A month or so ago, with the birth of my second child fast-approaching, and the idea of changing double the amount of diapers looming in my mind, I decided that it was time. My son, recently turned two, was going to learn to use the potty. No more diapers.
Of course, I read up on all the methods available, got tons of advice from friends who were successful, then just went for it. The method I had chosen suggested that the first few days of training (or “learning” or whatever you’d like to call it), you really need to watch your kid like a hawk, to pick up on their cues and then follow their cues to get them to the bathroom. So, you clear your schedule for a few days, gather some fun activities to do together, and prepare to basically just give your child some undivided attention for a day or two. Sounds simple enough, right? After all, I have ONE child, I’m able to be home with him during the day, and since he has a tendency to be, well, rascally, I’m used to keeping a keen eye on him most of the time. Or so I thought.
This was the eye-opener for me. This is where I realized how distracted I typically am. As parents, we get so used to multi-tasking that we rarely actually give anything, even our child, our complete attention. I’m not saying this is wrong, or bad, or even less than ideal. It’s often how things have to be so that a household can keep running smoothly (or rather, just run). And frankly, by the end of that first day of watching my son’s every move, playing, snuggling, and loving him up without trying to do anything else, I was fried. Completely and utterly exhausted.
We had made lots of potty-training progress and had had a nice day together, but I was shocked at how difficult it had been for me to put everything else on hold. I found myself having to fight the urge to go wash up a few dishes from breakfast, check my e-mail for just a minute, or make a quick phone call to the doctor’s office. While I was sitting reading my son an endless pile of books, I was running through my to-do list in my head. When we were sitting on the floor playing with blocks, I was sorely tempted to check my Facebook account.
By the end of the day, exhausted and spent, I really started contemplating how all of my usual multi-tasking was affecting me and my family. I’ve never thought of myself as an over-achiever (I’m not), but after a day of solely caring for my child, I realized how much other stuff I usually attempted to cram into my day. Sure, the dishes need to get done eventually, and the living room should be vacuumed and everyone needs to be fed. These are realities. But what I’m talking about is being fully present in each moment during my day. So often, I find myself scattered… doing several things at once and not doing anything to the best of my ability or with as much joy as I should.
Frankly, most of the time, I don’t care if I’m vacuuming my living room to the best of my ability. But I sure do care if I’m giving my family the best and most joyful of my attention. The dishes don’t crave my undivided consideration- my son does. The laundry doesn’t need me to sit down and quietly listen- my husband does. I realized I’ve even got into the habit of praying while I do other things. Which is wonderful in the sense that we can pray at any time, but not so wonderful if that’s the only time I find to pray. My relationship with God needs moments of peace and devoted attention, too. And God has put me in this life to serve and love the people around me.
Paying attention to that responsibility is vital to my feeling of fulfillment in my vocation. Because when I’m doing too much multi-tasking, I feel distracted, lost, and unsatisfied. I can never seem to finish my to-do list, and everything seems like a burden on my limited time. My son seems more demanding and whinier to me. My husband seems less helpful. God seems less responsive to my prayers.
Of course, none of this is the case. My son seems whinier because I’m not giving him the attention that he needs. It’s hard for a two year old to communicate all of his big thoughts and feelings as it is, and when I’m trying to do something else, he can tell that I’m not really trying to understand. The same holds true for my husband. He’s not actually unhelpful, but when I’m constantly trying to do too many things at once, he can’t keep up. He shouldn’t be expected to keep up with the thoughts and plans whizzing through my head at any given moment.
And it’s the same with God. When I am quickly sending up prayers as I run into the grocery store, God is listening… I’m just too distracted to get the reply. I’ve already moved on and failed to listen. God answers prayer and speaks to us constantly, but we have to be paying attention. Our answers may come when we are playing with our children or talking with friends- but I bet you’ll rarely hear those answers if you are not fully present in those moments.
So taking the time to be fully present with my son isn’t only important because my child needs me to be present, but also because God needs me to be fully in that moment as well. When we accept the vocation of parenthood, we have to realize that God is going to speak to us through our duties within the vocation. We need to slow down. Complete our tasks in peace. Give our attention to the people and tasks that really need it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I think we should all just blow off our other responsibilities and sit around on the ground playing endless rounds of knock-down-all-the-blocks with our kids all day. First of all, I’d lose my mind. By the end of the first few days of potty-training and watching my child intently, I was pretty sure I was going to lose it. It’s a lot. Variety is the spice of life. I like doing other tasks throughout my day, and my child needs the independent time to explore on his own, as well. However, my biggest epiphany was that the time I spent with my son needed to be free of all the distractions. When I sit down to read him a book, I don’t want to get up to check something in the oven or look at my phone when I hear that I have a text. It can wait. He deserves my full attention for those few minutes.
And what’s really amazing is how much I learned about my own child, who I spend all day, every day with, just from watching him without distractions for a few days. I noticed the funny little things he does, the way he concentrates on something until he has it figured out, how determined he is to get it right. I noticed the funny face he makes when he sees a bird outside or the eye roll he does when I ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do. I was truly amazed at how much I was missing out on (me, a stay-at-home mom!), by constantly doing two or three things at once.
Potty-training, while not exactly a picnic, gave me the opportunity to slow down and remember why I’m doing this whole parenting thing in the first place. It served as a reminder to pay attention and witness the miracle that is my child learning and growing, so proud of his accomplishments, daily becoming the person God intends for him to be. What a gift! A greater gift, even, than not having to change two sets of diapers.