It is nonstop when I am with them. “Look at me, Daddy!” “Watch me, Daddy!” “Daddy come over here!” “Daddy, are you listening?” “Daddy, will you play with me?” “Hey…. Hey…. Hey… Hey DAD!!!!!”.
I get it.
It makes sense.
They want my attention.
But even more, they want me to delight in them – no matter what it is they are doing. Sometimes it’s bellyflopping from the love seat onto the couch. Sometimes it’s suspending themselves between two walls (like the spider climb up the tower in the first few rounds of American Ninja Warrior). Sometimes it’s their latest Lego or Play-Doh creation. They just want to make me smile, and hear my encouragements and praise, and be reminded that they are special.
Is every kid like this? In varying degrees, I suspect. And so that makes me think we are all born with some kind of deficit, some kind of critical, visceral need to be seen.
Really noticed, recognized, and – hopefully – celebrated.
I have had Jesus as my leader, forgiver, and best friend for decades now, and my walk with Him truly has made reconciling my perceived invisibility from those whose eyeballs and accolades I crave much easier. The strength of my belief that He sees me and knows me and loves me is, I’m realizing, a gift that not a lot of Christians have. But Maya and Ravi don’t have this yet. They haven’t experienced the goodness and faithfulness of God in the same volume and capacity that I have. And so, they are fragile and extremely impressionable. And He has pointed out to me that the way I, as their father, respond to them when they want to be seen greatly impacts the degree to which they believe their Father in heaven does the same.
The way I, as their father, respond to my kids when they want to be seen greatly impacts the degree to which they believe their Father in heaven does the same.
Maya and Ravi are so precious to me. I have seen tears slowly collect along their lower eyelid before spilling over to run down their cheek – and I’ve wanted to gather every single one. I have seen them cover their eyes with a blanket when seeing a scary bad guy in an animated movie, and I’ve wanted to scoop them up and show them how safe they are in my arms. I have seen them freeze and shrink back sheepishly when I catch them dancing around in our living room, and I’ve wanted to yell, “DON’T STOP, YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!”
I need them to know I see them and delight in them. Because if they don’t know – if they aren’t completely convinced of it – they will struggle to believe that God sees them and delights in them. And this will undermine their trust, patience, security, and identity in Him. They will much more easily seek to be noticed and praised by potential romantic partners, by power and status brokers, by their peer group, or by the larger culture. And that will make them unstable, unhealthy, and prone to painful choices.
I have been guilty of picking up my phone and scrolling through Twitter while we all sit together at dinner and tell silly jokes to one another. Rachel then has to tap me gently on the hand so that I will snap out of it, remember what’s most important, and put the phone down. I have been guilty of saying “Yes, sweetie, I’m watching…” while not even looking up from cleaning the dishes or wiping down the countertops. And then Maya or Ravi have to raise their voice to try to get my attention, and in my head I’m thinking, “ah crap, sorry, you do matter to me.”
I have a million things to do every day. You do too. We can’t always cater to their needs and demands and wants. But the goal isn’t perfection, to do this right every single time. That would be impossible. The goal is just to get better, to dutifully pause and consider the message we are conveying to our children if we repeatedly ignore their simple, innocent requests to be seen and heard and known.
The goal is just to get better, to dutifully pause and consider the message we are conveying to our children if we repeatedly ignore their simple, innocent requests to be seen and heard and known.
I wish there was a life hack for this, but I can’t think of any. What helps me here is to keep top of mind the fact that I have been hand-picked by God to be Maya’s and Ravi’s dad, and that it is a sobering, weighty responsibility that I do not want to torpedo. Yes, I will still screw up as a parent in a number of inadvertent ways, but this is one thing I can do right: if I’m around them, I can acknowledge them with a smile and with genuine interest. If my mind is scattered or I have tasks I need to do, I must specifically tell them that I cannot participate with them right now, and – if possible – go take care of my work in another room. Kids do understand that adults have things to do. But we need to clearly draw those lines instead of being vague or half-hearted about it.
As they get older, our children will interpret their interactions with God based in large part on the history of their interactions with us. Giving them the best of our attention shows how much we love and value them and, like the sun to the moon, reflects how much God loves and values them. Oh, and it’s also worth remembering that they will stop asking us sooner than we think. What we do (or don’t do) between now and then means everything.