The kids piled into the van as I reached for my phone to put an address into the GPS. My daughter said, “Mom, don’t you know how to get there by now?” I’d been too busy carting kids around from one place to another to pay attention. With my mind focused on getting through the day, lost in a whirlwind of my own thoughts, I went into “autopilot” mode and listened for my phone to tell me when to turn.
As busy parents, it’s easy to get into a groove with work, kids, school, and extracurriculars. We coast on autopilot certain times of the day. It causes us to miss out, and not just on learning the directions to someone’s house. We miss out on conversations with our kids about life. We miss out on really seeing, hearing, and perceiving our kids. But we can practice more intentional living—especially during these three parts of the day.
1. Driving Time
Driving time can feel repetitive for a mom, and let’s be honest—it can be boring or even frustrating (like in the carpool pick-up line). But driving time actually can be one of the best times to talk to your kids. You have a captive audience. The day is fresh in their minds. You aren’t eye to eye but side by side, making it easier for many kids to talk (it’s less intimidating). So instead of zoning out on your 57th trip to the dance studio, ask questions instead.
Aside from the usual “how was your day,” here are some questions that evoke thoughtful answers: What did you do in (favorite subject or class) today? What did you play at recess? Did anything funny happen today? What are you looking forward to? Do not let your first question be, “Do you have any homework tonight?” That is not the first thing kids want to think about after school. Think favorites first: favorite friends, classes, sports, interests. For access to hundreds of questions you can ask your child, download Family First’s Q & U app. If you still can’t get your child to open up, or if he or she just seems worn out, try telling a funny story about your own day.
During meal prep, involve your kids in more side-by-side conversation by asking them to chop, stir, or set the table. While they are helping, again, ask questions. Or, put on some fun music and dance around being silly, or ask Google to tell you a joke, and then tell each other your own made-up jokes. When you sit down at the table, one popular question to ask is “What was your high and low today?”. Go around the table and have each person share. Your high is the best part of your day and your low is the worst part. This simple exercise can be eye-opening as you get a glimpse into each person’s day and heart. Another way to get everyone talking is to ask each person to share a story from the day. Maybe it’s something that happened on the bus, maybe it’s an amazing soccer goal, or maybe it’s just a story of how they lost a library book. Big or small, getting a snapshot of the day is priceless.
Many parents have a bedtime routine. At our house, when bedtime arrives, we say “teeth, potty, pajamas, bed.” After that, we read a story, then pray. And while routine is good for kids, it also lends itself to autopilot. When we are tired and perhaps ready for some alone time as parents, it’s even harder to be present at bedtime. But it’s possible. Don’t start the bedtime routine too late. To avoid feeling rushed and anxious, give yourself plenty of time for all the things your child typically does. Let your children accomplish as much of the bedtime routine on their own as they can. Standing next to your children while they complete every step makes bedtime seem to take a lifetime. Join them for story and prayer time and commit to giving them your undivided attention.
When we are tired and perhaps ready for some alone time as parents, it’s even harder to be present at bedtime. But it’s possible.
Make storytime fun and don’t rush prayer time. As the last item on the agenda, it can be easy to rush this, but it not only can be a time to pray with your children but also to listen to what is on their hearts. This is the time many kids want to talk about deeper things. Don’t miss the opportunity.
What are your tips to get off autopilot and truly see, hear, and be present with your kids?