Parenting is a task focused on the future. The very nature of raising children is to launch their future lives. Parents want their babies to learn so they can succeed in preschool and get into Harvard so they can live happily ever after.
Even in the short term, conscientious parents focus on the future. In the spring, parents plan for their children’s fall school enrollment. In February, they decide about summer plans for their kids—camp, child care, activities, and maybe a family vacation.
Before work in the morning, parents throw a load of laundry in the washer, knowing they’ll spend the evening on homework and dinner, and the kids are out of clean underwear. After work, Mom stops at a card shop to pick up birthday party invitations since their son is turning eight in two weeks, and Dad drops by the grocery store for diapers for child care tomorrow.
Parents live in forward motion because they love their children and want what’s best for them. They never want to forget a birthday celebration or run out of diapers because they’re responsible for making the family’s motor hum like a well-oiled machine.
Yet this focus on the future is sometimes problematic, because while our attention is racing ahead, our children live in the moment. If our thoughts are on tomorrow, we are unavailable to join them in their immediate experience of today. We are out of sync, missing out on their blossoming awareness of the world as they make sense of it all.
Early in my career, I read the book, “The Geranium on the Windowsill just Died and Teacher, You Went Right On.” This book opened my eyes to this mismatch of attention, when adults are so focused on what they hope to teach or accomplish for children that they fail to be present with them in the very experiences which teach them most.
No parent and child can be in sync all the time, and research says that isn’t even necessary. Highly functioning families are in sync about 30% of the time, which is enough to provide children and parents a satisfying connection.
Planning ahead is a necessary part of “adulting,” for sure. But sometimes, the future can get in the way of a pretty spectacular present.