We once had a dinner guest who was in town on business. At one point in the meal, he said to us, "Do you eat dinner like this every night?"

"Like what?" I asked.

"You know, with your kids?" (We had a bunch of small children at the time.)

"Well, yes, we do. Don't you eat with your kids?"

"No, my wife feeds the kids before I get home from work. Then I can eat in peace."

What kind of message does this communicate to his children?

When parents want to spend time with their child it makes the child feel valued and contributes to self-esteem. Children feel they are worth something if we want to be with them.

Enjoying the child during that time is, of course, critical. But the whole equation is time PLUS enjoyment.

Do we want to spend time with our children? Is it a top priority?

Do we want to spend time with our children? Is it a top priority?

Time is one of the major investments we make in our children. I once heard someone say that if we don't spend time with our children when they are young we will spend time with them when they are older, and not in places we look forward to being.

    There are two aspects of spending time here:

  1. One is the amount of time spent enjoying the child.
  2. The other is the time we take to carefully construct the environment in which our child's self esteem will be nurtured.

A nurturing environment doesn't just happen. Shabbat is the perfect opportunity to spend quality time with our children. Without all the distractions of work, telephones and computer games, we can more easily focus on the relationships we are creating and what we are actively doing to foster good feelings in our children.

TIME WELL SPENT

By age five much of the child's self-concept is already formed. So we need to be brutally honest about who is forming that self-concept -- who is minding the children?

Who is creating the environment that our children are in every day? Is it the babysitter, daycare person or is it we the parents?

Of course, if circumstances are such that both parents have to work, then they must do the best they can and cannot be ridden with guilt.

However, if the mother does have a choice to be home, she needs to consider how staying home would serve her children's needs for time and attention.

A child's self concept is being built every day. Each experience makes an imprint on his or her psyche. Who will be the person who is doing the imprinting?

The mother gets excited over every new thing the child does. She delights in the way he smiles or turns his head. She kisses each toe as she changes his diaper. She looks forward to seeing his face poking out of the crib after his nap. Can the baby-sitter replace this?

The time we spend doting over our children (within reason of course) is an investment in their self-esteem. No one does it like the mother, although grandma is a very close second.

Children are much too self-absorbed to be able to consider our needs.

Children have very little understanding of our need or desire for doing other things with our time such as making money, seeking professional satisfaction, finding creative expression, socializing or having intellectual stimulation. Only their needs are real to them. They are much too self-absorbed to be able to consider our needs.

Parenting sometimes entails putting many of our needs temporarily on hold. If we take care of our children's needs for time and attention when they are young we will be helping them build a foundation for life. Balancing their needs with our own needs is an important issue to consider.

Children want our time more than they want material possessions. They would rather have a parent at home and drive an old car, unless they have been totally brainwashed by us (or advertisers) that possessions are more important than people. So if we are constantly working for the new house and the new car and telling ourselves we are doing it for the kids, we need to think twice.

Often both parents work as an investment in their children's future. "We are working now so our child can go to college someday," sounds like a noble cry. Personally, I believe that my children's future is much more dependent on what they receive from me when they are young than whether or not they will even go to college.

That may sound like a radical statement, but if we shortchange our children now by not making their formative years of primary importance, UCLA or Stanford is not going to make it better.

Their self-concept and self-esteem are built when they are young; we get one chance -- now, not later.