The Difference Between Quantity and Quality

I recently read an article on The 5 Secrets to Raising a Good Kid, by Harvard psychologists. The number 1 rule was spending quality time with your children. Simon Segal wrote: “It’s not enough just to be physically around your kids; you need to be with them completely.”

Parenting trends have shifted over the last few years. Having three small children of my own, I’m in the thick of it. Fathers and mothers are more involved in their children’s lives than ever before. Traditional work models have been replaced with more flexible schedules. Soccer practices that begin at 4:30pm on a Wednesday are flooded with parents cheering on the sidelines. Home schooling is on the rise. This generation has sparked buzzwords such as “hyper parenting,” “helicopter parenting,” and “lawnmower parenting.”

As well-meaning as we parents may be, we are not exempt from criticism. Thousands of articles flood the Internet labeling our generation’s children as “entitled.” Parents are encouraged to back off and let their kids figure things out on their own. Nonetheless, parents feel more pressure than ever to make their kids’ childhoods magical—and that means being there all the time.

Meanwhile, women are reaching heights of success they never could have dreamed of before. Women are no longer expected to be housewives and child-rearers. They are out in the world, becoming thought leaders, CEOs, and even attempting to become President of the United States. And yet, even “big wig” women are building nurseries in their corporate offices.

It is no surprise that parents feel guilty when they are away from their children because they have to work. And they feel guilty when they’re with their children because they are not working. As if we were not under enough pressure, the psychologists at Harvard remind us that being with our kids all the time isn’t enough, we have to be with them completely. We have to be engaged and fully present, and we have to be that way all the time.

A friend of mine was feeling depressed the other day and we had a long chat. She has no time for herself. Sometimes, she imagines life must be easier for parents who are divorced because co-parents get a couple of days to themselves.

It is hard to be everything for everyone all the time.

This got me thinking about my childhood. My parents were divorced and my father traveled 80% of the time. I spent the bulk of my time with my mother but she also worked full-time. My mom was never the room mom at my school, and I always stayed in aftercare. But I was a happy, well-adjusted kid. I had a healthy relationship with both of my parents.

My parents were not physically with me all the time, but they were with me completely. My father called me every day. He asked me questions and listened to what was going on in my life. He reserved important dates for me in his calendar and made sure to be there on those dates. Whenever he could be with me, he was. My mom picked me up late but made sure to lie with me at night and spend time with me. She was there when I needed help with my homework. She was all love. Both of my parents told me they loved me every day. They were fully immersed in my world, even though they were not always with me.

There was something else my parents did: They made me as much a part of their lives as they were a part of mine. They talked to me about their goals, their work, and their struggles. When my father was traveling, he sent me postcards showing me everywhere he went. He shared stories about his work and his purpose.

As important it is for our children to know we love them, it is important for them to know who we are and what our passions are. They need to understand that when we go to work, we are being productive members of society and our work matters. Other people depend on us, too. Stay-at-home moms and dads also need time to do the things they want or need to do. We are all part of a community that is larger than us and children who learn this will know that they, too, are contributors to society.

Many of us are afraid to separate from our kids. But it is more frightening to fall into depression because we feel we have to be with them all the time. When our children understand who we are and what we do, they become a part of our success … even when it means they have to give up some time with us. Instead of feeling guilty, look at your time apart as a gift you are giving them.

You are teaching children that life is a mixture of family and work, forces that are messy and imperfect and completely intertwined. What matters most is that your kids know that no matter where you are in the world, you will pick up the phone when they call. No matter what you are doing, if your child needs to talk, you will be there to listen. If something is important to them, it is important to you. If your child knows you will move mountains to be with them, if your child hears you tell them, “I love you” every day, if your child sees you are there for them whenever they need you, then you are with your child completely, even when you’re away.

If you have that kind of relationship with your child, then you never leave them, no matter where you are.

Los Momenticos

We all make plans and dream of reaching certain goals. We usually take for granted that the people we love will take part in the realization of those dreams. But we cannot predict the future. We do not know who we will lose along the way. It is bittersweet to celebrate an accomplishment when someone we love is no longer present to share it with us. But some people never leave us, even when they die. Some people leave a legacy, and a legacy lives forever.

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending the Cuban-American Bar Association’s annual installation gala. CABA is a non-profit association founded by lawyers of Cuban descent. This evening we were there to honor and witness the installation of our cousin’s fiancée, Javier Lopez, as president of the organization. Although we were happy to celebrate this achievement in Javi’s life, it was not until we arrived at the party that we fully grasped how big a deal this night was for our cousin-in-law.  This was one of those nights you want to share with those you love most. This was one of those bitter-sweet moments.

The event, themed Avenue of Time, was spectacular. Guests were greeted by antique Cuban cars, a wall cleverly decorated with boxes of Cuban cigars, and waiters in Cuban garb passing around mini tamales en casuela. Men in tuxedos and women in gowns enjoyed unusually cool weather in Miami, and photographers documented every moment. Palm trees adorned the tables in the ballroom, and traditional Cuban food was served in a modern American style—fusing the two cultures. It did not escape us as we greeted judges, attorneys, and other professionals, that all these people were gathered to honor our friend and family member.

When the ceremony began, I was surprised to see Javier’s mother, Mercy, walking up to the stage. I imagined a past-president or other CABA member would introduce Javi, but the president-elect chooses who will swear them in to office. Javi’s mother beamed. She was eloquent and firm as she captured the attention of the eleven-hundred audience members. Mercy told the story of a younger Javi who, 10 years before, had come to his parents’ house to tell them he had become a CABA board member. He shared his goal to serve on the board for 10 years and his hope to be elected to be its president in 2016. Javi told his father that if he was elected, it would be him, his father, who would swear him into office.

But Asis, Javi’s father, had passed away four years earlier.

My husband and I stood close to the stage. Mercy described Asis as the “pillar of his family.” My husband’s eyes welled as he watched this ceremony from the lens of a father. His heart cringed at the thought of not being there to see any of our sons’ important milestones.

Mercy hugged her son and then allowed him to take the spotlight. Javi gripped the edges of the lectern and addressed the crowd:

“Life is about los momenticos (the little moments),’ my father used to say.” Javi spoke about this momentico and what it represented in his life. I smiled as his words brought that profound saying back to me.

I, personally, did not know Asis well. In fact, I only spent some time with him during one weekend in which his family invited ours to stay in their house in the Florida Keys. Our cousin and Javi had begun dating seriously and the invitation was a kind gesture to unite the families.  Asis was the kind of person that made you feel like you were family, even if you barely knew him. He had a warm spirit and contagious energy. Asis left a lasting impression on all of us.

On the chalkboard I keep in my kitchen to teach vocabulary and concepts to my children, I remembered scrawling Asis’ wisdom to inspire my children to appreciate the beautiful moments life has to offer.

My focus shifted back to Javi as I heard him repeat another nugget of wisdom his father imparted on him

“You will do well, if you do good.”

Javi honored his father’s values and implored his colleagues to use their prestigious professions to do good—to help those in need. As Javi’s words brought his father to life, I thought to myself, Asis has left a legacy.

Asis did not live a long life. He died at 56. But while he was on this Earth, he savored the momenticos and he did good. He was a good husband, father, friend, and businessman. True to his words, Asis also did well. His four children are doing the same. The seeds Asis planted blossomed into men and women who do good and value the special moments in life. These values will trickle down to Asis’ grandchildren, born and unborn.

While it was sad that Javi’s father was not there to physically swear his son into presidency, it was moving to see how much Javi made his dad a part of the ceremony. Asis filled the room with his presence.

My husband took a deep breath and held my hand. “I can only hope that our sons will remember me the way Javi remembers his father,” he whispered. The indelible mark you leave on your children will journey on even after you’ve shuffled off your mortal coil. What a privilege and a responsibility that is for all of us.

As for Asis, he will always be there, even though he’s not, reminding us to relish in life’s momenticos.