Important realizations of family life
When my daughters were little, I had two important realizations that changed the course of my parental life.
I realized that their childhood was going to fly by, like a flash of lightning in a summer sky. Before I knew it, they would be out of our nest. And, I recognized, that as a full time working parent, that my moments with them would be limited. Like most parents, I had to balance work, parenthood, household responsibilities—in other words, the laundry of life. How was I going to approach this time limited opportunity?
In that moment, I made several major parental decisions. And I stuck with them for their entire childhood.
1. I decided to be 100% present when I was with them. What did that mean?
It meant that when I was reading Maya a good night story, I would strive to have 100% of my attention on what I was doing—not 10% of the story, 40% of what I was going to do tomorrow, or 50% of what I was going to do next. When I spent those moments with them—no matter how mundane---I wanted to be fully present.
2. I decided to savor all of the moments of their childhood.
This was another very conscious decision. I wanted to drink deeply of all of those everyday moments of their childhood, to experience them deeply, and to engrave them in my mind and my heart. I wanted to focus on enjoying all of my limited time with them.
3. I decided to spend time with each child individually every week.
I wanted to make sure that in addition to family time together, I had an opportunity to connect with each child individually. At first, I wasn’t sure how to do this. And then, I realized that I could arrange my life to take each daughter out for breakfast before I left for work. When they were little, I took Naomi out for a donut and cocoa before pre-school. On another weekday morning, I would take Maya out for a bagel before elementary school. We did this regularly for most of their childhood. I did miss some weeks, but I made sure to make it a regular commitment.
Sometimes during these brief encounters (kids don’t take very long to eat) we just stared at each other, eyes still heavy with sleep. Other times, we had deeply important conversations about the important but passing challenges of childhood (Why won’t Sarah play with me anymore?). During their teen years, the conversations were often brief—and then sometimes very long.
These early morning breakfasts together became a regular part of our routine. I looked forward to them every week, and so did they. They were always one-on-one time with each daughter.
I don’t think that I was 100% present during every moment of their childhood. And, I don’t think that I remembered to savor every second. And, I did miss many breakfast opportunities with each child over the course of their childhoods.
But, somehow, I always remembered to come back to these three intentions. I did savor so much of their fleeting childhoods! I engraved so many of them in my memory—in my heart and my mind. Naomi racing across blacktop on her first solo bike ride; long talks with Maya sitting on her bedroom floor; their laughter in the back seat while driving them to dance classes; rubbing Naomi’s back when she woke up in the middle of the night— and many of the small and big moments of childhood.
Naomi read this and commented—“As the proud daughter of Dr. Schoenfeld, I can say that my father’s dedication makes a significant difference in my life as a child, and now as an adult. Wednesday was our day, and throughout my childhood, every Wednesday was filled with French Toast, bagels, hot chocolate and later…lattes. I greatly valued this special time that he spent with me. While my father mentioned that he missed some breakfast dates, I don’t remember those ones. I remember him promising that he would be there and him being there—that is what mattered the most. I know that when I am a parent, my children and I will doing Wednesday AM breakfasts—cinnamon rolls and all!