Several weeks ago, my wife and I were hiking in a State park near our home when we heard the music of children’s laughter off in the distance. We veered off the path to follow the source of the sounds, and found a thirty-something chareidi man wading waist-deep in the stream along with his three preteen children — all of them fully clothed. Not wanting to intrude on their privacy, my wife and I watched them splashing, cavorting, and giggling, from a distance, before moving on.
It was simply the most beautiful “Kodak Moment” one could imagine. (For those who were raised with digital cameras; Kodak is a company that makes film, and they ran ads for many years where treasured times in one’s life that were photographed were referred to as “Kodak Moments.” Film is what old people used to put in their cameras once upon a time before taking pictures of their horses and buggies.) Later, I told my wife that the nachas of watching the father and his children interact and enjoy each other’s company washed away the pain of at least several weeks’ worth of calls I get each night from parents who are having difficulty with their children.
My dear readers, if you are raising children — especially young ones — I very strongly urge you to do everything in your power to spend quality time with them and help each of them create their own album of “Kodak Moments” with you. Parents often make the mistake of thinking that they need to take their children on exotic vacations or to an expensive amusement park for them to enjoy themselves. That is just not so. They don’t need your money; they need you. That fellow I saw in the park didn’t spend a dime on the outing with his kids, but the memories they will carry of their impulsive plunge into the stream together with their father will undoubtedly remain etched in their minds’ eyes for life.
One of the great ironies of life is that when our children grow through their teenage years and beyond, it is so challenging to get them to spend time with us. However, when they are younger and craving for our attention, we often are too busy, too preoccupied, too distracted, and too unaware of how important to their emotional health our time with them is.
Time with you is the greatest self-esteem builder for your children, for it sends a message that your connection with them is so meaningful to you. It allows you to get to know your children — really know them — and helps build the trust, affection, and deep personal relationship that are all prerequisites to having them confide in you and seek your guidance when they need it later in life.
In the hectic lives we lead nowadays, you will need to have the steely determination to spend time with your children in order to accomplish that goal. You will also be well served to spend creative energy thinking of what you can do to find opportunities and venues to carve out such time with them. When our oldest was eight years old, I taught myself and later each of our children to ski and golf because I felt that those two activities would allow me to spend huge blocks of time with them in their adolescent years. (Where else other than a chairlift can you get your teenager to spend ten minutes with you, twenty times in one day?) And when the realization hit me fifteen years ago that between learning with our sons and taking them to shul, I was spending far more time with them than I was with our daughters, I decided to create a yearly N.B.A. (No Boys Allowed) vacation with our two eldest daughters where I would spend two-three days with them alone — without my wife or sons. They are both married, with the chesed of Hashem, but to this day, they regularly mention our N.B.A. vacations and talk about how much they looked forward to them all year long.
We all — even people who write parenting columns — need regular reminders of how important it is to spend time alone with our kids when we do not allow the distractions of daily life to get in the way. Four years ago, when our youngest daughter, Sara, was ten years old, she and I were planning our N.B.A. vacation. I told her that I would take her shopping for the trip the night before and asked her if there was anything special she wanted me to purchase for our trip. With a straight face, she asked me to get her a cell phone battery. Perplexed, I asked her why she needed a battery for a cell phone she didn’t have.
“No, Tatty,” Sara responded with a twinkle in her eyes, “for this trip, I want you to take the battery out of your cell phone (disconnecting it, so we can spend uninterrupted time together) and give it to me.”