The Words Your Child Really Wants to Hear

 MicahThe other day, my friend went to a parenting conference I was not able to attend. When I asked her to give me the highlight reel, the first thing she said was: “I learned that what is more important to our children than hearing the words ‘I love you’ is hearing the words ‘I want to spend time with you’, and then proving it.”

Today, I tried those words out.  While driving in the car, I called back to my kids, “Hey you two. I love you! But do you know what? I also want to spend time with you.”

To which my eleven-year-old son replied, “You know what, mom? That’s what I want to hear.” (And then, of course, my heart melted in an avalanche of love.)

Thankfully, this morning I was in a unique position to be able to back up my words with my actions, because we were already ditching our regular schedule for an adventure and heading to the Little House on the Prairie Museum in Independence, KS. After hours of exploring and learning about the Ingalls family with many of our dearest friends, we decided we weren’t done adventuring, and ventured on to Elk Falls to hike and throw twigs in the raging falls.

Tonight we came home wind-blown, sun-burned, and exhausted, but oh, so happy.  The kids both agreed it was one of their best days ever. We added to our nature collection shells and rocks collected at Elk Falls, and as we fished through treasures gathered at Cheney Lake, Coronado Heights, and Santa Fe Lake, among other “adventure destinations” we have enjoyed over the years, it occurred to me that I never think about all of the hassle and trouble spent getting to and from those places. I simply always treasure the memories of being with my children, exploring nature, climbing rocks, gathering shells, and enjoying the rare phenomenon Pa Ingalls describes in the book Little House in the Prairie when he tells Ma, “Take your time, Caroline. We have all the time there is.” 

Of course I remember Pa’s words, because they are the furthest thing from normal in every day life these days. “We have all the time there is?” I can hardly imagine a world in which this it true! Instead I am hectic and hurried, anxious and angry, running from one place to another, from activity to activity, barely making time to think a thought through myself much less connect with another human being.

Not to mention the trusty old smartphones attached to our hips these days. Studies show that moms attached to their phones have children who are more negative and less resilient, who feel unimportant because they have to compete with the smartphone for their parents’ attention. I cannot imagine the damage that would have been done in my own heart if my mom had been more interested in her phone than she was in me while I was growing up. And even though while I’m on my phone I’m often reading the news or checking my e-mail, which I consider important things to be doing, the truth is my kids don’t know that, so it doesn’t make a difference. To them, my phone is just another thing competing for my time and attention, and it’s important for me that they know, if it’s between them and my smartphone, they win every time.

That’s why taking the time to ditch my distracted, frantic habits and simply make an effort to be present with my children means so much to them. I know that giving my children the gift of my time is one of the most valuable things I can offer them. Taking time to put away my phone and look in their eyes, ask them questions, be still, laugh at their jokes, explore somewhere new, look for shells, skip rocks into a lake, or name the shapes of clouds goes such a long way with them, and costs me nothing but my time and presence.

It definitely takes sacrifice. But when I look into the eyes of a child who knows without a shadow of a doubt he is loved and cared for, every second of investment is worth it.


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