Special Time

In a meeting at our family center, the staff talked about special time, and how important it is for each child. Thinking about how many hours I spend in the general vicinity of my children, I was pretty sure this was not a topic of much relevance for me. Then, as different parents shared their thinking and experience, one mother mentioned how an increased homework load was getting in the way of special time with her son. Uh-oh, I thought. Maybe this is about me.

Since my older son has chosen quite a challenging school situation this year, and since I'm not willing to send him off to struggle with homework in isolation, I've been spending a lot of time every day being available and paying attention as he does this work. This is time that I wasn't used to spending, time that I didn't even think I had. Was this mother saying that it would be helpful to spend even more time with him?

Yet as I listened, I had a hunch that she was right. Being available and supportive as a child does something hard is very useful. I'm sure it makes a difference to him that I'm willing to put all that attention in his direction to make this project work well. Yet there's not much element of choice. We're spending time together on something that must be done, by a certain time, in a certain way, whether he wants to or not.

It was pure coincidence that he and I had planned to go to the Academy of Natural Sciences later that week. He'd gotten it into his head that he wanted to go, we'd figured out the first possible time, and he had been counting the days. His brother was otherwise occupied during that time, so it was just the two of us.

As soon as we walked in the doors of the Academy I could tell that this was a different kind of time. He was relaxed and confident and pleased--totally in charge. He knew just where he wanted to start, how long he wanted to stay in each place. He was very aware of my presence, and very conscious that this was a time when I was going to do it his way.

I think this may be the essence of special time. Doing it their way. Sometimes, especially during the toddler stage, we may feel as if we are spending our entire lives accommodating to our children. I don't think, however, that we can even begin to see how much they have to accommodate to us, how much our priorities, our styles, our interests, our needs dominate their lives. Having a time when they know that we will willingly set aside our notions of what is interesting or relaxing or fulfilling, and stretch to do it their way, has to be a vastly reassuring indication that we see them and care about them just as they are.

It doesn't have to be a long period of time. It doesn't have to happen every day, or even every week. It doesn't have to be an excursion or an activity that looks special. I think what's important is that they know a time will come, and come again, when they get us, when we are willing to turn the power relationship on its head and be available to them on their own terms.

I often hate going through a museum at somebody else's pace, but this afternoon it was pure pleasure. Liking the museum myself, having been there before and knowing that we could easily go again, certainly helped. But I think the main difference was that this time I had my mind around the concept of special time. I was very aware that my son had chosen to do this with me, and this was a special chance for me to be with him as fully as I knew how.