Have you ever stopped to consider the true emotional toll parenting takes on you? Not the obvious stuff like loss of sleep or the ever-present worry for your kids’ general well-being, but the constant, almost subconscious, mental scanning of your little one’s needs?
Is this one hungry? Why is that one crying? Does this one have dirty ears? Does this one need their fingernails clipped? Does that one need his nose wiped? That one needs shoes and socks. This one needs his face scrubbed. That one needs a diaper change and has hair that needs combing. This one hasn’t had a bath in three days. That one is starting to cough. This one needs shoes tied.
And then the prioritizing of the assessed needs: wipe nose now, diaper change now, fingernail clipping can wait another day, bath later, remember to call the doctor …
You’re doing it all day, every day. You don’t even realize you’re doing it because it becomes second nature almost the minute your baby is born. But think about the toll all of that CONSTANT analyzing and assessment takes on your system! Basically every five seconds, you’re scanning your children with that Terminator vision that inspects and interprets everything in sight. No wonder parents get caught up in their routines just to make each day happen and keep kids alive with food in their bellies and relatively clean bodies. Our brains are exhausted!
But sometimes, amid the chaos of life, when we’re so tired we switch on parenting autopilot, we forget to REALLY look at our children. Not assessing what they need, but looking into their eyes to see how they’re really doing, how they’re really feeling, as opposed to the constant welfare-check-type scanning a parent regularly does.
I realized this over the weekend when I was shuttling my three kids from one thing to the other, shouting orders so we could get out the door on time. Brush your teeth! Put on your shoes! Where’s Charlie’s sippy cup? You need a jacket! I get so caught up in the madness of getting from A to B, that I forget to really see what’s going on in their sweet little hearts and minds. I froze mid-sentence and tried to think when was the last time I had sat down and looked each of my children in the eye and asked them direct questions about their lives and what’s important to them right now. It certainly wasn’t on that day or the day before.
I stopped, sat on the floor, and pulled my 4-year-old son onto my lap.
“Hey, buddy.” I nuzzled his head, feeling his soft hair tickling my nose, smelled it, and wondered when was the last time I’d washed his hair and … NO. STOP THAT. NO SCANNING.
“Hey buddy. How you feeling today? Are you excited to go to daycare? Who are you going to play with today?”
My boy immediately launched into a sweet monologue about his friend Caleb whom he thinks is named “K-Love” and how they practice soccer together, and tomorrow is a special spaghetti lunch and the kids get to help make it, and how Miss Linda, his teacher, says he is kind and patient. And the more my son talked, the better I felt. I had opened a window into my child’s life and learned what was in his little head as we got ready to dive into our respective days.
Life is so busy. That’s why amid the hustle and bustle of crazy days, I am constantly reminding myself to stop and have eye contact with each child, really see them and what’s going on in their world, and ask, “Are you okay today? How are you really feeling?” Not just “pick up your toys” or “get in the bathtub” or “it’s time for bed” and all that kind of thing.
Parenting is hard, I know. Believe me, I know. I’m not here to preach about how you should be doing this or how you should do that, because many, many days are the kind where you just do what you gotta do to get to the evening. I just wanted to offer a gentle reminder that amid the chaos of coordinating a family, don’t forget to really see what’s going on in the hearts and minds of your children. Remind yourself each day to stop and talk to your children to better understand what’s going on in their world because it makes a world of difference.