In the aftermath of When You Screw Up Badly as a Parent, my interactions with my children have been on my mind a lot lately.
In fact, I touched on this issue in my last newsletter, on Sunday, but the subject continues to tug at me so I thought I’d write about it today at more length. (And if you haven’t subscribed to my free newsletter yet—which offers additional content beyond my blog posts—you can sign up right here.)
The issue of how we interact with our children—the quality of that interaction—is crucial for these two reasons:
- It impacts their language development.
- It impacts the bond we build with them.
Recently, because my days have felt more hectic, I’m afraid the quality of my interactions with my kids has suffered. And nowhere is this more apparent than in moments of “interruption.”
Advancing your larger aims
The fact that I now work from home, as a freelance writer and teacher, has clear advantages when it comes to providing my children with consistent support in the minority language (for us, that’s English). This is something I recognize, and appreciate, because it wasn’t always this way: when my children were smaller, I had a busy full-time job at the Hiroshima-area newspaper and saw them far less. (This is when I “cloned myself” to increase their exposure to English, as I describe in The Busy Parent’s Guide to Cloning Yourself.)
Still, working from home has its challenges, too, and one of the biggest is the problem of continuous interruptions. Although Lulu and Roy attend our local elementary school, they arrive home in the mid-afternoon and promptly, loudly, invade my office. Then, for the rest of the day—and all day on weekends and longer breaks from school—there are recurrent raids on my hideout, for one reason or another. (Like the shrieking quarrels that frequently break out between them, depicted in How Fighting Like Furious Monkeys Can Benefit Your Bilingual Kids.)
Of course, I experimented with various methods to limit these interruptions (for a while there I even put this frightening sign on my office door), but I finally came to the conclusion:
Hey! Maybe you should try harder to appreciate these interruptions while they last. At least they want to interact with you, and that may not be the case when they’re brooding teenagers.
What’s more, it’s through each interaction that you’ll be advancing your larger aims of nurturing their English ability as well as your relationship with them. Even when your work feels “urgent,” that’s hardly ever the case, really—and you always get it done, anyway, right? So what’s the wiser choice here: turning them away to continue your “urgent” business or engaging with them in that moment?
And thus a new pledge was born:
Engage with every interruption.
Instead of barricading myself from them (I canceled my order for the barbed wire), I decided to accept the interruptions. And when they came charging into my office with another question, or creation, or catfight, I would consciously remind myself to shift my focus from my computer to their concerns.
Making the moments count
Now I admit, I’m not always so successful at this—and that’s been true a lot lately. But I’m not really suggesting that we engage with every interruption. I don’t think any of us could—or even should—try to live up to this ideal all the time. I mean, sometimes we really are busy. Plus, our children need to acquire some healthy respect for our own time and activities, too.
As a general rule, though, I think this is a useful intention for busy parents of younger kids—and particularly those seeking to support the minority language.
How do we respond, on balance, when our kids approach us, clamoring for attention, while we’re focused on work or a household chore? Do we have a tendency to brush them off so we can continue with our own task? Or do we try to remain mindful of the opportunity these interruptions present, pausing to look our children in the eye and engaging with them as fully as we’re able?
In my case, when my days get hectic and it all starts to feel “urgent” (even though most of it really isn’t), I lose sight of the fact that every interruption is actually another fleeting chance to help stretch the minority language and deepen the parent-child bond. The fact that the balance of my interactions becomes weighted toward “brushing them off” is a sure sign that my priorities have gotten badly scrambled.
The higher priority, much of the time, should be our kids and their desire to communicate with us.
In the end, our children’s language ability in the future, as well as the bond that we’ll share when they’re fully grown, are the greater result of all the small, single moments of interaction we experience each day. Though we’ll never be perfect parents—and that’s perfectly fine—it’s nevertheless true that these moments count, and the more we can keep this idea in mind, and take advantage of these opportunities, the more impact we’ll surely have.
Recently, I’ve been missing too many of these moments, and the quality of my interactions has slipped. But each day, of course, is another chance to try again, and I’m determined to now renew my little pledge and engage with the next noisy interruption. (Please wish me luck—I’ll probably need it! )
So true. I also think that if we as parents reduce our “do not interrupt me” times to the minimum essential, we will get more cooperation. I also work from home, and when I have a huge deadline, I inform the kids that “Today, I must work ALL DAY”. They usually get it and not only do not interrupt, but chip in to help out with household chores and the older two take care of my youngest. However, when I do this too often, I do not get good results.
I think it is best to engage interruptions, especially when we might be just messing around on the computer not being too productive anyway ;-). When I get really busy or stressed, I tend to use the TV as babysitter, and many times when I’m reflecting at night on my parenting of late, I know I need to do that less often.
Anyway, thanks for the advice!
Susan, thanks for this comment. These are helpful thoughts, and I agree completely. At times, telling my kids not to disturb me seems to work fairly well…but other times I’m actually forced to flee the house and carry on at a local coffee shop! (Don’t worry! I left my wife with the lasso!)
I just happened to stumble upon this post, but…what an informative website! I’ve been looking for a site like this with comprehensive information.
Although my daughter is still 15 months, I’m basically in the same situation. I speak the minority language (English) to her and I work from home as a freelance translator. At 15 months it’s impossible to ask her to wait for me while I finish a file, so I work throughout the night. Not very ideal, but there really is no other way. (Okay, I admit I use Okaasanto Issho as my crutch.)
I always felt that down the line, it would get easier since she would probably understand that I’m working, but after reading your post I realize that that’s not always the case. But knowing that the time she spends interacting in English with me helps build her English language skills makes it seem worthwhile.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Miwa, I’m glad you stumbled upon Bilingual Monkeys! I hope it’s helpful to you in your own bilingual journey with your daughter. (You might also enjoy my free weekly newsletter. See the subscribe page for details.)
I wish you the best of luck balancing the demands of work and family. Working from home has its challenges, to be sure, but the benefits are significant.
And, Miwa, I enjoyed my visit to your site! (I like cupcakes, too!)
Thanks for your reply and visiting my site!
Just signed up for the newsletter. I’ll be looking forward to reading your articles!
A fantastic reminder again from you, Adam! This is very true! I think every parents could relate to this!
As always Adam a nice little pick-up in my despairing time as an alien (even to my kids LOL)
Gerry, I’m glad this post could give a little boost to your day. Keep at it, fellow alien!
I wish you luck, understand and totally agree and so what I wish me able to do that with my kids because one of my goal is to work at home, and before reading this the only thing that I was thinking was how that I will be more concentrated and quiet, and the same time for the moment (I work in an office and not at home from 7h to 19h) I complain about not to see my childs… but now be thinking of it it’s absurd
Your blog is not only for parent of bilingual kids but for any parent too
Thanks back to you, Yannick. I’m glad this post was good food for thought. One of the key elements for success when it comes to parenting bilingual children (or just plain parenting, as you rightly point out) is staying as conscious as we can amid our busy lives.
What a beautiful article and so needed nowadays when we spend probably so much time with our faces scrolling down a little screen to see what all social media platforms have to offer. I read this article thanks to a link on your most recent post about your trip to Europe and I just realized it was written in 2013. How we feel about interruptions is still the same, the only difference is that now with social media we are probably more disconnected than ever from our kids and real life experiences, and our kids have way more things to compete with for our attention.
Thank you for your comment, Ana! I hope all is well with you and your family!
I completely agree with your impressions. And the quantity and quality of the time we spend with our kids is not only affected by our behavior, the fact that our kids become fixated on their digital devices, too, means that it’s doubly hard to continue connecting with them. I wrote this post six years ago and now my 15-year-old daughter has a smartphone and my 12-year-old son has a PlayStation. While my wife and I are as intentional as we can be about controlling their use, these devices still complicate our lives and make me yearn to have my family disconnect more from the digital world and connect more with the real world.