[Week 2 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
What is a schedule?
A schedule is an attempt to allot time to certain activities and outcomes. Some scheduling is obviously useful. It helps people make agreements and do business.
Schedules are also a way to be considerate to other people. Making it to an appointment or meeting a deadline makes it more possible for other people to use their time the way they want to. Any way you look at it, a schedule is a reflection of our priorities.
From a child’s perspective, the family schedule has three main categories.
- parent’s schedule
- child’s schedule
- other family members and household schedule
All of these converge on a child’s life. The way schedules are handled has the potential to foster relationship or squeeze the life right out of it. The choice is basically in the hands of the parent.
The limits of a schedule
As adults, we can feel very pressed by responsibility. Scheduling can help us attend to the responsibilities such as feeding the family or paying the bills to keep a roof over everyone. Scheduling can also lead to developing good habits or making use of discretionary time.
Scheduling is a little more iffy when it comes to relationship. Relationships need relatively large blocks of time to grow. These blocks of time need to be very regular and frequent. For a child this usually means at least daily. The time involved needs to be somewhat unstructured in how it dictates human interaction and communication.
Relationships also require time frames flexible enough to allow opportunity for self-initiated relating. It takes time to get to the deeper levels of communication. The mind must be given time to relax. There needs to be time to sift through the more obvious decision making or sharing of events. Then there is time and inclination to test the deeper thoughts and concerns of the day.
Fake relationships versus organized social opportunities
Some people mistake programmed interaction for the communication of relationship. Programmed interaction may seem like a way to stimulate social bonds, but unless the individuals themselves spend significant time initiating personal communication, there will only be the facade of a relationship.
An example of programmed interaction is where someone outside of the potential relationship creates detailed and time consuming plans for interaction. This could be a therapist or religious leader or sports coach. Even if done with the best of intentions, it can often lead to frustration unless the people who are the primary actors in the relationship take over control of interaction.
This doesn’t mean that nothing can be organized. A game or a meal or a project has been the backdrop of many a growing relationship. The difference is that such broad arrangements for when, where, and a general activity still leave space for great conversations.
Relationship time in the midst of life
I used to have wonderful conversations with my mom while we cleaned the kitchen after dinner. Even at the age of 11-12, I looked forward to this time with her. The job was organized, but there was lots of time for discretionary communication. And importantly, I could tell she enjoyed spending the time with me.
Similarly, I have had many marvelous discussions with my children while reading “study” books because there was no authority telling us exactly how we needed to think about things. Even on an adult level, my best friends are those who sit and chat without an agenda, but with each of us having a real interest in the other. I am a strong advocate of being a parent before being a friend, but if parenting is done with care then friendship will follow.
Biology is not enough
Your relationship with your child needs sufficient time in order to build a foundation of mutual understanding. This can’t be forced or faked. This can’t be assumed because of a biological connection. No one, especially a child, will be able to get to know and trust someone unless time is spent with that person. Call it one of the mysteries of life.
A child also needs to be available for this to happen. Much like there needs to be free time for creative play, there is a basic need for free time for creative relationship building. A child who has life directed and programmed for the bulk of hours not only won’t have time for getting to know a parent, but won’t have the energy.
Don’t let others usurp your relationship with your child
There are those who would usurp your relationship opportunities with your child. Both governmental and religious entities try to claim rights and expertise with your child. They present a scenario where they get both the majority of time in a child’s life, as well as get to talk about the most important and most interesting things. It is up to the parent to resist such interference.
It is also an irony that most of the time the usurpers run programs that are crowded, but interfere with real relationship building. A child can be surrounded by people constantly, but still be lonely because either no one is truly interested in him as a person or because everyone else’s time is also eaten up by the programs.
Family relationships prepare a child for life
As mentioned earlier, relationship building should include times of working or studying together. These kinds of activities each have unique factors that bring opportunity to relationships. However, it is still important to have some time allowed to be free from work, where the relationship can be given undivided attention. For parents of more than one young child, this may seem impossible, but if the family in general is not working and the only distraction is necessary needs of other family members, that is just as good.
When a parent takes time to develop a good relationship with a child it has the added benefit of preparing the child to navigate other relationships. The child will be more attracted to good relationships and repelled by bad ones. The child will also be more likely to seek and listen to wise counsel about relationships from the parent.
Parents are meant to spend time with their children
Too many people act like parents wanting to spend time with their children is smothering them or denying them chances to be part of the world. When a child is born, the parents are his world. As the parent-child relationship is given time in the schedule to grow, this world can gradually broaden. There is no need or benefit to jerking the child out of the family environment by a certain age. There is no need to fill up the child’s time with programmed activity so that “he stays out of trouble.” If there is a time-based relationship with the parent, there will not be a child looking for the kinds of relationships that lead to such trouble.
Don’t be pressured by real or imagined forces to schedule yourself right out of your child’s life. If necessary, take that schedule by the horns and wrestle it to the ground. Harness it and tame it so that you can give priority to getting to know your child and letting him get to know and trust you.