What Kids Really Want From Us

crispydoc Uncategorized 14 Comments

I was recently listening to the excellent This American Life podcast, and came across a story that struck a chord. A divorced father unexpectedly gained custody of his nine-year-old daughter during weekdays, and was bothered by the intrusiveness of her unending questions when he was trying to accomplish tasks in the evenings.

Trying to put an end to the interruptions, he asked her to make a list in writing and promised he’d respond to the questions. Her handwritten, single spaced three page list ended up including whoppers like, “What happens when we die? Explain.” and “All of this – why? Explain.”

Several years pass, and the father and daughter are interviewed individually. The father has gone on to write elaborate answers citing ancient philosophers, and then explored his mini-dissertations at length with his daughter. The father feels like answering these questions endeared him to his intellectual prodigy.

The daughter confesses that at that difficult time, starting a new school and relocating to another parent, all she really wanted was for her father to talk to her. She didn’t care so much about the answers as about the time they got to spend together discussing them.

That’s a great deal of wisdom from a nine-year-old.

Comments 14

  1. Seems like all kids want is to spend time with their parents. I’ll keep this in mind when hanging out with my daughter.

    Is the featured image in Greece or the Getty Villa? 😉

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      Author

      Stoa of Attalos next to the ancient Agora, but striking resemblance to the Getty Villa, isn’t it!

      If you can front load the work-like-a-dog part of your job now (which at 60 hours a week, it would seem you are doing), you can have greater presence later when they need you to volunteer in class, make it to a three second school sing conveniently scheduled to bisect your day, and other milestone events.

      Start full steam and cut back when they need you, when burnout sets in, or when you have the income luxury to reduce the aggravations.

  2. I made it a rule when my kids got older (I didn’t think of doing it sooner) that anything they ask of me, the answer was always yes. I’m not talking about stuff they want me to give them. I’m talking about my time. Last year my youngest son asked if I would do a Spartan race with him (an obstacle course in the mud) and I said yes. It was not high on my list, but it was high on his list. It was a chance for us to spend time together.

    I had a conversation with one father who wanted to connect with his son. He said all his son wanted to do was play Xbox. So I asked him how he was doing with his Xbox skills. He looked at me strange and said, “I don’t want to play Xbox.” I told him if he wanted to connect with his son, he could do it in an instant by just sitting down and playing Xbox with him. Here was a chance to prove if he really wanted to connect with his son or it was all just talk. Do what they love, and you will be spending time together. Soon they will want to do what you love as well. Make the first move.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

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      Author

      Cory,

      Yes is a powerful parenting philosophy (excluding material requests, as you describe). I still remember your Spartan Race blog post, and I’m cautiously optimistic that someday my kids will ask me to hike or travel together.

      In the meantime, I have had the pleasure of sitting through many a slime lecture (my oldest held a make-your-own-slime class with a friend, and made 20 dollars before accounting for expenses – that will be the next lesson).

      My youngest and I inherited a pile of legos from cousins, and by matching the unusual pieces with online data, were able to use the mess to build an older model X-wing fighter from Star Wars.

      I do what they love…and look forward to their expanding what that means as they get older.

      Thanks for the sound advice,

      CD

  3. We almost never missed a track meet, volleyball game, school sports day during the kids’ childhood. I am sure many parents thought we were unemployed since they didn’t even know we were doctors.

    CD, I read about how your kids bug you at times. Mine did as well. But I always knew that I spent time with them for ME!! I was the one who did not want to regret not spending time with them. And yes, we spent a lot of time doing nothing much and enjoying it thoroughly. 👍

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      Dr. MB,

      Your shift in perspective is right on: I need to remember that I choose this time we spend together, that’s it’s fulfilling my need, not theirs.
      Thanks for the much needed reminder,

      CD

  4. The answer is related to what you really want from your kid. In my experience you have till puberty to make a difference then the biology of the brain changes and their attention becomes about dominance in the social structure of their lives, not your life. We home schooled so I was able to be in there as a force. I got to teach science, and that meant spending the time to live through the experiences with them, the experiences of building atoms 1S2 2S2 2P6 3S2 and stochiometry…. The experience of levers and pulleys. If you do it right you can lift the back of a car with a 2×4 or pull a car with a block and tackle. The experience of solutes in solution and how it changes BP and FP, my kids are both cooks. Chemistry lab was inherent in their systematic understanding of cooking. We did a fetal pig dissection and a baby shark dissection. We studied the stars. We did formal write ups and documentation.

    The results, neither kid is interested in science per se. Neither kid has the slightest reservation in engaging science. Both kids took things like Biology, Astronomy, and Physics in college and crushed it. One kid had a 108/100 average in physics. Both kids are into photography and have inherent understanding of light and shadow reflection etc. One kid keeps an Enol colony and she could be the Jane Goodall of Enols. She could easily write a book on lizard behavior. It’s a form of play and challenge. That’s what they want. Your time engaged in play. The key is patience. It’s like investing, put the time in watch the dividend grow.

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      Author

      Gasem,

      It’s been years since I thought about orbitals.

      I think you pulled off renaissance kids at a time where such a feat is rare and elicits gasps of mystic wonder from other parents – instead of the realization that yes, you had gifted kids, but you spent a huge amount of time with them.

      I’ll keep brainstorming on how to engage them in challenge and play as we go forward.

      Thanks,

      CD

  5. Not sure which I enjoyed reading more—this post or the comments with all the wisdom that follow? I agree kids want time and attention. I found one way to press FULL STOP on my type A personality and spend quality time with the kids is to take them camping. It’s a crazy amount of work to camp, but the time spent with them is priceless. Especially when I’m laughing hysterically at a Snoopy movie with them while cowering in the camper in a wicked thunderstorm, questioning my wisdom of taking them camping in August in Florida! 😉 Any other words of wisdom most welcome!

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      Author

      Comments have been fantastic for the perspective and example they provide.

      I’d love to take the family camping, but in fairness to my wife (who is not a dirtbag like me), it will be likely be “motel camping.” We have our eyes on possibly hitting Bryce and Zion next summer as part of a southwest national park trip, and with any luck maybe I’ll ease her slowly into the idea of a tent at some point.

      I can easily envision that thunderstorm – we got caught in a drenching tropical rain last summer in Chiapas after exploring a cave outside of San Cristobal De Las Casas, and it so absurd we couldn’t help but laugh. Those are the happy memories we refer to far more than the more numerous sunny days.

      Fondly,

      CD

  6. My kids are still at the age where they want my presence and demand my attention. So even if I’m dead tired, I’ll still try to play basketball with them or do Lego projects. Occasionally, I’ll fall asleep on the floor, but I’m next to them. If they want to go to the park or go geocaching I’ll go even though I have a million things to do. I end up saying yes to a lot of stuff. Maybe that’s why we have so many pets -our home is like a zoo.

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      Author

      Millionaire Doc,

      Saying yes is a great way to parent, as Cory pointed out.

      As for the home zoo, it starts innocently enough with a fish won at a carnival, then a dog or cat, then a companion for the dog, until before you know it you have a bearded dragon.

      Keep saying yes, my friend!

  7. Great commentary on how adults vs kids view things.

    It is tough sometimes when you may be wrapped up in doing something and your kid wants attention. It is also hard to turn off work mode as soon as you enter your home but those small interactions mean the world to a kid and really have to make an effort to make them feel loved

    Thanks for the post CD

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      Author

      I’ve found leaving my phone in another room is about 50% of the battle. I always joke that my son is the at risk youth in our family, since he can’t mumble a coherent sentence if a television happens to be on in a room he enters (we don’t regularly watch TV in our house, but do perhaps twice monthly netflix with the kids). The I realize that I can’t focus with my cel phone in hand, and it’s no different.

      You are exactly right about small interactions having large impacts.

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