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On presence and engagement in parenting

I’m a parent of a 4-year-old (K) and a 4-month-old (C2).  These are the first children I’ve had any significant contact with (in practical terms, they’re the first kids & grandkids & great-grandkids in the families).  I’m also a pretty hardcore introvert, and generally I’m not too good with “people skills”.  As a parent, I find that my biggest challenges are patience (a topic for another time) and being truly present and engaged.

I’m on parental leave this year*.  K is continuing to attend her preschool while I’m home with C2.  This gives me a chance to care for, spend time with, and get to know the babe.  He’s now old enough that he’s starting to have a real personality, and he loves interacting with people.  This is where it gets hard for me.  I love him dearly, I love that he’s interactive, and I love to play with him, but I am not a people person.  I relish his naps as a time for me to recharge and get ready for the next couple of hours of mindless babbling.  It’s hard to be well-engaged for long periods of time with a creature that acts more like a cross between a goldfish and a puppy than a person.

As tough as it is to get fully engaged with the babe though, I have an even bigger barrier with K.  In a way, it’s even harder to be fully present and engaged when she’s capable and willing to play independently.  It is so difficult for me to volunteer to play with her (as opposed to going to play with her when she asks me to do so) – for a lot of reasons.  In total honesty, part of it is that our interests are totally opposite – I’ve never really been good at dolls.  Part of it is also that by the time she’s home from school, I’ve been on-the-go for 10 hours or more and my introverted self just wants to curl up in a hermit hole for an hour of not being on-call.  And a big part of it is knowing that she can entertain herself – it makes it too easy to say “go play”.

My challenge to myself for the summer is to get more engaged with her.  To find ways for us to play and work together.  To be proactive about joining her in play.  So here’s a few things that I’m trying to do:

  • Walk her home instead of driving
  • Play with her at the park
    • Help her out on the big-kid swings, since they’re still a bit high for her to get on by herself
    • Catch her from the slide
    • Hide & seek seems to be a good option now
    • Bring a ball to play catch or soccer
  • Try to time trips to the park so that C2 is sleeping or can just hang out & watch (or can be left with Big C), so that I can actively play with Katie instead of being tied to wrangling the babe
  • As soon as C2 is settled (fed/changed/sleeping/whatever), go straight to K and ask if I can play with her
  • Try not to get distracted by the computer after any upstairs activities, and go straight to K instead
  • Get her involved in evening activities, like making supper, bringing things to the table, etc., instead of telling her to go play
  • Find activities that we both enjoy – jigsaw puzzles seem to be the best bet so far, since I’m not much good at finding or sustaining a narrative for dolls, and she doesn’t have the patience for Lego yet
  • When I do have to tend to C2, get K involved – she likes to help with his bath, and loves to sing to him
  • When I have to tend to C2 and she can’t be involved (he needs quiet & calm during feedings & at sleep time, and she has trouble maintaining serenity for more than about 30 seconds), suggest something fun for her to do in the interim, promise to come play as soon as I’m done with him, and then keep that promise (and not let myself get distracted by the computer along the way)

I have no illusions that this will be easy for me, but I need to show her how much I love her in ways that she can understand.


*For non-Canadians, our system here is such that a biological mother can get governmental support for maternity leave in the form of Employment Insurance paid out (55% of salary, up to a cap of about $435/week) for the first 12 weeks after birth, and then parents (including adoptive parents) can take an additional combined 37 weeks of EI at the same rates.  Since Big C has a much higher income than I do, our budget doesn’t really allow for him to take any time off, so it’s just me taking the leave.

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