I was flying into Chicago on United Airlines shortly after they had completed their new terminal. The captain welcomed us to Chicago and “The New Terminal of Tomorrow.” He went on to explain that everyone who’s tried to catch a connecting flight out of there understands why it’s really called “The Terminal of Tomorrow” – because you might not get on your connecting flight till tomorrow!
I’ve often waited in the Chicago airport. It’s a very busy place and reminds me of my home: children’s parties, sleepovers, friends coming and going, neighbors calling, extended family dropping by. And there are the departures. The car just doesn’t stop. There are youth groups, lessons of all sorts, sports, school, church, errands to run, and children’s friends to pick up or drive home. Sound familiar? In the middle of all the flights in and out, once in a while I find a wonderful parenting moment with one of my fellow travelers.
The first time it happened, everyone had flown in and back out of “Osborne O’Hare,” and only my son and I were left. During the next few hours he had his agenda, and I had mine. However, in the middle of that time the two of us needed to sit down and eat a meal. What followed started with me pointing out that it was cool that it was just the two of us guys.
Then we decided to have some guy food and talked about guy things, and we even used some guy table manners (intentional oxymoron). We laughed a lot and afterwards headed back to our own tasks. The meal needed to be prepared anyway, but the time we had was memorable. I now watch for “home alone” moments. My son and I have our “guy time” every time the Osborne Terminal clears out, and I have special dad-and-daughter meals whenever I find myself alone with one of them.
A much quoted marriage and family therapist said, “For human beings, you need two hugs a day to survive, four hugs for maintenance, six hugs to grow.” All kinds of research have been done on human touch and hugging, and the overwhelming data screams at us, “Go hug somebody!”
I have to give credit to my oldest daughter for bringing the application of “moment” parenting to our family. She had heard the above quote, or a similar one, and set her personal daily hug-giving minimum at seven. She also kept track of her daily-high hug score, which has, at times, reached unbelievable numbers. As a result, it’s very difficult to come near her without feeling sincerely cared for.
Because of her wonderful obsession, I made a habit out of hugging all of my children every time I passed them in the house, or whenever they came into hugging range. Don’t get me wrong; I hugged my children before, but basically only when it was called for. But now, whenever any of my children enter my personal space or my hug zone, they get hugged.
“Dad, why did God make me?”
“Dad, why can’t we go to heaven to see what it’s like, then come back home?”
“Dad, if God wants us to get to know Him, why doesn’t He let us see Him?”
All of the above are questions that my children have asked me. Why do I remember those out of all the questions they have ever asked? Well, because trying to answer those three questions is not something you easily forget.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that as difficult as some of my children’s questions are, taking the time to answer them is the most time-effective way to teach them. When children ask a question, all of their learning receptors are turned up to full. They’re curious. They’re thinking about it. They’re truly listening. They want to hear what you have to say. Taking a few moments to answer their questions can be more effective than hour-long sermons or lectures.
“That wasn’t a polite thing to say.” “Say ‘please.’ ” “Don’t forget your thank you’s!” “And what do you say?” “We don’t do that at the table!”
There are points in our parenting career when it seems like every second or third sentence gets invested in the quest for mannerly children. We’ve all been embarrassed (and we have the stories!) by our children while they were learning manners. We’ve also all been proud when they got it right and some stranger has commented on what polite children we have. Have you ever had the tables, or the table manners, turned on you? I have.
When my children were younger, I spent time teaching them that kindness in intent and tone should be the rule that governs all of our speech. To remind them when their speech to one of their siblings strayed from the kindness rule, I would gently but pointedly add a storybook quote to the end of their speech. After they fired off, I’d instantly say, “-she [or he] said in a kind and gentle voice.”