I was sitting in a church meeting listening to a father of five discuss parenting with a group of fellow dads. He had children ranging in age from 7 to 21. He covered a few topics, but what really hit me was when he said, “Guys, when you get home you need to just put down your bag and let the kids climb on you. I can’t tell you how important that is.”
Then he started crying. Not that he was the kind of guy who was prone to tears either, so I think we were all taken aback a bit. And the thing is, this wasn’t an act of sorrow. It was regret.
I have three kids, ages 2, 7, and 9. When my oldest, Tristan, was born, I was 24 and a sophomore in college. I went to school full-time, and I worked close to full-time waiting tables, and I will admit, once he was old enough to get excited about me coming home, the last thing I thought about when I entered the door was letting him climb on me. This isn’t to say that he didn’t try. When he was between the ages of 2 and 6, I basically had to pry him off my leg when I got home. Now, this isn’t to say that I didn’t sit down on the floor from time to time and play, but I will admit that it wasn’t my top priority.
Normally, I wanted to get something to eat, or I wanted to kiss my wife, or check some messages on my phone, or examine my email, or hurry down stairs so I could get a term paper finished because I didn’t want to be up until 1 a.m. At the time, I felt really dedicated to my work and my education, and all of that was going to benefit my family, which it did. But along the way, I often pushed my young son away, in an attempt to move on to the next thing. I regret that.
Now, Tristan isn’t all that interested in me when I get home. Turns out a 9-year-old is considered a preteen, and let me tell you, it shows. When I get home from work, Tristan is usually sitting on the sofa, homework finished, headphones on, engrossed in some video game on his tablet. I often crouch down next to him, pull on one of his headphones, and say, “How was your day?”
He smiles, grunts something about it being “okay,” and then goes back to playing. And sometimes, in those moments, I think about what I missed. I feel like I’m chasing him to get his attention because I missed when he wanted mine. Not that this is a deal-breaker. I believe Tristan and I have a good relationship, and for the most part, he’s a pretty darn good kid. He’s just becoming more independent, and less interested in my attention, and me, and a little more interested in himself and his own interests.
I’ve been thinking about all this for some time, but there was something about that church meeting when the father told me to let the kids climb on me, his face wet with remorse, that put the pieces together. I don’t have five kids, only three. And all of them are pretty young still, but when I think about my oldest not greeting me at the door anymore, I feel this tight pinch in my chest, and I begin to understand why that father cried.
The day after that church meeting, I came home from work and parked in the front of our house like I always do. I sat in the car for a while checking something on Facebook that could have easily waited, but felt really important at the time. Someone knocked at the passenger window. I looked up, and it was my 7-year-old daughter giving me an excited, gap-toothed smile; her eyes wide open and excited to see me. She’d been watching out the front window, probably kneeling on the back of the couch, excitedly waiting for me to come home so she could tell me about her day, and yet, there I was, not coming straight into the house to see her.
I put my phone down and opened up the car door. Norah ran around to the driver’s side and crawled into my lap. I gave her a big hug. She told me that her teacher was pregnant and how exciting that was, and then we sat in the driver’s seat for a while and pretended to drive the car. Then we went inside and Aspen, my blonde 2-year-old, clawed at my leg like she always does. So I dropped my bag and crouched down, let her crawl into my lap. Norah came at me from the side, and we had a good snuggle-fest.
It was then that something unexpected happened. Tristan looked up from his game, saw what was happening, and walked over, his head down, slightly smiling, and then gave me a hug. It had been a long stressful day. Usually after a day like that, I just want to go inside and take a bath. I want not to think for a while. I want to shut off. I don’t always get that. Usually I help with dinner or something. But I want it.
But there was warmth in the embrace of my children that made me wonder why I didn’t always do this. It made me wonder how I made it through college without a snuggle fix each evening. The kids laughed and so did I, and I felt a connection that can only happen when a parent crouches down after an absence and snuggles with their young kids.
So working parents out there, I suggest giving it a try. Take that moment and let the kids climb on you after work. Make it a priority. It won’t take long, but it will be worth it. There will be no regrets, only warm hearts. I promise.