Our middle daughter, 10-year-old Gleny, can be quite a drama queen at times. But this time I immediately knew the few tears welling up in her eyes as she sat on the floor were a display of raw honesty.
Caught off guard by her sudden wave of strong emotions, I squatted down so that we were eye-level. I had been sweeping the living room as she told me a story she had just heard on the radio about a young boy whose parents bought him toys and provided all of his material needs but failed to meet the boy’s deepest desire, which was his parents’ time and affection. The little boy felt alone and depressed, even though on the outside he lacked nothing.
Sensing the story had come to a close, I asked gently, “And this really touches your heart?”
Her stare intensified as she responded, “Yes. That is what our biological mom always did. She would come and go, and every night when she would leave, we would beg her to stay and spend time with us, but she never did. That’s all we ever wanted from her.” A couple tears spilled over and began rolling down her cheeks.
This little girl, who could have had tears cascading over her heart because her biological parents never put her in school or because they could not afford to buy her a new pair of shoes or because their shack had a dirt floor, chose rather to lament the fact that her parents never spent time with her. Such a simple thing, something any parent can do whether they have money or not, whether they live in a crowded inner-city, in the suburbs or on an isolated piece of land somewhere in the countryside.
Even though in our family much of each day is centered around the children the Lord has placed under our care, even we get distracted with “doing” rather than “loving.” I oftentimes mistake running a thoughtful errand for my daughter to pick up something from the arts and crafts store with sitting down and actually doing the craft with her. Putting a movie on for the kids is not the same as snuggling on the couch to watch it with them under a mountain of blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals. A lot of times when they ask me to participate in a riotous match of hide-and-seek with them, I selfishly say no. Sometimes I would rather clean toilets in peace than participate in the demanding mental gymnastics required for a creative role-playing game involving imaginary waterfalls in our living room, rescue expeditions with toy trucks, and trips to the hospital with Lego men. Sometimes when our little guy asks me to sing him to sleep, I do so with an unwilling spirit, wanting to rush through the nightly ritual and close another busy day so I can go rest.
Some of the most memorable times we have had as a family have been when we have said, “Yes, there is a legal report half-done on the computer, and, yes, there is such-and-such financial concern and that pending phone call and a list a mile long of things demanding our attention, but let’s put that aside for right now and celebrate the fact that the Lord has meshed us together as a family.”
Mom, Dad: turn off the television and go give your little guy a foot massage. Delay your errands for another day and play a board game with your daughter. Listen to her. Give each one a hug every morning as everyone groggily shuffles out of their bedrooms a 6:00am. Ask your child what their favorite book is and take time to read it to them, giving each character a distinct, silly accent. Look at family photo albums together, laughing and reminiscing with your kids about when they (and you) were younger. From time to time go into your child’s room to put them to bed, reading the Bible and singing with them even if you’re dog tired. Paint your toenails with your teenage daughter, and dare to let her pick the color. The next time your kids invite you to jump in the swimming pool, actually do it. Even though there is the belief that kids (and especially teenagers) don’t want “family time” and think their parents aren’t cool, it isn’t true. It’s their deepest desire.