Remember that game-winning play you made in baseball when you were 12? In fact, it wasn't just a game-winner: it's the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, tying run on third. The batter bunts. The ball trickles back to the pitcher who barely scoops it up in time to get it to you at the plate. He one-hops it in front of the runner, but you're exactly where you need to be to snag the ball, block the plate and tag the runner out to save the championship game! Greatest moment EVER!!! Until you look in the stands for your mom, and she's not there...again. She had a huge deal to close at work and couldn't pull herself away from the meeting in time to watch your history-making play. As quickly as the overwhelming joy and amazement of what just unfolded came, it vanishes and is replaced by overwhelming disappointment, shame and even guilt. While everyone else is celebrating, you're having to put on your "game face" and force a smile to cover your pain.
Fast forward 25 years and the memory of that summer afternoon when you were 12 washes over you again. This time there's no joy, no amazement. There's only sadness. "I wish Mom would have been there for me that day. ANY day. My whole life I've tried to do everything right so she'd be proud of me, maybe want to spend time with me, but work was always more important to her than I was. I feel so sad."
Whether or not your child has ever made the game-winning play to clinch the championship, chances are pretty good that he or she has experienced this kind of disappointment on his or her own level. Granted, there are times when we, as working parents, absolutely cannot break away from that big meeting. But when all of our time is spent chasing a dollar and none of it spent chasing butterflies in the park, fly balls in the outfield, or reading a book before bed, then it might be a sign that we need to give ourselves a grown-up timeout and take a look at things through a new set of lenses. Are we repeating the patterns with our kids that we once begged God to change in our own parents? Are we, by example, silently teaching them a value system that screams "work comes first at all costs and I'll fit you in if I have a few minutes this weekend?" Even if we're not intentionally setting those standards for our children, our actions may very well be setting them for us.
You know what? Today is the perfect day for us to start forming new habits that will spill over for generations to come. Here are a few simple tips to start practicing today that will help redefine your perspective and priorities.
1. Be aware
Keep a calendar of everything everyone's got going on - grown-ups included. That way you can actually see - rather than rely on memory - when to schedule meetings. In the off chance the meetings run long, they won't have to run into the start of any of the kids' activities.
2. Be consistent at home
Once you get the calendar started, schedule a sit-down family dinner-planning meeting at least once a week. As a way to foster communication, encourage everyone to get involved in the menu-planning. If you're like most families and are at a loss for things to talk about at the table other than schedules, have each person bring a list of three things they'd like to talk about then give everyone a chance to share their questions, comments, thoughts, concerns.
3. Be consistent at work
Remember that work truly can wait until the morning. Even if your family calendar is clear after quitting time, when 5 p.m. rolls around make a habit of packing up and heading home. What doesn't get done today will still be there tomorrow. The world will not come to a screeching halt if you leave on time rather than continue to work off the clock for no pay. And the look on your kids' faces when you're actually home at the time you promised is literally priceless.
4. Weigh the benefits
Try viewing yourself through the eyes of your kids. Is it worth it for them to see you stressed out and frazzled because of a job, or would you rather have them remember you as available and happy when you were with them? Deadlines and pressures are sometimes unavoidable, but doing your best to keep your priorities in place and communication open with your family is a major step toward healing past as well as future generations.
Take it from the mom who missed over six years of game-winning plays, band performances and even being able to read to her sons before they fell asleep. No matter what, it's NEVER too late to start redefining those standards. You can transform your relationship with your kids in a matter of seconds by being real, by being honest and by being (gasp!) vulnerable with them, and by getting them involved in supporting you in your efforts to follow these four simple tips. Doing this opens the door for unprecedented communication, forgiveness, and a life of shared memories and blessings. And it doesn't even cost a thing. Take one baby step today, and see what happens. Seriously, what have you got to lose?