Seven minutes a day: the modern-day excuse for a parent
Ask yourself who you are. Hold that thought for a good long while and then ask what it is that you want your children to be and what you are willing to do to help them to achieve that.
Woody Allen once said: "Eighty per cent of life is just showing up." Much of being a parent is just showing up and being there for them, when they need you and even when they don't.
Over the years I have counselled many parents about how to raise their children. One recurring issue is time. How much to devote and how? Many fathers have told me they do not have enough time to spend with their children so they try for "quality time". That is good as far as it goes, but it is an excuse and a mistake. Quality time with children is nice. A visit to the Wild Wadi, a desert safari, a good movie, going to see a football match - all good. Time together doing interesting things.
But the truth is that children do not want "quality" time. They just want time. Lots of it.
In this multicultural and globalised world, parents must work harder than ever to build strong and affirming relationships with their children. There are too many distractions, for children and also for fathers and mothers. Being together with your children is very important and requires your conscientious effort.
Most fathers do not understand what fathers are for. They think that fathers exist to provide economic support and a moral example for the family. That is only part of it, and not the most important part.
Fathers are leaders, guides, friends and symbols. But they can't be anything if they are not there. Boys do not learn what it means to be a man from a computer game, but from watching and interacting with their fathers, uncles and grandfathers. Girls learn to admire and trust males by being able to admire, trust and love their fathers.
The average number of minutes a father spends talking to his children is seven per day. You cannot shape and form your children in seven minutes a day. A father should spend at least an hour each day with his children, not only talking but just being there.
Many mothers do not understand their role either. Children learn about love, caring and trust from their mothers. They learn to care and share from their mother's attention, caresses and caring.
Mothers who do things for and with their children form young people who will have a stronger sense of identity and a stronger bond with their families, and subsequently with others. For example, a young girl will find it hard to be a good friend with a classmate if she did not have some "good friend" relations with her mother.
Acting as a guide and formative leader is important, yet the amount of time mothers spend talking to their children is only a little more than fathers, eleven minutes a day. Not much. In too many families, the person who helps children dress, makes sure they wash their hands, serves them dinner and even gets them into their pyjamas and into bed is not the mother or the father, but the nanny.
Is it any wonder that teenagers spend time talking to strangers over the internet if they can't get their own parents to talk to them?
Many parents try to substitute things for time. They buy clothes, toys, games and gadgets for their children. But if you think about your own childhood, what you remember are not things but moments: moments spent talking with your parents, your grandparents, your siblings and your closest friends. Toys and clothes do not replace contact and time spent together.
Watching TV four or five hours a day does not replace time with a parent. Watching with a parent, however, allows for making comments on the programmes that can have positive effects in the development of a child's judgement of right, wrong, good, bad and mediocre.
The distractions are many: work, social life, friends, internet and the inevitable Facebook. But your children need time with you. Lots of it. Give it to them for your sake and theirs.
Dr Clifton Chadwick is a senior lecturer in the faculty of education, British University of Dubai
Published: November 14, 2011 04:00 AM