Who can forget the haunting words of Harry Chapin’s 1974 hit song “Cat’s in the Cradle?” As a child I could sing along with the memorable refrain:
And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, dad?” “I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”
Even as a child something about this song got to me. I couldn’t put a finger on it but it made me sad somehow. Perhaps it was the tune, maybe it was Chapin’s voice, possibly even the words themselves, or maybe a combo of all three. Growing up, I “knew” (though didn’t completely understand) that it was about a dad who never really made time for his son, then watched in sadness as his son grew up and had no time for him either. He finally came to the tragic conclusion, “He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.” (Even as I type this I’m fighting back tears.)
As an adult now listening to this song, I have a whole new perspective on it, because, you see, I’m scared I could sing the same thing about my own life. Life is so busy, isn’t it? There’s so much to do, so many errands to run, activities to plan, expectations to fill. It’s exhausting. But who usually ends up getting the short end of the stick? Our own children, unfortunately. It’s so easy to tell them, “Not now, honey, I’m busy.” “No, sweetie, Mommy can’t play with you. I’m getting supper ready.” “I’d love to read you that book, dear, but I have GOT to clean up this kitchen. My feet stick to the floor when I walk. Maybe another time.” I find myself saying these things to my kids far too often, sometimes with irritation, sometimes with guilt, sometimes just out of desperation. Still, the message is the same to them—Mom (or Dad) is too busy for me.
Now, please, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not trying to put a guilt trip on you for not bowing to your child’s every whim and request. There are indeed times when, yes, your child will have to wait. When you’re running out the door to lead choir practice (as a random example that may or may not have ever happened to me), you simply can’t stop and play Monopoly with your nine-year-old. So don’t think I’m trying to tell you that your entire life should revolve around your child. That’s not my point here. But they do need to know that your life revolves enough around them to include and value them.
Just yesterday morning after story hour at the library I was browsing the shelves and found a book titled “Someday is not a Day of the Week” by Denise Brennan-Nelson (Sleeping Bear Press, 2005). Parents, get this book. Go to your library and check it out. Place a hold request on it if your own library doesn’t carry it. Seriously. Do it. Today. There I was in the library reading this book, and sure enough, it brought tears to my eyes. (I’m a very emotional person, in case you can’t tell. I cried at The Mighty Ducks. Sad but true…) Basically the main character, Max (illustrated as a beaver) makes requests to his mom, his grandpa, and his dad, only to hear from each of them in turn, “We’ll do it someday, Max, but not today.” Max then realizes in the development of this story that “Someday” is not a day of the week. I won’t spoil the ending of the story, but it’s a hard lesson we all need to learn. How many of us have said the same thing to our own children? I know I have. Just this week, in fact. Maybe even today. But as Max realizes, “Someday” is not a day of the week! If you want to do something, there are seven days in each week on which to schedule things. Pick one of those days and make sure your children know about it. Next time your child asks, “Hey, Mom and Dad, can we go to the playground?” stop and consider the request before saying no. If today truly won’t work, tell him or her, “Sweetie, today we just can’t, but let’s pick a day this week when we can. Which day would you like?” The line from the book that haunted (okay, convicted) me was this: “We can always make room for the things that matter most.” Ah, but there’s the rub. We can always make room. That’s on us, dear friends. Time won’t just magically appear or stop. You have to make a conscious effort to set aside time for the important things in life. There will always be groceries to buy, laundry to fold, dishes to do, floors to vacuum, errands to run… Those things won’t let up, but don’t let them take over your life. Don’t be the parent Chapin sings about when the father realizes his son, in having no time now for him, had in fact grown up to be just like his dad after all.
So what can we do? In this fast-paced world how can we accomplish this? Let me challenge you, my friend. And please realize that in challenging you I’m challenging myself as well. Make today your “Someday.” Or tomorrow. At the very least, pick a day this week to be “Someday.” Turn off your phone and have a tea party with your daughter. Take a walk with your teenage son or daughter after supper instead of doing dishes right away. Then come home and do the dishes together. By hand. Hop in the car and drive to the nursing home to visit your grandma who won’t remember you came. Write an old-fashioned pen and paper letter to your elderly aunt who lives across the country and is lonely. Declare Friday night a tech-free night and have a board game night with your family. Get a babysitter and go out to eat with your spouse, preferably somewhere like Cracker Barrel that doesn’t have TV’s to distract you. Call the salon and make a manicure appointment for you and a friend. Try out that new laser tag place with your son. Catch snowflakes on your tongue with your children and build a snowman together. Then leave a comment below to encourage others in their quest for “Someday.” The point is simply this—relationships are the things that matter most. They will outlast the latest reality show, the most current technology, the daily chore lists, the obstacles you face at work—everything. Make time for these relationships so indeed they will last. It may not always be convenient, but trust me, the rewards in the end are worth it.