I often look at my children and wonder, am I doing enough for them?
I’m sure every parent throughout history has asked that same question. But I think our modern hyper-connectivity, especially through social media, poses the question more frequently and dramatically. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and confused by all the possibilities and opinions.
So I decided to sit down and make a list. When I start feeling overwhelmed and confused, I reference my list. If I can check off most of the list then I am giving my children what they need.
My children need to be nourished spiritually. For my family, that means a daily prayer and Mass schedule. We also try to infuse spirituality in the environment by hanging religious art on the walls, singing spiritual songs to our children, and telling them stories from our faith. Finally, we make sure that our children have access to play with religious items (like nativity scenes or childproof rosaries) so they can learn about God in the way children learn best. As a side note, we have found that when we make sure to nurture the spiritual needs of our family we feel a sense of peace, and everything else seems to fall into place.
My children need to be nourished intellectually. My toddler and I “do school” once each day. Right now that just means sitting down to read a book or draw or practice the alphabet. It lasts anywhere from two to thirty minutes. I’m trying to build good habits for both of us.
My children need to be nourished physically. Of course, toddlers need to eat healthy food, but I don’t want to be battling my son all day. So I keep his options limited and I simply don’t buy any foods I don’t want him eating in large quantities. Toddlers also need lots of physical activity so we’ll take him for a hike or to the playground when we can. But usually it is enough for him to run wildly around the kitchen counter with his Daddy.
My children need to be surrounded by beauty, particularly natural beauty. It might be a long walk or just sitting right outside or a drive to look at trees, but we make a rule to spend some time outside whenever the weather is nice. We also try to expose our children to lots of beautiful music and encourage them to make music themselves.
My children need to work. My toddler is responsible for putting each toy in its spot before dinner. I also ask him to help me with tasks throughout the day, like emptying dishwasher, vacuuming, sorting laundry. He loves being asked to help!
My children need an environment that protects their natural goodness and potential for growth. Unfortunately, technology often brings the world’s negativity/stress/distraction into the home. Moreover, my husband and I try to limit technology’s effects on growing brains and expectations. We have “low tech rules” around and for our children. They only have “screen time” about once a week and they play with mostly old-fashioned (non-electronic) toys. We also try to not let them see us use our technology mindlessly. This seems like a daunting goal, but it’s been inspiring to see how much joy a child can get out of simple things.
My children need to have quality time with loved ones. This one seems obvious, but I find that often whenever I’m overly concerned about what we are giving our children, I actually become distracted from spending quality time with them. We make sure to stop all work at a set time every day to give undivided attention to our children and each other. We also really focus on making a Sabbath once a week. On Sundays we don’t work and after Church we play/relax at home or we go on a special fun outing or we spend time with extended family. This habit has really positively transformed our family (and, ironically, increased our productivity!)
At the end of the day, children certainly require much patience and sacrifice, but their needs are not usually complicated or elaborate. Clubs, sports, vacations, toys, crafts, and parties provide wonderful, loving memories for children, but those things are just extra.
One evening, a few weeks ago, my husband asked our toddler son what his favorite thing about his day was. It had been an unusually active day for him riding his bike, seeing wild animals outside, eating his favorite meal, etc.
We both expected him to say his favorite thing had been riding his bike fast downhill.
But he responded, casually, “Nicholas smiled at me.”
That quickly rearranged my priorities! And I try to remind myself of that response, when I start doubting myself on days without much direction or Instagrammable pictures. If our home was full of love that day, if it was a day where we laughed and smiled at each other, then it was a good day.