Written by guest blogger Johnetta Harris
As I sit in my room after a long day, I make a mental list of everything I need to do tomorrow. I make a note to remind myself to make a note of something I need to remember next week. I update my calendar with the event I just booked for my daughter at the end of the month, and I shoot an email to a mom to double-check on party details. My phone vibrates to remind me I have a school deadline approaching, and just as it does I decide to shoot a text to my sister to see how she’s doing.
Down the hall I hear an explosion of giggles. I investigate and find my daughters telling each other, “I love you,” in a variety of what sounds like monster voices; Oh! and a cat—that last one was definitely a cat. It warms my heart, and it makes me appreciate the work my husband and I put into creating a nurturing environment.
See, one of my passions in life is the natural world. I have spent a lot of time dedicating my life to better the world we live in, and caring for the creatures that live in it. So much so that I decided to pursue a Master’s degree on the subject. Early in my studies, I came across a research article by Louise Chawala. Louise interviewed environmentalists around the world and asked them what inspired them to want to save the world. She said that each environmentalist recalled fond memories spent outdoors as children, and said those experiences inspired them to care. This meant a lot to me, because I wanted to inspire a fondness for nature in my children, and I hoped they, too, would care for and appreciate nature.
As a child myself, the only fond memories I had were moments spent with my family outdoors. We had picnics every summer holiday; my dad would barbecue while my mother chased us around, playing capture the flag. We rented row boats and spent a ridiculous amount of time staring at fishing line drift in the wind. My dad called this fishing. I called it boring but loved every minute, sitting next to my dad. We went on hikes in the woods, got lost in our imaginations. One of my favorite things was our trip to the tree farm every year. After Thanksgiving we took a long journey to a tree farm, where we cut down our Christmas tree for that year and rode a horse-drawn buggy while sipping hot cocoa. When I look back on my childhood, I think of these things.
When I had children of my own, I knew I wanted to create memories just like these for them, but somewhere along the way, I missed something. I spent so much time planning activities so they could experience the outside world. I basically tried to planned our memories. One day as I was packing up the girls for an afternoon bike ride, my oldest asked if we could just stay home and play UNO. I was shocked by this request. I thought to myself, What child doesn’t want to ride a bike? I have been planning this for weeks! I asked her why she would rather play UNO than ride her bike, and her response was, “I just want to stay home and spend time with you.” Stay home!? Though I was still shocked, I obliged her request, and we spent hours playing UNO and Legos and eating popcorn.
That night I spent some time thinking, and I realized while I’m spending so much time teaching my children to love the world around them, I’m not taking the time to teach them to love their world.
I’m not creating and harnessing opportunities for them to just be with one another, and love one another, or us. While the natural world is my passion, the thing I love most is my little family. So I decided to make sure I created in them a fondness for family. I made sure we had a day to do nothing but just hang out together. Once a week we cook a family meal together. Every night we eat dinner around the dinner table and talk about our day. Each month we pick out a new chapter book and read a few pages together each night before bed. We also have spontaneous dance parties. Most importantly, I make sure that EVERY DAY I tell my children I love them, give them a hug and a kiss, and I tell them how important they are to our family.
I try to make sure that while I may make lists, and plan, and coordinate life, I also allow for plenty of time for life to just happen. The mood in our house has shifted. Not only do we love exploring the world outside together, we love doing anything together!
Now as a disclaimer I will say that this has not stopped sibling bickering. If I solve that, I’ll bottle it and sell it so you can can all have some! However, my girls adore each other and us, and we adore them, and it warms my heart in ways I never knew possible—warm it even more than a monster-voice “I love you!”
Before you head to bed tonight, take a moment from your busy schedule, and growl an, “I love you,” to your little ones. Begin to create an environment of love and a fondness for family.