Dear Rabbi Horowitz:
We have 4 children ranging in age from two to nine-years-old. We consider ourselves to be hands-on parents and we keep hearing how important it is to be involved in the lives of our children.
However, balancing our career, family and social obligations – as well as doing homework, carpooling, arranging play dates, attending parent-teacher conferences – is a bit overwhelming at times. Do you have any practical tips for spending quality time with your children when there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of quantity?
Rabbi Horowitz Responds
I guess my first thought would be to divide your question into two sequential components: 1) How important is “quantity time?” and, 2) Given the reality that our time is limited, and there are incredible demands on the little discretionary time that we have, how can I make the most of those precious minutes and hours that we do have to spend them children?
Our Sages inform us that when we take leave of this world and are judged for our actions during our time on Earth, one of the leading questions that we will be asked is, “Ka’vata itim laTorah – Did you set aside time for the learning of Torah?”
Many of the commentaries point out that the root word ‘keva’ is literally translated as ‘permanent,’ – which implies that we are going to be asked, “Did you set aside a permanent time for learning Torah – a fixed time when nothing could disturb you?” For the importance that we apportion to any area of our life is often determined by how willing we are to be disturbed from that activity. We all have ‘do-not-disturb’ zones that we carve out for ourselves – for our work, our hobbies and our down time. Hopefully, one of these zones is a time for Torah learning. Other such zones are dedicated for reading the paper, drinking a cup of coffee, or going for a walk. And with your words and deeds, your friends, co-workers and children are given clear messages that you are not to be disturbed during that time.
With that in mind, I would suggest that our children judge us – and the importance they play in our lives – with a similar question: “Did you set aside fixed time to spend with us – during which nothing could disturb you?”
How lovely is it when a child knows that he/she has time with his/her parents when no one can disturb them. “Tatty is putting me to sleep; I have his undivided attention now.” Or, “Mommy’s talking to me because I just came home from school. She would never answer the phone during this time we have together.”
We are all under enormous time constraints, and it seems that this reality is growing exponentially as financial pressures mount, and our immediate and extended families grow larger – continuously increasing our parenting and social obligations. Having said that, we as parents must make it our highest priority to find – and jealously guard – the quality time that we spent our children.
One of the great ironies of life is that when our children are young, they are almost begging for our time, our love, and our undivided attention. Once they hit adolescence, however, it is almost complete role reversal. Now, they are too ‘busy’ for us. It is then that we often beg them for their undivided attention, time, … and love.
So, I plead with you to start getting in the habit of spending permanent, quality time with your children when they are young. No, spending time with your children will most certainly not guarantee that they will remain trouble-free and on the path to success. But it is the only way for you to be able to guide your children as they grow through adolescence and beyond. The saddest thing that I (sometimes/often) hear from at-risk teens when I encourage them to discuss their challenges with their parents, is: “My parents don’t really know me.”
In next week's column, I will share with you some very practical tips on how to make best use of your time with your children, and how to carve out those ‘quality zones’ with them. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to read an excellent article by Dr. Benzion Sorotskin on The Role of Parents and some of the outstanding research done by the Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse CASA on the importance of parenting and the direct and stunning correlation between involved parents and diminished rates of substance abuse. It is important to note that these results represent years of extensive, professional research and cut across all socioeconomic levels, education background, and the level of risk represented in the various neighborhoods with the children were raised.
Parenting Study -- Importance of Family Dinners #1
Parenting Study -- Importance of Family Dinners # 2
Parenting Study -- Importance of Family Dinners # 3
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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