Love Children, Don't Cage Them

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So I’m in the baby pool with my 21-month-old son. And another dad is there with his 2 1/2-year-old son. The other dad is sitting in a chair yapping on his phone: “I’m stuck in the cage today. At least until nap time.”
The “cage” is the fence around the pool. “Stuck” is spending time with his child.
Kids pick up vibes from their parents from very early ages and develop a sense of self (and self-worth) based in large part on those vibes. The entire time we were there the guy got out of his chair only to stretch his legs and spoke to his son only to admonish the boy for bullying other children.
His actions and words told the child, “You are an obligation to me. I will do the bare minimum to keep you out of trouble but it’s not worth my time to play with you in the pool or give you loving attention from the sidelines.” Nice.
A recent New York Times article discusses a study that showed children who had great teachers in kindergarten showed significant benefits in adulthood that were not evident in kids who had lousy kindergarten teachers. I am not equating teachers with parents or saying one afternoon at the pool defines a child’s future.
But so much of who we are – confidence, perspective, appreciation of others – comes from our early experiences with adults. Decades of research show that children who get ample care, attention, and love from adults tend to live more fulfilling lives.
If you don’t have children or grandchildren (or even if you do), look into local volunteering opportunities, like reading to children or being a homework mentor for an hour or so a week. Or help coach a kids’ sports team. Or offer to demonstrate your special skill (hammered dulcimer, anyone?) at a local summer camp. Time with children should be expanding – for you and them. A cage mentality will hurt you both, more than you might imagine.