed and less tired.
Children are often wiser than we give them credit for and tend to see the world more simply than we do. If we were less stressed and less tired, surely the time we actually spent with them would be more focused and of higher quality.
Last year a Harvard-MIT study found that one of the best things parents can do for their children is to have frequent back-and-forth exchanges with them.
Stronger communication skills seem to benefit children as evidenced by healthier relationships, longer marriages, higher self-esteem and overall satisfaction in life.
But I assume that if you have taken the time to work on your child’s communication, then actually your own communication with them will be better.
Some keys to good conversations
I saw a great idea on the momastry blog for a free printable for a jar of conversation starters for kids at mealtimes or car journeys,
We all know what an epic fail ‘How was your day?‘ is for starting a conversation with any kid.
These ‘key’ questions not only unlock who your kid really is, but at the same time demonstrate that we will keep safe whatever they tell us.
I can’t think of a better way to keep our people safe than to KNOW them. Knowing what makes them love, hurt, feel, help, and dream is the best safekeeping we’ve got.Erin Waters (Co-creator with Momastry)
Working on it
Whilst homeschooling my daughter for 6 months, as we transitioned between continents, I began to realize that if I taught her nothing other than to communicate better, then it would be a win. Correction: If WE learned to communicate better.
My own daughter knows exactly where my buttons are and she has enjoyed
stomping all over them pressing them from an early age. Whether it is by tone, choice of words, facial expressions, or all three at once. My kid can send me to Defcon 1 in 3 seconds flat.
Isn’t it ironic (and sad) that the people you often have the least patience with are often the ones you love the most?
But I was fortunate that homeschooling gave me some much-needed-time and space to work on OUR communication. I was able to take a breath and say to Leia. ‘How could you say you hate homeschool in a way that wouldn’t be so
offensive hurtful?’ and ‘Perhaps if you said that in a less whiney kinder voice, I might reconsider?’
I realized that as much as Leia needed to learn some key communications skills/diplomacy – I also need to work on my patience and listening. I have to learn to defuse things better before reacting. Just breathe. The little revolutionary is still my child.
I am hoping that time spent honing this skill might pay off in the dark years. The real ones. These moments are just forebodings.
Don’t avoid the hard conversations
Young kids ask big, hard, difficult questions a lot. And because we are tired or we don’t have easy answers or the questions make us uncomfortable, we avoid them. As they get older, they stop asking questions if they keep getting fobbed off (ignored).
I know that I have missed a couple of key prompts because I just wasn’t mentally available to deal with them. But our plan is to actively initiate and revisit them in the next year: death, sex, drugs, pornography, identity, abuse, anxiety, faith and God. Because a friend’s 11-year-old brother is just NOT a good source of information.
My hope is that if we walk alongside our kids and equip them in the hard stuff when they are young, that they may invite you to join them occasionally on their journey or radio back home a bit more often.
Apologies for being the prophet of doom as you look upon your
grubby incoherent adorable 3-year-old, in disbelief that they can ever become an unwashed, non-verbal teenager. I don’t have any actual answers just some thoughts.
For our family, we have decided that the next few years are really important. And we want to be around while our kids still want us around. Our intention is not to be helicopter parents or become their own unpaid entertainers.
But to be available, to eat meals together, to hone our communication, to be present for the moments, for the hard conversations and the everyday ones.
For us that has meant…
Taking a step back from some of the high-intensity jobs that had previously absorbed our time and energy. Putting careers on hold. Stepping off the ladder. Digging into our savings.
Will it hurt, yeah financially and professionally. Maybe a bit mentally too, our kids do drive us crazy.
We need to live a bit smaller. We have to give up some luxuries or things that we took for granted. But it’s workable for us for now.
And if to compensate for that lost income, we have to work harder when the kids are in college, or retirement takes us longer – then that’s a sacrifice we are willing to make.
We have a couple more years at best, as our center spot is already waning with our eldest. And we don’t want to miss it.
‘We have a few special years with our children, when they’re the ones that want us around. After that you’re going to be running after them for a bit of attention. It’s so fast Peter. Just a few years, and it’s over. And you are not being careful. You are missing it.’Moira Banning (Hook)