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Sunday Lifestyle

A date with our kids

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano - The Philippine Star

When you mention the word “date,” most often people think about romance   candle-lit dinners and the like and they generally see it as an event with romantic undertones. But a “date” is also defined as setting an appointment or a meeting and it connotes giving importance to an event or person. Well yesterday I decided to go on a “date” with my six-year-old son, Mike. Usually, when I spend time with him, it is in a family setting, with mommy, kuya (big brother Santi), yayas (nannies), and other relatives, so it’s rarely a one-to-one affair. And while being in a family setting is great and is in fact essential to teach values of patience, empathy, kindness, cheerfulness, etc., sometimes it is difficult to get to know your child in that setting since so many people and things vie for your and his attention. Hence, the importance of having a special appointment or “date” with each child so that you, as a parent, can establish a special bond with him or her and open the doors of communication that will serve you well as a parent in the long term.

I talked with a family expert yesterday and she suggested a once a week date with each child. (And of course, one also with your spouse to keep romance alive.) I picked up my son Mike and told him that we were spending the afternoon together. His face lit up. I knew that he was excited to spend the day with his father but on a deeper level my intuition told me that Mike, even at his tender age, understood that this was my way of telling him that I valued him; and that I loved him. As parents, we often tell our kids that we love them, especially being affectionate Filipino parents we do this many times a day. But while telling them is important, I suspect that it is the non-verbal acts of love  choosing to spend time with them, laughing at their jokes, telling them bedtime stories, praying with them, etc.  that really bring the truth of our words of affection to their consciousness and understanding.

* * *

My date with Mike was a very pleasant one: we ate a late lunch, actually merienda, at a Japanese restaurant. We had tempura, ika fry, and his favorite “soupiyaki” (read: sukiyaki). Afterwards, we bought tickets to watch Madagascar, which Mike thoroughly enjoyed, he being the demographic the movie was intended for. Personally, I had wanted to eat burgers and fries and would’ve preferred to watch Men In Black but the whole point of the afternoon was to get to know my son, to see what things he liked and responded to, and so I had to put my own preferences on hold.  

I’m hoping that I will be able to maintain this regular date with Mike and try to set up something similar with Santi. Santi is a bit more of a challenge, since he has autism, and so I’ll have to figure out an activity that he will enjoy. But spending quality time, exclusively with each child, needn’t be a grand production  it can be as simple as doing the grocery with them and perhaps that is something Santi and I will do this week together. I use the word hope specifically because I know that there will be times when my work responsibilities will conflict with my time for family. So to say that, as an ironclad rule, I’ll have these weekly schedules is being unrealistic. However, just making the mental commitment to have a weekly schedule and trying to figure ways to do it is already a great step towards giving value and importance to your family.

Again, I’m a big believer that what our family most wants from us is our time and our attention and it is a grave mistake to prioritize economics over family. This is not to say that we blow off our responsibilities at work to spend afternoons gallivanting with our children. Not only would we lose our job or destroy our business but it would more importantly be a bad life lesson for our child. Our children, at an early age, should know the value of work. So a balance between work and family responsibilities must be struck. And, of course, if you find that work demands that you must spend a lot of time away from home, then when you do get to have time for the family, you must explain, firstly, that family remains your top priority and, secondly, why you must sacrifice some family time for work. Don’t assume that your wife and children know that you are working hard for them because they are human and naturally have their own emotional claims on your time. This is one example where just a little bit of explanation will go a long way in maintaining the morale of the family.

And my day with Mike also meant a lot to me. I felt better about myself as a father and I believed I was planting the seeds for a good father-son relationship. It is difficult for me to figure out how to have that solid dad-son bond because I didn’t have a perfect relationship with my own father. Parenting styles were different in the 70s and 80s and my father was distant and often inscrutable. Definitely, he was a good man, a great provider, a strong disciplinarian, and a man who implanted in my character many of the qualities that I believe helped me to be successful today. That said, I never truly felt close to him and that is naturally something that I do not want to happen to me and my two boys.

But parenting is a tricky job and it may well be that years from now, despite my best efforts, my own children will find fault with me and see me as a less-than-perfect father. How often do we excuse our faults as the sins of the father transmitted to his children? I’m sure my own father also did the very best he could for me. And that is really all that our children are asking from us. I don’t think that they are seeking perfection, or having answers to everything, or us never making mistakes. Our children are much smarter than that. Ultimately, I think all a child really asks of his parent are three basic things: 1. that they spend time with him, 2. that they love him, and 3. that they prepare him for the future. And I honestly think that taking our kids on a “date” once a week is one of the best things we can do to fulfill these three basic things that our children seek from us.

CHILDREN DATE FAMILY FATHER MEN IN BLACK MIKE SANTI SANTI AND I TIME
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