The Perfect Christmas Present to give your Child This Year! By Robynn
The children’s pastor and his assistant at our church have been running a competition of sorts. Write down the perfect Christmas present a parent can give a kid on a piece of paper. Stick it in the box. The winner who accurately guesses gets a prize. I didn’t know what the answer they were looking for was, but I suspect it wasn’t an Xbox 360. (That’s what I wrote down!) On Saturday we received a letter in the mail revealing the Perfect Christmas Present! For those married the answer is your marriage. For the single parents it was time. Strengthening your marriage is vital. It’s an important gift. Spending time with your child is also key. But are time and marriage the most perfect present out there that you could give your kid?
I think not. The answer should have been: “A Nap!” –and by that I don’t mean put your kids down for a nap…. no I mean, as a parent, take a nap! That’s the best thing you can do for your kids this year.
When your children are young taking a nap is like a well-coordinated, oft-rehearsed magic trick. First you have to get everyone’s needs met–little people must be fed, faces and hands must be washed, diapers and pottying must be taken care of. You have to use quiet movements and a gentle voice. Under no circumstances can you at all convey your desperation or your secret agenda. You have to pretend there’s nothing really at stake. Nothing’s going on. It’s no big deal. Should the stars align, and all three of your children actually fall asleep, or find quiet corners of the house apart from one another to allow the sleeping ones to stay asleep and the waking ones to not destroy each other or the games they quietly play, you can, again nonchalantly, disappear to your pillow and hope against hope that your brain and your bladder cooperate long enough for you to actually fall asleep. When it happens….if it ever happens…it’s pure magic!
When your children are older you can declare your intentions. I usually use a loud threatening voice, “I’m going to take a nap. You need to be quiet. DO NOT wake me up. No fighting. Turn the volume down. Don’t be obnoxious!” I usually repeat, “DO NOT wake me up,” a couple of times. Then I lie on my bed, sticking ear plugs in my ears, I close my eyes and think sleepy thoughts. I take a nap.
You might wonder why a nap for yourself is the best gift you can give your child! Naps help facilitate the other really great gift kids long for: presence. Your child wants you to be there, to be present, to be attentive. They want time with you. They really aren’t looking for anything else. All you have to do is show up. It sounds simple but anyone whos ever had to cook dinner and host Christmas and shop for Aunt Sue and not forget to bring the treats for Sunday School this week and find the wrapping paper and decorate for the office party and track down the recipe for eggless eggnog and clean up the dog’s mess and vacuum the front room and drive the daughter to work and dust the family room and turn in the forms for the youngest’s IEP and get the Christmas cards in the mail—anyone who’s ever had all that and more on the brain understands it’s not that simple.
It’s hard to tune out the thousands of distractions. It’s hard to set your phone down. It’s hard to resist the urge to pick it up the second it zimmers and vibrates. It’s nigh impossible to resist the temptation to just quick see who it is. At the end of a long day, it’s tough to turn off the tv, or to mute the volume. All you want is a few moments of peace. It’s difficult to take the headphones off, to turn the podcast off.
Both of our older kids are in choir. The choir teacher at Manhattan High school, Mr Chad Pape, at every concert says something like this, “All the research shows that whatever influence their peers or their teachers have, no one has greater influence on your kid than the loving adults who live with them. So thank you for coming tonight. Please turn off your phones and your ipods. From the stage your kids can see the lighted screens light up your nose and they know that you really don’t care.” He says the same thing every time. And he’s right.
My kids can see my distractions. They know if I’m listening or not. When Bronwynn was little she’d tell me stories, long elaborate stories of dreams she’d had, or of pretend happenings or of real life adventures she hoped to have. While she talked I’d emit little listening sounds, “ahh”, “oh”, “mm mmm”. Many times she’d stop me and say, “Mommy use words. Don’t mmmm. Use words.” She wanted to know I heard her. Even then, she knew the difference between a distracted mind and an engaged heart.
Taking a nap helps you be the parent you need to be. With little kids you desperately need energy and enthusiasm, strength and stamina. A nap helps make that possible. When your kids are older you need to be available. Teenagers rarely talk when you have time or the space in your schedule or questions. Teenagers talk later. Usually closer to their bedtime. Usually past your bedtime. Taking a nap gives you the oomph to stop moving, to look them in the eyes, to slow down your quest for the day to be over, to be there.
It’s not going to happen every day, obviously. You work. You have things to do. Life doesn’t allow for such luxuries. But whenever you get the chance, take it. Don’t think it’s selfish, don’t think you don’t have time. Make it happen when you can. Taking care of yourself in these little ways helps you take care of others. It’s the same wisdom behind the Flight Attendant’s “Put on your own oxygen mask first before helping those around you.”
If you normally exchange gifts at Christmas time, I wouldn’t recommend wrapping up a note that says, “Mommy gets a Nap!” and giving that to your sweet progeny! (Not unless you’ve got a therapy fund already started!) Wrap up the blocks, or the Frozen DVD, or the Vera Bradley backpack, the new jeans, the box of chocolates, or the American Eagle sweatshirt. Watch their joy as they delight in the gift you gave them. And then later while they’re enjoying their new games and toys sneak off and get them the thing they really want: take a nap!
(Come to think of it, taking a nap contributes to the answers Pastor Chris and Chris suggested. Naps make marriage work better and naps allow you to make time for your kids!)