I rarely arrive at work before our parochial school begins, which is at something like 8 a.m. -- an hour when I doubt even God is awake. But the other day I was in my office at 7:30 a.m., my eyeballs propped open with caffeine, watching the kiddos being dropped off for school, and I saw something that really left an impression on me.
I already thought it was pretty benevolent of parents to give their kids a ride to school -- my friends and I, back in the day, used to have to take what we affectionately referred to as "the big cheese," aka the bus.
Then I saw something that restored my faith in humanity, at least for the next few hours. A father, dressed for work, got out of his car and tossed a football with his son on the lawn for a few minutes before school. It was so Hallmark meets Norman Rockwell that I wanted to take a picture of it -- but quickly realized that would be creepy.
Instead, I reflected on the moment. It's clichè to say, but it's actions like this one that make all the difference for kids.
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I once saw a billboard outside of a church that read, "Kids spell 'love' 'T-I-M-E.'<2009>" There are so many big decisions to make as a parent -- where to send your kids to school, who their pediatrician should be, whether the kids should play soccer or baseball -- that the smaller things, like just spending a few minutes truly focused on each other, can get lost in the shuffle.
I can only imagine how difficult it is for families to make "T-I-M-E" in their incredibly busy lives, especially on those days when the kids are just not that easy to be around. I'm sure there are days when it would be tempting to drop off the kids at school early and then use those extra minutes to run to Starbucks before work. But, as a parent, you are the most important person in your child's world. Don't take this as a guilt trip, but as encouragement. Study after study shows this is true -- that's why so much money is put into the "Parents: The anti-drug" campaign.
It might take a village to raise a child, but you are the only perm residents. The coolest teachers and coaches (and even youth ministers having a great hair day) do not have the same influence as you do.
The beauty of this is that making a difference and being present in your child's life doesn't require fancy activities, expensive programs or grand plans.
The football toss I witnessed is just one example of a parent taking time out of the day to be present for his son. Other great opportunities for stealing a moment are: during car trips -- with the radio and phones shut off, of course -- while grocery shopping, at dinnertime or even doing household chores together, such as cooking or cleaning. I know that these are the moments I remember most from my childhood. As a bonus, that question or issue your kids really want to talk to you about most likely will bubble to the surface during these moments together -- when their guards are down and they feel most at ease.
Parents have the hardest job in the world -- long hours, lots of sacrifice, rarely being thanked or acknowledged for your effort. But persevere. Your love makes all the difference.
Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her on Twitter @alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.