Why Our Kids Need Our Time More Than They Need Our Money Or To Achieve.
Thinking money and achievement is worth more than time hurts your family, soul and kids.
So thinks a wise man I spoke to this morning.
When last did you sit at the feet of a sage? I got to do that this morning. It was unplanned. But the wisdom I received has the potency to change all my plans.
Let me tell it to you as it unfolded…
Coffee in hand, morning sun on his back, this man in his 50’s sits at a wine farm coffee shop table writing something down. He is wearing sweaty running clothes.
I am about to leave on a trip. Loving our last gap together, Julie and I sit at a neighbouring table, unawares of the exchange that will soon follow.
Our 20-month twins are running after chickens and dogs.
‘Are they twins?’ he warmly inquires. It’s a fair question. They are non-identical – one has a mop of hair, and the other is as bald as Bruce Willis.
“It’s good to see you spending unhurried time with each other. And with your children … Time is the one thing people no longer seem to have.”
There is an unhurried calm in his voice. A few more comments and it becomes clear to me that here is a man who has done a lot of thinking about living well, and enjoys sharing his views with perfect strangers.
A few minutes in to the conversation, we swap names and I walk over to his table. At this point, I ask open-ended questions, and happily invite his view on things. In the next 15 minutes he leisurely talks and talks, while Julie attends to the kids and listens in with one ear.
Here is what he says, more or less…
“So many people don’t have a clue what to do with time itself. They get life all screwed up. That happened to me. In my twenties and thirties I lost control of my time, and my life.
“If I look back, it all started the moment I paid someone to wash my car. Before that I had washed my car with great satisfaction. With a bigger income, and fancier car, I somehow was outsourcing that basic pleasure. If we look at our success-orientated lives, we will see transition moments when we undiscerningly start to outsource our lives to other people.
“For example, in my area, I often run past people taking their employer’s dogs for a walk. I say to myself, soon enough these same workers will be taking their employer’s kids for a walk. And lone behold, my prediction proves true.
“This is a case of people who have unwittingly traded their greatest commodity (time) for a lesser one (money), and now spend their money on other people who can enjoy the time they should have had themselves.
At this point, Julie mentions feedback we keep getting from parents of older kids. She says they talk of how crazy the schools are nowadays, taking up all family time. Not even Sundays or public holidays are protected. Kids, and parents who organise their lives around their kids, are burning out. Family time is non-existent.
“I don’t think we should blame the schools,” he gently disagrees. Now he really has my attention.
“We should blame the parents. Schools provide a menu of developmental possibilities for children, but parents need to marshal the amount of options kids sign up for. If parents are honest, they don’t examine why it is they are initially so happy their kids pursue more activities. Opposite to what it seems, it’s often because parents are abdicating the development of their child. More than anything else, what our children need for their healthy psychological and personal development is … quality time with us, their parents. Again it’s a case of outsourcing our life to others. And these extra-curriculars cost money. So we’re paying others to do what we’re meant to do. What’s the net effect? Sure, our kids may sharpen their skills, but they’re diminished in their humanity in the process. They’re becoming more human doing than human being.
Julie runs off after our exploring twins at this stage. Sole recipient of this deluge of sanity, I lean in and ask about his own kids, and whether they’re busy.
“I have two daughters. One in grade 7 and one in grade 10. They are in very active schools. Yet they are only moderately busy. Because we coach them to do less. We tell them less is more.
“To be fair, my girls are not particularly gifted in sports. My heart goes out to those families where a child is a prodigy of some sorts. There is a lot of pressure to do extra-everything for such a kid. But what happens? The whole family is hijacked by this child’s gift. Is it really a gift if it costs the family the real gift of unhurried time with each other?
“I coach my kids to not overrate exceptional talents. I might sound a bit jaded saying this, but in the Olympics there is one gold winner, and in a sense, every other person in the world with that same talent or skill is irrelevant. Sure, if you have an Olympic talent, then pursue that path, but if not, no talent should cost the family it’s most precious commodity… time and memories. It’s family relationships not achievement, which is the foundation of the kind of happiness and wholeness that can span a life.
Wow, I think to myself, this dude is the real thing.
“I learnt these lessons too late in life. Chasing the golden pot at the end of the rainbow, I poured my life into my career. Every second of it. Until I was burnt out. I was soulless. Then I received a gift. My daughter was born. My wife went back to work, and I looked after her for the first year of her life. Every day, I’d put my girl on my shoulders and we’d walk through these vineyards.
“I was rattled at first. By the lack of productivity, the lack of goals, the lack of structure. These had always been my addiction and fuel. But during that year I realized a few things…
“I realized time is worth more than money, more than success.
“And I put my insight into action, by making two choices. One is that I chose to reclaim my time. I saw that all my life before then I had been enslaved by the demands of others. I was a modern slave, other people commanding my time. There in those vineyards, I made a conscious decision to always be in control of my use of time.
“The other is that I chose to think more before making decisions. It dawned on me that being in a hurry had caused me a lot of pain. As I reflected on the biggest mistakes of my life, it was always because I had failed to carefully think things through. And in each case it was because thinking required time, and I did not have time. Instead of relying on clear thought, I relied on impulse, luck, here-say, group-think, pressures and incomplete ideas.
I noticed the notepad in front of him with some squiggles and some rough diagrams of home-outlays. Here’s a guy preaching what he’s practicing.
“Now I know the importance of taking the time to really think things through. Sitting here in these clothes, I might look like I am doing nothing with my life. But I am being as productive as I possibly can be. I am taking the unhurried time out to think through an imminent decision. And I am enjoying the sun on my back. And talking to you.”
How about you? Do you resonate with anything this guy says?
Also published on Medium.