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! )