Original Post (with comments)
That word is simple – work. Yes, we’ve heard it a million times, but that’s because it’s true far more often than it is not. Maybe people get confused by this because they think in snapshots instead of movies. If you take a snapshot of your romance or friendship or family relationship when things are going well, it’ll be hard to reconcile the idea that relationships are work with the picture you get. It’s the not-so-great times that drive the point home. A good example in my own life is raising my son.
I’ll admit this, even though I know some folks will shudder – I wasn’t particularly into my kid for at least the first fifteen or so months of his life. Now, don’t make too much of this. Of course, I loved him in the way that nature programmed me to love him – I would have gladly thrown myself in front of a bus for him, even when he was a cute little eating, shitting, sleeping, crying bag of fat. What I’m saying is that I didn’t get much out of the beginning of his life. Yes, I’m a selfish bastard – just like everyone. The point is that, despite the fact that the personal benefit balance did not seem to be tipped in my favor, I clocked in.
I changed my share of diapers, and I spent as much time with my son as my life would allow. It was hard, especially since he cried incessantly for the first three months of his life. Nevertheless, as I am a long-term thinker, I knew that the work would pay off, and it has, like nothing I could have ever imagined. What I have now is a 24-month old son who absolutely loves his daddy. Now I can’t get enough of him. Have I transitioned into the blissful part of relationships? Was it just a “pay your dues” and then reap the benefits situation? Yes and no. Things have changed, but they’re still tough.
One thing that Brian Tracy talks about in Something for Nothing (see my review) is the idea that we should place the people we care about most in the center of our lives. We should build our worlds around them, placing the highest priority on spending time with each and every one. In fact, Tracy said something that I had never heard and is perhaps one of the most prescient statements in the book – How does a child spell “love”? Answer: “T-I-M-E!” How right he is, but there’s a bit more to it.
In some ways, my relationship with my son is the simplest, most wonderful thing in my life. But, it’s still work. You see, just spending time with a child isn’t really enough. You have to actually interact with them. You have to engage them on their level, and that’s not easy if you’re used to multi-tasking and thinking about all manner of complex philosophical and occupational subjects. Even now, I think of my time with my son as work, but it’s truly a labor of love.
I so look forward to the time we have together, but I have to admit that I find myself watching the clock after a while, looking forward to when I’ll be “off-duty.” How crazy is that? Just when I think I’m a good dad, I take a glance at my watch and then cringe at what a loser I am. Then, I take a step back.
I used to feel unbelievably guilty about this, but not any more. The fact is that raising my child is not unlike many of the other types of work I engage in – even though the good things outweigh the bad, the unpleasant or difficult parts are still there (That’s why it’s called work, right?), and they still have to be dealt with. I’m just fortunate that child-rearing gets more and more enjoyable as time goes on. The key is that the focus is on interacting with my son so that I can teach him how to be a well-adjusted little person.
How many people pay lip service to the idea that we have to spend time with our loved ones to keep the relationships producing that ever-important two-way flow of love? Maybe they think proximity equals spending time. This would explain the ever-present DVD players with screens aimed at the backseats of SUVs and mini-vans. Now, I’m not judging here – all kids are different, so who I am to say when the “mesmerizer” is or is not justified during travel times? But there’s no question that when the little ones are absorbed in a video, they are not interacting with anyone else in the vehicle. They’re locked onto Bob the Builder or Winnie the Pooh to the exclusion of all other stimuli, including the words of the folks in the front seats. This, to me, is not spending time. It’s sharing time, and in investment terms, the contributions are pretty much nil, which means the payoff is inevitably similar. Same thing with daycare, nannies, and on and on.
Of course, I understand that we all have to do what we have to do when it comes to raising our children. As the child of a single mother, I was in full-time daycare from week seven of my life. There was simply no other way, but when mom got home, it was all about me, and I knew it. This is what matters. Surprising as it may be, one of the best concepts about children that I ever heard came from Bill Clinton. It was somewhere around 1995, and Bill was in the midst of one of his classic “it’s about the chiiildren” speeches. He said, “More than anything else, every child needs to know that he or she is the center of someone’s universe, that there is nothing more important than him or her to that person.” Wise words, indeed. Now let’s place that idea right next to the idea that time interacting spells love to a child.
If kids interpret their importance in the minds of their parents or primary care-givers in terms of the amount of time they spend interacting with them, then the inescapable conclusion is that people who have children have an obligation to clock in. There’s no other way. If what you want is a great relationship with your kids, then it’s going to cost you. You’re going to have to suck it up and get down on their level for extended periods of time. The good news is that once they get to a certain age (18 months or so, for most), the rewards are intoxicating.
When my son wakes in the middle of the night and cries out for daddy and not mommy, I stagger to his room with the biggest smile on my face. Interestingly, it only happens when I’ve spent the whole day with him. If I’ve been traveling or have been too busy to spend more than a couple of hours with him, it’s all mommy. Simple things like that have a profound effect on how I plan my schedule. Mind you, it’s not a competition. I just know that mommy is his number one person, so any time I’m top of mind, I know I’m doing something right. My investments are paying off in the kind of love that I could never have dreamed of three years ago, but they are investments all the same.
In the final analysis, the conclusion is clear – relationships are like everything else – there is no free lunch. There is no something for nothing. So if your relationships (with your kids or otherwise) are not what you’d like them to be, it’s time to take stock. It’s time to honestly evaluate how much time you spend with them. More importantly, it’s time to evaluate how much time you could spend with them, but spend doing other things that maybe aren’t as much work. If you’re honest, you’ll find that you could be giving more.
Lest I come off as one who stands on the high ground shouting to my lessers, I’m no different. My life is a constant struggle to stay focused on what’s important, and like everyone else, I fail on a regular basis. But these are what I like to call personal best-practices – the things we know are right and strive to do at all times. What matters is that we recognize what we need to do – spend quality time with our loved ones – and we commit to sacrificing whatever we have to to do it. It’s work, but nothing is more worth it.