Guest Blog Post: Managing Availability by Julia Cameron, author, The Artists Way for Parents
*Excerpted with permission from The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron. Copyright © 2013 by Julia Cameron. Jeremy P. Tarcher; Penguin Group USA – A Penguin Random House Company.
It is a constant balancing act to determine how available we should be to our children. There are times when we choose to be unavailable, needing to recharge on our own. There are other times when we are committed to work and unable to be at home. And then there are times when we must be cautious not to be too available. On a daily basis, our commitments–to ourselves, our work and our children–must be juggled thoughtfully. It is our job to not only determine the necessary family schedules. We must meet work and educational needs, appointments and desires. We must also tune in to– and react to– emotional and spiritual needs. These help determine the amount of time we have together and the amount of time we have apart.
Often, our impulse is to commit more time to our children than is really feasible—or advisable. We want to be a “good parent” 24/7. We believe we should always be “on tap.” But this is not realistic. We do our child a disservice if we teach that we will always be available on demand. Better for us to model the real world–a place where we do not always get instant gratification. When I told my daughter, “Not now, Mommy’s writing,” I taught her patience and sensitivity. Our children need to learn both of these qualities. When I talk to my daughter on the phone now, she will routinely ask me, “Is this a good time, or are you in the middle of something?” I then give her my boundaries. “I have to leave the house in twenty minutes. We can talk for fifteen.” There are times, too, when I am in the midst and cannot talk. My daughter has learned to have faith that I will get back to her as soon as I can. “You need to have time to yourself,” my wise friend Julianna McCarthy taught me. “It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. It helps you both.” She insisted that I hire a babysitter and that I take the time and care to have a weekly Artist Date, to do something that enchanted or interested me, alone. Julianna insisted that I consciously and regularly “fill the well.” As a parent, you draw on your well heavily and must make a conscious effort to replenish it.
When we try to go too long without replenishing our inner well, we run the risk of martyrdom and resentment. Our children can tell when we are available happily and when our availability is a forced march. In tune with ourselves, we take care of ourselves. Taking care of ourselves, we are in tune with our children. Our example of self-care teaches them the same.
When we have to spend extended periods of time at work, we may feel guilty or impatient with a schedule that seems to be beyond our control. But as we accept our schedule and value both our work and home lives, both lives can be richer for it. There is always a happy balance available for us to strike. We can always improve the way we deal with the realities of juggling a work and family life.
David, an entrepreneur, travels frequently for business. “It’s part of my reality,” he says. His company has three locations, and although his home base is in Miami, he is frequently in New York or LA. “I have to go,” he says. “But my three sons know that whenever I travel, I bring them back a little something. It’s really something small–maybe a baseball cap or a book for each of them–but I try to bring a souvenir for each of my kids so that they know I was thinking about them on the road.” Although David’s work and travel schedule is intense, he keeps in regular contact with his sons no matter where he is. “I’ve learned that a little really does go a long way,” he says. “Taking ten minutes to really listen to my son’s adventures from the day, and tell him I love him, no matter what else is going on, makes us both feel connected. I sometimes wish I could spend all day every day with my kids. But I actually know that it’s really okay for all of us the way it is. I just make sure to make an effort every day, no matter what.”
David’s three sons agree. “Dad knows what we’re up to,” says Max, the oldest. “I don’t really feel out of touch with him, even though he travels a lot. And he does spend a lot of time with us.” When David asks Max if he’d rather have him around all the time, Max grins at him. “We have that when we’re on vacation. And I think that’s enough.”
We cannot ignore or completely control the realities of our lives. But the important thing to remember is that we need not be constantly available to our kids. It is the quality of the time, more than the amount of time, that determines our actual relationship with our children.
Too much time, too, can end up backfiring in the end. If our schedule is such that we are indeed with our children most of the time, we have to be alert to not becoming codependent with our child.
Dannie, a stay-at-home mom who also home-schools her daughter, speaks of the opposite issue to David’s. “I have to be careful not to be too available to my daughter,” she tells me. “We can get enmeshed so easily. Homeschooling is a strong element to add to the already intense mother-daughter relationship. It’s the right choice for our family, but it is a balancing act.”
Dannie has learned from experience. “When we go too long with ‘just the two of us,’ we both seem to regress,” she tells me. “My daughter needs the checks and balances of a peer group, and since she doesn’t have that through school, I have to be very careful to provide it.” As Dannie schedules playdates and outside activities for her daughter, she is conscious to put her daughter into situations where other adults are in charge. “It can’t just be me, always telling her what to do,” Dannie tells me. “She’d resent that very quickly! And I think she’d stop listening.”
As we determine right amount of availability for our own well-being and our child’s, we juggle realities and desires from every corner. One thing that Dannie learned is that in her own home, it was important to draw limits regarding the parents’ bedroom. Although her daughter might have liked to sleep all together, Dannie found this boundary to be especially helpful in a home where enmeshment was a danger. “We let her come into our room at nine AM on weekend days to snuggle, but not at other times,” she says. “It’s good for her to have her own room, her own bed, and a space that’s just hers. And the same is good for my husband and me.” Sometimes the amount of time we have available to our child is within our control, and sometimes it is not. Keeping an eye on having “enough” time, we must also be alert to not having too much. Giving everyone breathing room, room to be, we create a family that is at once connected and autonomous.
HOUSE RULES, AN EXERCISE
Creating a list of positive house rules provides both a sense of collaboration and autonomy in the home. Every house is different. The list may contain chores, behaviors, agendas. Allow yourself a little play. Perhaps one of the house rules is that everyone shares a highlight at night.
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