How many of you scramble to get the kids ready for school/daycare in the morning, put in a full day's work, pick the kids up, and by the time they're in bed wonder to yourself, 'Where did the day go? I was so focused on the tasks of the day that I barely even asked how school was.'
If you're like many parents, including myself, that scenario is often repeated throughout the week. Let's be honest — there are more distractions, obligations, and responsibilities for parents now than ever before. So with all of this "stuff" that happens in our lives, how do we prioritize parenting and spending quality time with our children?
I began thinking about this shortly after our second child was born. While I was off on paternity leave I found myself on Facebook and checking e-mail while feeding my son. I balanced a bottle with my chin so I could update my profile status and respond to e-mails.
This was quite the contrast to the feedings that my now 2-year-old daughter experienced, which involved a rocking chair, full eye contact, and completely uninterrupted daddy time. (Keep reading on for 3 shockingly easy ways to get back to quality time).
I finally came to the realization that I was missing out on something when my son looked up at me with his big blue eyes and seemed to say, "Here I am Daddy, look at me."
It was at that point that I decided spending time feeding my son, playing Hungry Hungry Hippos with my daughter, and disconnecting from the busyness that has become life in today's constantly connected culture would take priority.
Did I really need to check status updates to see what someone I hadn't seen since high school had for dinner? Did I really need to open that e-mail chain letter that still hasn't brought me good luck no matter how many people in my address book I forward it to?
Or did I need to take some time to enjoy one of my passions and things I'm best at: being Dad?
In addition to being a husband and father, I am also a mental health therapist, and I specialize in children and families.
Too often, I see the impact that too much screen time has on children. According to a January 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids aged 8-18 spend almost 8 hours per day using entertainment media. These kids are great at connecting online but often struggle to make face-to-face social connections.
In addition to the screen time that children experience themselves, I believe that the amount of screen time that parents are spending also has a negative impact on children. A child's first and most influential teachers are their parents. Whether we like it or not, our children tend to be mirrors of us. If our children are getting excessive screen time, it is important to ask where they developed that habit. Don't get me wrong, there are benefits to screen time, but as with most things, moderation is best.
In a February 2010 article from Nielsen, the average user spends seven hours per month on Facebook. Here are some things you could do with seven extra hours per month:
1) Go on 14 30-minute walks. That's approximately one every other day. This will increase physical exercise and give you and your child an opportunity to explore the world around you.
2) Read. Considering that most children's books take no more than 10 minutes to read, that amounts to 42 books. Imagine what reading 1-2 extra books per day would do for your child's reading/vocabulary abilities as well as increase your bonding time!
3) Volunteer at your child's school or daycare. Even going to have lunch with your child once per week can help you get to know their teachers and friends. Studies have shown that children whose parents/guardians are involved in their schooling are more successful and well-liked by their peers.
As parents, it is important for us to spend time taking care of ourselves and having alone time to decompress. I would encourage you to use time with your kids as a way to decompress. Nothing takes away the tension from a stressful day better than hearing, "I love you Daddy," or gazing into the eyes of your infant wondering just what is going on inside that rapidly developing mind.
As the school year gets under way, please join me in finding ways to prioritize parenting this year. Trust me, Hungry Hungry Hippos is much better for the soul than any forwarded joke or status update.
Justin Farrell is a married father of two living in Vancouver, Washington. He is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and a Child Mental Health Specialist as well as an adjunct professor at Concordia University where he teaches a class on the Psychology of Fatherhood. He writes a blog that can be found at Courageous Vancouver Dad.