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Winter Fun

The Only Parenting Advice We Need

Will and me

{ Photography by Claudia Danielson }

Yesterday we went to a memorial gathering for the families of three young girls who died just before Christmas here in our little community. They were in a car accident a mile down the road from our neighborhood. This is as bad as life gets and there is nothing we can do for the families except hold them in our hearts and pray that they can find a path through this.

I’m not a theologian or a philosopher, so I’m not even going to try to make sense of what happened. But on the drive home, as I listened to my children in the back of the minivan, I thought about the advice we parents get so often, especially at times like this: enjoy every moment with your children because you never know what might happen.

But that’s not the advice I would give a new mother. I wouldn’t tell her to enjoy every moment and I wouldn’t offer any of the other advice we’re usually given, like make sure she goes out on a date every week with her husband, or that she breastfeeds or co-sleeps or Ferberizes or home schools or any of it.

I would tell this new mother that the only thing she needs to do is look at her child. Just stop for a moment every single day and look at her child.

That’s it.

So in the midst of all the running to lessons and making dinner and doing homework, look at your child. Let her know you’re doing it, but don’t let her know you’re doing it. Don’t make a big deal out of it―you don’t want her to wonder why you’re staring at her…again. Look at her just enough so that on some deeper level, she will know that you are really seeing her.

It’s easy to look at a baby. He’ll gaze into your eyes and laugh and eat it up. It can be more challenging as he gets older. But don’t give up. Don’t cheat when you look at him and remember what he was like when he was two and loved to snuggle with you. Look past the teenage prickliness and the superiority and just see him.

Here’s the catch: If you really look at your child, it will hurt. To stop and see him and acknowledge his existence and his importance is painful. There’s a reason why we scurry around so much. We’re not comfortable with our mortality/immortality and it’s easier to just keep busy.

Have you ever seen Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town? I saw it in high school, but none of it truly registered until much later, after I’d had Andrew. The character Emily dies in childbirth and, against the advice of others, she goes back to visit her family and relive her 12th birthday. The ghostly Emily tries to get her mother to slow down and look at her and when she can’t, it breaks Emily’s heart. “Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me,” she pleads.

Every day the world will question your parenting choices and you’ll wonder if you’re doing the right thing. Some new study will come out saying that even though you’ve diligently been doing X, mothers who do Y have children who do better at A, B, and C. Or someone will try to make you feel bad because you work/don’t work/bake/don’t bake/send your kid to this school/not that school.

But you’ll be able to respond to this person generously and with love because you know that you’re looking at your child every day and the rest of it really doesn’t matter.


  1. Diane says:

    What a blessing your message is. I will be sharing it.

    1. Shannon says:

      Just trying to make sense out of things, and there’s always the hope that if you can find the right words, they might help others, too.

  2. Laurie Skiba says:

    Thank you, Shannon. Exactly what I need to hear and apply to my relationship with my young-adult son Forest today. The importance of looking does not change.

    1. Shannon says:

      “The importance of looking does not change.” I love that. It’s strange to imagine my children all grown-up, but I hope I always remember to keep “seeing” them.

  3. Marilyn says:

    Unfortunately, tragedy often strikes before I’m able to register how I’ve been neglecting the most precious parts of life. Thank you for this reminder. I’m so sorry to hear about this loss in your community. Truly.

    1. Shannon says:

      “The most precious parts”–yes, as I wrote this, I was also thinking of Tim and my family and friends. I never want to be so busy that I don’t have time to really “see” any of them.

  4. Jennifer J Anderson says:

    I think of this post all the time! This is the best advice ever.

    1. Shannon says:

      Thank you, Jennifer–that means so much coming from a wonderful mama like you.

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