It’s the little things that will often become our children’s most cherished memories. Those small moments of how we spend our time together are what have the biggest impact long-term. Added up over the course of a childhood, those occasions shape our children’s values, habits, and relationships. Lately I’ve been noticing these small things–habits and practices that I feel play a big role in our family’s well-being. These may or may not be the moments our kids will remember years from now (although I probably will), but I know they matter today, right now. Here are some of the little things we do that have a big impact…
We have hot breakfasts together. I used to get up early to work before my kids went to school. In the midst of my work, I’d run upstairs to get everyone up and out of bed, then head back down to the office to continue. My kids would get themselves ready, grab a quick breakfast from the pantry and at the last minute I’d turn my computer off, throw on some shoes and take them to school. It took me a while to realize how this was setting the tone for the day–one of hurriedness and disconnection. I had very little contact with them each morning, and the good-bye hugs at school were never long enough. Mornings became tearful and primed for battles.
Now I don’t get up early to do work, I get up early to be with my kids before we part for the day. I get up to make breakfast. Instead of working and not really getting much done because of all the interruptions, I “work” on collecting our family each morning. We sit down together and have oatmeal, eggs, pancakes or homemade breakfast bars before school. We wake up together and start the day on the same page. We’re reminded of what matters most–each other. Plus, hot, delicious food makes getting up early much more bearable.
I regularly read out loud to my reading-capable children. I know they can read. I’m super proud of their literacy skills. But when one of my kids comes to me with anything from a colorful picture book to a dense chapter book and says, “Mom, will you read to me?” The answer is always yes. Yes, come sit by me. Yes, lean right up into my arms. Yes, let me touch your your skin, your hair, your hands. Yes, let me take care of you. Yes, let’s go on this journey together. I’m always here for you.
We have physical playtime every night. Well, I say “we” but I mean “they.” This is 100% my husband’s realm. I really enjoy watching everyone roughhouse, but I usually do not participate as I don’t like being assaulted with pillows and pokes and loudness. (Though, John made up a tennis ball game that I admit looks pretty fun. Since it does not involve bodily contact, I’m up for that one.) What works especially well with John’s games is that they require the kids to be on a team–working together against him. Whether it’s Sleeping Giant (they must successfully steal a precious object (rock, Lego) from the sleeping giant (Dad) who is apt to wake up at any moment and “get them”) or Secret Ambush (which is pretty much just what it sounds like), the kids come together in ways that they don’t normally. Last night, Secret Ambush involved an actual battle plan. Our two children who might normal be seen bickering and annoying each other worked together for an hour on their encoded positions and attack strategy. Despite an unsuccessful “secret” ambush against Dad relaxing on the bed, the evening ended in fits of giggles and laughter-infused, if not slightly worrisome, exclamations of, “You’re squeezing my pee out! You’re squeezing my pee out!” and a mad dash to the bathroom.
We accept their thoughts, words and perspectives. We don’t laugh, we don’t get sarcastic, we don’t belittle, we don’t make fun. We take what they say seriously, even if their comments surprise or amuse us. Like this comment from my son in the car the other day:
JJ: Why does the bank say Wells Fargo?
Me: That’s the name of this bank. There are other banks around town.
JJ: Oh, like what?
Me: Umm…I can’t think of any names right now, but as we drive I’ll point out others I see.
JJ: Yeah, and prisons, too. Point those out when you see them.
Me: Of course.
Or this comment that my daughter made at Red Robin after the waitress delivered our food and handed over her cheeseburger:
Elia: Ohhhh, my bun has seeds on it! I love that. I love the way they feel on the bun. I LOVE seeds; they are SO nice to touch!
Which is interesting, because I never knew she felt so strongly about seeded buns or seeds in general. But she is a texture girl…sensitive to touch, dislikes tags, loves deep pressure massages and heavy blankets. So it totally makes sense that she would notice and appreciate the way a bun feels in her hand. Another small window into who she is. Just as I know my son would naturally be interested to see any and all prisons we might drive past between the bank and the library (FYI: none). My children’s words sometimes bring a smile to my face, but I would never want them to feel bad about sharing bits of who they are. These are the things I need to know most of all.
We give the the sibling a small present on the other child’s birthday. It’s hard to be a little kid and see your sibling get presents and attention and overall specialness and not totally understand why none of it’s for you. Even if you do understand what’s going on, it’s still not easy. John and I have continued this tradition that my grandparents started with my brother and me when we were kids, and we’ve always had one thing for the non-birthday kid to open at present time. (Now that they’re older, though, they’re more capable of handling each other’s birthday with grace and acceptance. So this will most likely be the last year for the sibling gift).
We sit with our kids when they do their school work. If they so choose. They usually don’t need us to, but sometimes the assignment is hard, or uninteresting, or they just want some company. I know that sometimes, it helps to simply not feel alone in the work that you do. When they request our presence, sitting together is one small way we support and encourage our children in their academic endeavors.
These are ways in which we communicate our values to our kids. It’s how we live them.
Make time for the little things.