Sometimes being present in your child’s life has more to do with inviting them in to your life, rather than joining them in theirs. We focus a lot on setting aside time for our children so we can engage in their activities, which is definitely important, but it’s not the only way to involve them in your life.
I had my daughter, now seven, when I was twenty five. I was in my last year of college. I distinctly remember reading my criminal justice and criminology text to her as she grew in my womb. Once she was born, she came with me everywhere. When I went to study, she came along, sitting up in her little baby seat, smiling away at the staff and Village Inn as I read up on trial practice, literature and the law, and basic evidence. She flourished at my side.
When she was two, I entered law school and she entered pre-school. There were days when I would pull her out of school and bring her to class with me, so she could see what mommy did all day. At two, she would sit quietly next to me in class for the full hour and forty-five minutes, listening to a lecture on federal wildlife law, administrative law, and be happy as a clam. She would often raise her hands and ask questions of my professors, and in the three years I attended law school, she enjoyed every class she got to sit in on.
When I joined the American Inns of Court she came to our weekly breakfasts, and loved talking to the judges and lawyers, listening to their stories, and stealing bits of their bacon and cantaloupe. To this day she attends these breakfasts with me, and is very proud that she gets to come along.
After graduation I went to work for an attorney in NJ. At one point in time I had to bring Monkey to work with me. We had a huge filing due the next day, my husband was out of town, and there was nowhere else for her to go. She sat in my office with me from 3:30 p.m. until nearly midnight, happily drawing away. On the ride home I thanked her for being so well behaved. She said “You remember how I used to go to law school with you? This was kind of like that, I have missed it.” I was so touched to realize how much she enjoyed being a part of my adult world.
I forget how much it means to her, to be allowed in on the things I am doing. Sure, she is thrilled if I play house with her, or paint a picture with her, but she will cry if she misses Thursday morning breakfast group. I always worried she would find these grown up occasions boring, but she doesn’t. She involves herself, and finds a way to participate, every single time. She is so proud that she gets to attend grown up functions, and she is always well behaved at them. We may have tantrums in the store, or wiggling at a restaurant, but she knows when she has to behave well, and she is so pleased to be included that she goes out of her way to do her best.
There are other ways to invite children in, letting them cook with you, clean with you, choose items at the grocery store or make decisions about what you do as a family on the weekend. In my experience, just being asked to join in makes all the difference to our little people.