It is easy to think that any and all time spent with our children counts as together time. We are physically with them after all.
However, we can be in the same space as our children and not actually be with them. Our mind could be wandering miles away, our backs turned, or be totally engaged in our own activity and totally unaware of theirs. This is reality of course, and fine, and understandable, but we have to see this time for what it is. And not mistake it for real together time, the ‘tank filling’ sort.
Tank filling time
For our children to feel really connected, they need regular doses of time when we are truly with them. Not just bodily, but eyes, hearts, minds sharing the space too.
It may be that we are watching them play. We are tuned in, available if welcomed in, and they can feel our genuine attentiveness. This fills the tank. Needs for attention, time and connection are all met.
If in contrast they play beside us but our head is buried in our phone, we are there, but not really there. Their tank isn't filled by our proximity and so they'll begin to seek out our attention, and understandably.
Playing a game or going on an outing where there is conversation, shared decision making and shared experience counts as real ‘with’ time.
A tonic of 'with' time does magic
Without being aware of it, we can travel in the car together without connecting at all, if we are focused on our thoughts or music playing, rather than the sharing of anything. The physical space is shared, but nothing else. And tanks stay as they were, or even deplete if the child is aware of the lack of connection.
We aren't saying children need our 100% attention all the time. They don't, this would feel stifling.
Their need for relationships stretches beyond us to the need for relationships with their surroundings, environment, objects, ideas and other people.
But 100% of our attention for a short burst, and offered regularly, is like a tonic. It fills the emotional tank and allows the child to then play and operate without us until they are next in need of a top up.
Without this truly together time, a child will be less independent, always looking for the attention they are not receiving.
We need to see ourselves as the refuelling station, being available, and on the lookout for when they need a bit more from us than just our body nearby but doing our own thing.