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I Have to Check in Before I Can Check Out

Having high school kids at home has its advantages. No longer is there a bedtime routine or long, chapter books to read so the kids go to bed. Gone are the days when I have to draw baths at 7pm to make sure the little ones are in bed by 8pm. No longer do I have to remind the kids to brush their teeth and put their dirty clothes away, wait, I do still have to do that! I digress.

Times in our house have certainly changed over the year, and in turn, so have my nighttime routines. When the kids were younger, they went to bed by 8, and I laid on the couch in exhaustion, hoping that no one got sick needed one more glass of water or had a nightmare.

With the kids at this age, however, they are a lot more independent. Once I know homework is either done or in process – and power school (online updates on school work) is the proof -- or I hear the shower run, I know it is “me” time. I can let my guard down and focus on some of my projects or catch up on a favorite television shows.

Yes, as the kids have grown more self-sufficient, I have gained more free time at night, and I like it! On many nights I cherish this time to pursue a personal passion without interruptions, something a parent only dreams of when managing a growing family. (Remember, in a previous post, I used to seek solace in the bathroom that is until the four kids learned that it is only a door and I was still there to settle an argument or answer a question.) After all, every once in a while, who wouldn’t want the freedom of a “ME” time?

The problem that I didn’t see very well is that our kids still needed me but just in different ways. You see, kids don’t talk about emotional concerns or life events at the dinner table or on a drive to and from an activity, but often they wait ‘til right before bedtime to share something big that is on their mind. Inevitably, the printer ink, does not run out at 7pm when the kids should print their homework, but of course at 9:45 pm when they are up against a deadline and developing an over-tired attitude. At 10 pm, while one child is upset about the printer ink the other one says, “do you think you could edit this paper for me that is due tomorrow?”

I would like to say that I addressed all requests with enthusiasm and excitement based on the fact that that my teen-aged children wanted to include me in their lives, but sadly, no. After all, didn’t they realize that I had just settled into a project I had been looking forward to all day? Did not they realize that my video editing project requires concentration and any disruption meant putting it off for yet another night.

In my new night routine during their self-sufficient years, I had checked out…without checking in with my kids. A request for printer ink during “me” time, I met with a sigh. I practically rolled my eyes (per my wife) when a child asked me to check over a 10-page paper at 10 pm. My face and body language showed the disappointment at the disruption.

Well, if you previously have read our blog, or our book ZagZig Parenting, you know my wife is always willing and able to hold the mirror for me. Even though many times I have told her that I don’t like looking in the mirror when I have behaved a certain way, she continues to hold it up. Of course, she starts it with the classic compliment like, “you know you are such a good dad.” At that point, I should clue in to what is coming next, but I got hooked by the positive; and then she pulls out the hammer, by saying something like, “as a good dad, you know he needs you now.”

She goes on to remind me that this too shall pass and soon enough all four kids will live outside the house. They will still need us, but soon enough we will miss these moments, and more importantly, the kids need to know we will help in the moment. Once the intense moment is over, then we can lecture or rather talk about timing and planning ahead.

Fine, you are right, wife. I know, checking out at night was and is my guilty pleasure. Yes, I like my “me” time. I look forward to it, but not at the expense of sending a message to my son that I don’t want to hear from him about his challenges after 9pm; or not at the cost of my child turning to someone or something else to get help when I am really into this television show.

These days, I am not at a professional level of staying “checked in” all night, but I am a lot more aware of my actions and the impact it has on the family. The family dynamic and relationship means more to me that my own ability to check out; therefore every night before I do check out, I check in so everyone knows that I love them and am available if they need me. If there is no request or discussions, you can bet, I am still a pro at checking out.

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