I believe most of us have what it takes to be genuinely great parents; regardless if we have been separated, divorced or attempting to co-parent. More often than not, it is through our efforts to juggle an already rather hectic lifestyle that we neglect some of the most crucial aspects of parenting. Beyond the basic requirements of love, nurturing, food, clothing, shelter, and education, the next layer involves four key elements. These four key elements are: Time, Structure, Stimulation, and Protection. Today’s article is to look at Time.

There is a debate amongst those who facilitate parental education that has raged for years — Quantity vs. Quality. These two opinions have been frequently flaunted by those on either side of Mothers Working Outside of the Home argument. The purest believe that children need their mother at home and that the quantity of time spent with them is of paramount importance. The progressive attitudes in defense of the working mother, place weight on the quality of time. Free from judgement either way (as I have done both), I have come to satisfy my requirement for an answer through what I believe is more important than both: “Wherever You Are, Be There.”

Today, more than any time previously known in our history, distraction is our new norm. We will answer phone calls, return text messages, or read a magazine or newspaper while we wait for our coffee to be brought to our table, whilst our child sits alongside, regardless of what side of the Quantity/Quality argument we believe we belong on. Between mobile phones, iPods, and all other forms of screen-based entertainment, we have our attention more focused on those absent, than with those in front of us. To give our children Time is to be Present. It is to value the interaction regardless of how ordinary it may appear.

John is a well-paid senior executive who can provide every new toy imaginable for his kids — and he does. They have the latest and greatest technology money can buy, ranging from personal iPods to full in-home theatre. He is not unlike many diligent, hardworking, and intelligent men; he possess a fatherly desire to be at as many kid’s events as his work allows.

Rushing from the office to make the 7:00 p.m. parent-teacher interviews, he greets his boy with a quick hug, asks about his day for a gratuitous 30 seconds, and as he does, automatically reaches into his pocket for his new phone. Proudly giving facts and figures as to its brilliance, how he can now access his work inbox from anywhere, anytime. “Ding.” His concentration snaps elsewhere, he immediately texts, and laughs audibly at a reply while sadly his attention has moved to another, and away from his son sitting quietly beside him.

John is perplexed at the teacher’s concern for his boy’s lack of concentration.

This is alarmingly common; and let’s not pretend we don’t do it ourselves. Many women take comfort believing they can multitask and therefore excuse themselves, but I beg to offer an alternative opinion. We are no more able to focus on texting and at the same time hold a meaningful conversation with someone in front of us than men are. And our children feel it. Quietly, distraction robs us of opportunities that our present moment offers. Whether we are doing the washing, taxiing kids, writing a thesis, having dinner, or going shopping, be there. Pay attention to whatever it is you are doing and absorb the uniqueness within each instance. When you do this, you will excel in all your doings.

For our children to feel they are valued and important, loved and worthwhile, a simple priority of focus is pivotal. If we are miles away in thought while with our children, the time with them is of little consequence and can be fulfiled by anyone. Have you heard yourself ask the question “How’s your day been?”, and then be unable to recall the answer. We may even ask it again before we get pulled up by our child for having just told us. How many of us know our children’s friends’ names? What about what they look like? Would you be able to spot them around the local shops, especially out of school uniform? Have we taken the time to understand what is happening inside their friends’ families? The next time you are ready to scold your teen for their dismissive glance towards your friend, ask yourself, do you know theirs?

Our children (especially teens) need our support, wisdom, and guidance as we move through this change in family structure; perhaps they felt too much distance when it didn’t really matter to believe we will truly be there for them now that it does. Being There is about focus, attention, and intention. The debate about quantity and quality cannot be settled outside of circumstantial factors, this can only be done at the core of Being Present.

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Jill Darcey (author, parent, founder, and speaker) is a mother of three with thousands of hours of experience as a counsellor and coach, and more than a decade of real-time experience with "complex family" parenting --- parenting through separation, divorce or some other family breakdown. Jill is someone who has both vision and wisdom and has learned a lot of what does and doesn't work — and some of it the hard way!

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